An early history of Pony Club in Saskatchewan
This is a glimpse of the years starting in the 1950s. Hopefully, other Pony Clubs will submit more recent history.
The Saskatoon Pony Club was started in 1945 by Nonie Mulcaster and Russ McQuarrie. Clifford Sifton, owner of the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, was on the Exhibition board at the time. Coming from Toronto where the first Canadian Pony Club had started, he encouraged Nonie to initiate a new club here and proposed that the club could operate in the newly built Livestock Pavilion on the Exhibition grounds. The Sifton children were among the first members.
The Saskatoon Riding Club was already in existence and the two organizations found ample room in the large barn and the indoor arena. The Pony Club was kindly supported by Riding Club members, some of whom became instructors in those early years.
The cost of boarding a horse at that time was $25 per month for a tie stall and $28 for a box stall (including feed and bedding of course). Horses were purchased for $100 to $500 for an “expensive” mount.
Nonie was our Head Instructor for many years, probably into the mid 70s. As a well known artist, she sometimes traveled to Europe and while there she connected with some European riding masters; a few of these people she invited to come to Saskatoon to teach us for a few days (surely they had some additional reason for the trip). Among them was Waldemar Seunig, author of the classic book on riding, “Horsemanship”. We probably did not appreciate at the time how honoured we were.
Russ, meanwhile, was the “uncle” to Pony Club kids. He could be seen in the bleachers (which could accommodate a large crowd) on most evenings when lessons were on. There were, at times, up to 50 members in the club so lessons were spread throughout the week. The ring was not large enough for extra riders so we rode outdoors a lot in the winter.
Most of us were not involved in many other activities and we could take the Exhibition bus to the Pavilion so were not reliant upon parents to drive us to the barn. Our parents were involved of course, as many have been over the years, but they were seldom waiting for us to finish riding, so we spent many extra hours at the barn. I especially recall Saturdays which featured games on horseback; bareback wresting was one of them – we tried to pull one another off the horse and the last one still mounted was the winner. Having a good grip on the mane was essential! The entry area of the Pavilion was large and we played other games, skip rope being one of them.
For some years during the late 50s and into the 60s, Friday night was jumping night. There were various instructors. Following that was the Riding Club coffee night to which the Pony Club kids were invited. There was quite a large clubroom and the Riding Club held parties there throughout the year, to which we were not invited until we turned 16. We longed to attend those parties as there was clearly much merriment. Apparently our social calendars were otherwise not very full. As well, we had our own parties in various rumpus rooms where we danced to Elvis and to the Beatles and put on “coffee nights” which featured singing and sometimes crazy poetry readings. There was definitely no booze in these years but I cannot speak for later times. There were far more boys in Pony Club in those years. Some of those early friendships have lasted for 50-60 years. The Pony Club later had its own clubroom where we held meetings and parties of our own. We had a junior executive but I expect that we were guided by some adults.
Some of us were lucky enough to own horses (or our parents purchased them and kindly let us think that we had sole ownership). There was, however, a lot of borrowing and sharing horses. “Well trained” was not high on the list of criteria so there was a steep learning curve when it came to staying on one’s mount. We rode outdoors a lot so we got accustomed to runaway horses (and perhaps even encouraged it). The old racetrack which was close to the Pavilion, was lit at night so that was our usual venue. Our other outdoor riding area was the present Diefenbaker park which was then the “crested wheat field”. Beyond that was the road that took us to Beaver Creek and on to Russ’s Redwing ranch. Russ was a scout for the Detroit Redwings and a mentor to Gordie Howe. Redwing was the “farm” to many Pony Club kids. There we had a cross country course and lots of trail riding. Russ provided many ponies and horses to Pony Clubbers. He also had many dogs and donkeys, the latter which we rode and drove. Valerie (Johnson) Matheson took two of Russ’ horses to national level eventing. Mitba, a Canadian champion, was tragically killed at a jump prior the the Pan American games. Val and her second mount, Hi Lo, was an alternate rider for the 1967 Games in Winnipeg. Cathy Wedge was a member of the Canadian eventing team at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Gina Smith was a member of a later dressage Olympic team which won a bronze medal for Canada..Other Pony Clubbers achieved a high level of riding and a good number of them became veterinarians.
Russ and Nonie, along with many other instructors, volunteered many hours of their time to Pony Club. During one summer in the early 60s we practiced daily for a musical ride which was featured at the Vermillion summer fair and later at the Light Horse show in Saskatoon. Apparently there were few of us away during the summer although some had jobs, but we were able to spend long hours with our horses and with each other. Jean Ross and Eleanor Sharpe organized the ride and others helped with sewing “uniforms”, saddle pads, etc,, and hauling our horses which numbered about 16. Few people owned horse trailers in those years and horses were transported in large “horse boxes”.
The Saskatoon Pony Club moved to its present location at Ebon Stables in the mid 80s with Elaine Partington as its Head instructor. The Livestock Pavilion and its adjoining stadium where horse shows were held, was eventually torn down. The Trophy Show, which began as a February show at the Pavilion, now takes place at Ebon stables and had been going for more than 60 years.
The annual Light Horse show was held in April at the Stadium and the stands were always packed. There were admission fees. Evidently folks were entertained by horse events in those years. There was usually some special feature. I remember Gibb Potter and his rope tricks on horseback and on the ground, and some trick riding. There were driving, hack and hunter/jumper classes as well as costume and gymkhana classes so there was always something for us to enter, even if we did not have a “fancy” horse.
Regina had a Pony club in the 60s and we got together for rallies and other events. It was discontinued for some years but is now active as Queen City, Other clubs have sprung up: Rusty Spurs club became Willow Ridge, then Living Skies. A club which started in the last years of the Pavilion is now Northwinds.There are some outdoor clubs (not connected with an arena) such as Delisle, Kingskettle, and Park Valley in the Big River area.
Parents have always been a key part of Pony Club. Some former members are now those parents and grandparents who give their time to enable their children to learn about and enjoy horses. Some Pony Clubbers are “immersed” in horses as we were, and some are able to ride only once a week. There are many other activities in which young people are involved.
Pony Clubs continue to flourish in Saskatchewan, thanks to passionate coaches and volunteers. The Saskatoon Pony Club is the longest consecutively running Pony Club in Canada. There have been about 3 reunions since the early 80s and it is probably time to organize another one.
There is a rich store of archival information about the Pony Club and Riding club that has been carefully organized by Marian Harvey. Marian’s daughter, Sherrill, and her granddaughter, Kristen Bueckert, were former Pony Clubbers. If a club wishes to have a history display at an event, please contact the present Archives committee which includes Moira Remmen (Kingskettle) and Jane Williams (Ebon Stables).