The Pony Club's old logo (left) and the new one
The Pony Club’s very name conjures images of Norman Thelwell’s cartoon children being bounced out of the saddle by their roly-poly steeds. And it knows it.
After 87 years, the venerable equine institution is trying to shake off that twee and tweedy image with its first ever rebranding, in the hope of attracting a new, more diverse membership.
The club’s new chief executive, Pip Kirkby, wants to lose the stereotype of the “scary” district commissioner barking military-style instructions to young riders in muddy fields, and concentrate more on the fun of owning or riding ponies.
The Pony Club has 41,000 members, down from 50,000 a decade ago
The Pony Club’s membership has been in steep decline for a decade, from its high of 50,000 to its current level of 41,000, and Mrs Kirkby is keen to attract more of the 750,000 four to 25-year-olds who ride at least once a month.
At the club’s annual conference at Aintree racecourse near Liverpool, Mrs Kirkby unveiled a new, more modern logo, as well as plans to modernise the organisation through its use of social media and less stuffy language.
She told The Daily Telegraph: “We need to get the message across that we’re not scary and we’re not constrained by rules and regulations.
“We need to look at relaxing some of the rules and moving away from the rather military language. We are formed on rather imperial lines and we need to move away from our conservative colour palette to a much more appealing colour palette.”
The club’s backbone is its system of district commissioners, who run the 340 branches for branch members who own their own horse or pony. Members who do not own a horse or pony can join as centre members at 600 riding centres nationwide.
Mrs Kirkby risked the ire of the club’s formidable district commissioners by saying they needed to soften their image.
She said: “They are the stuff of myth and legend – the scary district commissioner. They are respected, they know The Pony Club inside out, they tend to have a certain standing and there is an encyclopaedic knowledge of the rules and regulations that tends to be applied rigorously.
A Pony Club outing in 1931
“There is a stereotype of the district commissioner standing in a muddy field, wearing tweeds and a headscarf, and shouting, and of Thelwell cartoons.
“What we want to do is make it much more open to all.”
Mrs Kirkby insisted that the reaction from the district commissioners she had spoken to had been positive, and that they were “excited to see the changes” with “an openness and a recognition” of the need to modernise.
The Pony Club’s past and present members include Zara Tindall, Clare Balding and the whole British Olympic eventing team at London 2012.
Michael Owen, the former England footballer whose daughter Gemma was a member, said it had been an "invaluable experience" for her in her ambitions to become an international standard competitor.
The Pony Club was formed in 1929 when the Institute of the Horse formed a youth branch. It aims to encourage riding, to instruct riders and organises competitions and riding efficiency tests, from grade E to grade A. It also organises an annual Pony Club Camp.
Mrs Kirkby said that as well as having to compete for children’s time with other outdoor activity groups, such as the Girl Guides and Scouts, and with other sports, The Pony Club was increasingly having to compete with other riding associations, such as British Dressage and British Showjumping.
“There are limits on people’s time and we have just got to adjust and adapt,” she said.