Every year since 2004 The United States Pony Clubs, Inc recognizes an outstanding Club, Center, Region, or Member with the Flash Award. The award was created by Kathy Aranosian, owner of Flash, the horse chosen as the USPC 50th Anniversary Breyer Model. She wanted to sponsor a yearly award to encourage the kind of teamwork generated by her club when they were writing about Flash. Entries are taken by essay and are due November 1st each year. The award is given at the USPC Annual Meeting and Equine Symposium.

This year’s winner was sent in by Nila Venkat, a 14 year old, H-B HM member of Pacific Ridge Pony Club in the Middle California Region. The submission was for Middle California’s first ever Model Horse Rally. Nila and her Team Mischief Makers made up of 5 Pony Club members from different clubs in the region, aged 10-14, certified D-3 to H-B, wanted to design and run, a “Member-run-Rally”. Follow along as she shares her story.

When we first met to design the rally, the regional officers gave us a few goals:
– It needs to be an activity for young D members
– It has to be educational and FUN
– The entry fee has to be affordable
– It has to be stress free for the parents of the D members
The regional officers promised to leave us to the designing of the rally as long as we met the criteria. It was quite clear to us what pieces of this criteria were very important to them. We were glad to see that they actually kept their word and didn’t change anything in the Rally structure.

As a team, we worked through many decisions during the planning stage of the Rally. Where were we going to host the Rally? What were the phases of the Rally going to be? How was the day going to be organized? How do we structure the day to keep it a fun and educational? We decided on making it a Model Horse Rally with 3 phases: Dressage, Show Jumping, and Cross Country. We added a lot of Horse Management pieces to the Rally and chose to give every participant a blue ribbon to keep the Rally non-competitive. Our team also created the description of the Rally that was added to the Mid Cal website in a language that new Pony Club families could understand. We were responsible for creating all the communication that was sent to the Region. We created the registration forms, put together teams, decided on the list of volunteers needed, defined the volunteer jobs, recruited volunteers, and stayed in touch with the participating teams in the days leading up to the Rally. The adults guided us in setting a budget and helped us meet it. They were great mentors and watched over us to make sure we weren’t making any technical mistakes

Educating the new member and their parents about how to prepare for the Rally and what to expect during the Rally was largely left to the older members in the club and the club leaders. We felt we needed to introduce rallies, rulebooks, and the role of volunteers and judges in a positive light. The idea was to instill in the members there was a valid reason behind every Pony Club rule.

Middle California Region members setting up their stalls

Middle California Region members setting up their stalls

On the day of the Rally, we all came to Garin Regional Park in Hayward, California bright and early to set up everything we needed. We were in a beautiful clearing with a small creek running behind us on a sunny spring day. As people started filing in, we designated a “parent area” in the shade, where parents could sit and watch the Rally’s events. We used picnic tables to station each team. This would be the area where they would set up their “stalls” for the model horses. Our first order of business was creating stall cards for everyone’s model horses. The teams sat down together and with a little help from their stable managers created detailed stall cards for their model horses. (One of our favorite things was reading the vices and allergies the D’s listed for their model mounts. My favorite was “allergic to my sister”). After the teams made stall cards, it was time to create the actual stalls. We requested competitors bring a shoebox for their horses’ stall. We gave each team a bag of tools (scissors, duct tape, dixie cups, etc.) to build their stalls with. We then split up to show the stable managers the required elements of the stall. They needed to have a door that was able to stay closed or stay opened, two water buckets for the horse (this is where the dixie cups came into play), and shavings for the horse (we had brought in a large bucket of shavings that teams could acquire shavings from). After the stalls were built, our team explained how the Rally was going to work.
Model horses in their stalls.

Model horses in their stalls.

We had three riding phases that they had to bring their model horse to, and two Horse Management phases. The riding phases were Dressage, Show Jumping, and Cross Country, and the Horse Management phases were setting up a Rally tack room, and a grooming box relay race. We also explained to all the teams about what we as a team were going to do. Our team was called the Mischief Makers. We would go around the Rally causing mayhem (just the things that normally go wrong in a mounted rally or horse show) that the teams would have to fix. For example, we could mess with their stalls by adding “poisonous plants”, rocks, tipping over water buckets, or even letting a model horse out.

A Middle California Region member competing in the Cross Country phase

A Middle California Region member competing in the Cross Country phase

Our favorite part though, was Buster the naughty pony. While planning for the rally, we found a horse head mask in my garage. Buster the naughty pony was any member of the Mischief Makers team, who wore the horse mask and created trouble. Buster had his own “stall” that he liked to escape from, and a rider that he liked to play pranks on. It was the job of all the teams at the Rally to catch Buster in the act and put things back the way they were supposed to be. One problem we ran into was that whenever Buster “escaped” from his stall, a lot of the teams would sprint after him and tackle him to the ground. Not only was this painful for whoever was playing Buster at the time, but we wanted to teach the teams how to properly catch a loose horse. So, we gathered all the teams and explained to them we wanted them to treat Buster as if he was a real horse. We showed them the proper, safe way of catching a loose horse, and how they were always to check on the fallen rider before dealing with the horse. After that meeting things with Buster ran much smoother. For Buster’s grand finale we had him start a fire! We had a large poster of a fire we taped onto a tree near the stall area. Surprisingly, it was only a short time before someone noticed the fire, reported it to us, then with a few teams, took the fire extinguisher from the tack room and saved the day!

Overall this was a very successful Rally. Almost all the kids came up to us and told us how much fun they had and how much they learned. For next year’s Rally we will be handing off the responsibility of planning the to another group of members. Of course we will help them along the way and share our experiences with things that went well and things that could be improved. We had a lot of fun planning this rally, and we ended up creating a new rally for the Middle California Region to enjoy! I know that our team learned a lot whilst planning and running this rally, and had a lot of fun doing so. We will always be Team Mischief Makers!