By Keely Bechtol, Inter-Pacific Exchange Team Member; Photos Courtesy B. Eaves Photography
As a National member of the United States Pony Clubs, I served as a team member on the 2023 Inter-Pacific Exchange (IPE) U.S. team. I joined Bluegrass Pony Club in the Midsouth Region when I was 5 years old. I currently focus mostly on Show Jumping, but I also have a background in Eventing and Mounted Games. I earned my H-A, B Show Jumping, and C-3 Eventing certifications, and hope to take my A in Show Jumping in July.
I enjoy giving back to the organization that has shaped me into the person I am today by teaching at local meetings, being an Assistant Horse Management Judge (AHMJ), and coaching at rallies. I am also currently studying marketing and sales at the University of Kentucky.
The International Exchanges are amazing opportunities to travel abroad, meet new people, and experience the host country’s culture. They focus on how other countries demonstrate horsemanship and their riding abilities, but also place a huge focus on experiencing the culture and meeting new people. Team members must have: a strong record of service to Pony Club, strong ambassador qualities, a background in riding a variety of horses, and strong references.
Every two years, the IPE rotates host countries among the United States, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, and can be a mixture of Show Jumping and Eventing competitions, depending on the donated horses and available facilities. Hong Kong could not send a team this year.
This year, the Inter-Pacific Exchange was held in New Zealand. We spent 2½ weeks touring and experiencing New Zealand’s culture, along with riding and competing.
Doing a Pony Club International Exchange has been a dream of mine since I joined Pony Club. It’s an amazing opportunity to see the world with like-minded people who come together from all walks of life to share their love of horses and Pony Club. It’s a symbol of how far you’ve come in the organization, from a D-level member to someone who can catch-ride any horse and represent the organization and your country.
I grew up with Nora (Eleanor) Goldfarb, A Eventing, of Middle Tennessee Pony Club in the Midsouth Region, and we played Mounted Games together; we both competed on the USPC Pony Jumper team at the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) Pony Jumper Championships, which takes place each summer in conjunction with the USEF Pony Finals; and we took almost all of our national certifications together. We both always wanted to do the IPE together. We helped each other with our applications and were both selected!
We met our other Inter-Pacific Exchange teammates in Atlanta, Ga., for a two-day team camp before New Zealand. Sierra Shurtz, B Eventing, is a participating member of Piedmont Pony Club in the South Region and also the District Commissioner of that club. Emily Thomas, H-A HM and B Eventing, is a member of Greenville Foothills Pony Club in the Carolina Region. The team instantly had amazing chemistry. We bonded further on our long flights, and even got to spend the day in Sydney, Australia, on our way to New Zealand. Alex Ambelang, an H-A, B Eventing alum of Big Sky Region, served as Team Manager. And Jennifer Merrick-Brooks, A Eventing, an alum of the Canadian Pony Club, was the IPE Coach.
Not only will the friendship between my teammates last a lifetime, but also the friendships with the teams from the other countries, including the managers and coaches. Most of us already have plans to visit or host a member from a different country sometime soon. I feel so blessed to have been able to meet and become friends with the other members of the exchange.
USPC’s Inter-Pacific Exchange Does New Zealand
We traveled on a tour bus to different areas of the South Island of New Zealand and saw some amazing sights—from Mount Cook National Park to the Tasman glaciers and icebergs, Lake Tekapo, and the Clay Cliffs. We hiked some of the most amazing treks and saw some beautiful beaches. The scenery is so incredibly picturesque that words cannot do it justice. We rode go-carts, spent a day at the hot springs, and rode the Queenstown Luge, along with countless other activities.
In the first few days, we were able to see some sights in Christchurch. We jumped right into the Pony Club spirit at the South Island Show Jumping Championship held at Eyreton Pony Club grounds. We spent the day meeting competitors, touring the grounds, and helping set fences. We loved getting to watch a different style of riding and interacting with the Pony Club members in the competition. We got to enjoy a barbeque at the house of the alternate for Team New Zealand, where we bonded with the teams from other countries with some fun games and learned some new games unique to New Zealand.
Before the competitions, we went to equestrian Jess Land’s facility and rode some of her horses. It was our first taste of riding New Zealand horses. While we noticed some differences in the way horses are schooled in New Zealand versus the States, the horses were great, and we had an amazing time.
In Cromwell,the “Kevin Cup” was our first competition. This was a fun competition where we were on scramble teams with one member from each of the other countries, and the coaches and team managers were allocated to different teams. The competition was in the form of a combined test, all on the grass in the infield of the Cromwell Racecourse. It was so cool to see sheep grazing on the other side of the infield.
We had about 40 minutes to ride the day before the competition, and we had a great time getting to know them. All the horses were graciously loaned by nearby Pony Club members and supporters. We also attended an owners’ dinner, where we got to know the owners and learn more about New Zealand, from its history to its horse industry.
At the end of our trip, we competed in the Nations Cup held at the South Island Pony Club Championships in Gore. On the first day, we were able to meet and school our horses to get to know them. I had the ride on a 13.3-hand mare named Smarty, who was a champion Mounted Games pony and show jumper.
The Nations Cup is held with the team format and jumped over two rounds at 1.0 meter. The day before the competitions, the coaches drew for the order that the teams would compete in. The first round of the competition is jumped in the order drawn, and the second round is jumped in the reverse order of faults. Because the U.S. was in the lead after the first round, we jumped last in the second round. If there is a tie for a medal position after the second round, one rider from the teams that are tied would ride in the jump-off to break the tie. My teammates were all on fantastic horses and rode great to bring home the gold for the U.S. Pony Clubs team.
In all, my Inter-Pacific Exchange experience was too amazing to sum up. I would wholeheartedly recommend anyone eligible to apply and for everyone to strive for their national certifications so that they can have this amazing opportunity. I have friends and memories that I will cherish forever thanks to USPC, the New Zealand hosts, and all our incredible supporters.
This article about the 2023 Inter-Pacific Exchange was originally published in the Spring/Summer issue of Discover USPC magazine. Read more content from that issue.