The Hawkesbury and Hills regions are home to some very talented horse riders — some have even gone on to represent Australia, with one Hills resident competing in the London 2012 Paralympics in Dressage. With several pony clubs plus riding schools, there’s plenty of variety for those interested in the sport.
“We do horsemanship and teach the kids to look after their horses,” explained Caroline Dobson, secretary and chief instructor at Vines Pony Club in Oakville. Students not only learn to ride and participate in other activities such as PoloX, X Country and Equestrian, they also learn about equine health, how to care for their horses and how to use tackle.
“This is the whole package,” she said. “We encourage the kids to have a go at everything, but we do not force them to do anything.”
Caroline encourages parents to be involved with the club and to take the opportunity to learn, with their child, how to look after horses. “Pony club’s a really good level to come in and learn horsemanship, without feeling intimidated,” she added.
Joining a pony club isn’t as expensive as you might think, with annual fees averaging about $220 per riding member and $192 per non-riding member, with no added weekly charges. Rally days are held twice a month and generally run for most of the day, with students having a go at different activities, gaining hands-on experience caring for their horses and practising their riding skills.

The Vines team playing horseball at the Vines Pony Club Rally Day.

Christine Johnson of Johnson Equestrian Services advises that it’s important to choose a pony club or riding school with experienced, insured, accredited coaches. “Horse riding is a really high risk activity,” she said, highlighting the importance of riding in a safe environment which meets safety standards.
Having trained several people with disabilities, Christine says it’s a highlight of what she does. “It’s really rewarding because it’s so liberating for them to ride a horse — they get a lot of freedom and joy from being on top of a horse. They give you wings,”
she said.
Hawkesbury resident Tracey Sycz saw visible results when her daughters Sophia and Siena, now aged 14 and 12, went along to the RDA program in Richmond.
“Sophia has autism,” Tracey explained. “Being on the horse was very calming and it relaxed her quite a bit.”
Both girls did well in the 2015 Mounted Games, and they qualified to ride in the 2016 Royal Easter Show. Siena, who suffers from epilepsy, came fourth and it was a highlight for both girls to be involved in the event.

Riding for the disabled
Tall Timbers Riding for the Disabled (RDA) provides horse riding and associated activities, as well as carriage riding for people with disabilities. Contact 02 9679 1246.
RDA Richmond provides people with a disability the opportunity to ride and enjoy all the activities connected with horse riding. Contact 02 9686 4155.

“RDA is wonderful in giving the riders opportunities that they might not otherwise have,” said the mother of two. “After a riding session both girls were calmer, more grounded and able to cope with the rest of the day in a more positive and happier way.”
Paralympian Hannah Dodd also knows the benefits of being part of a pony club and of the physical advantages gained through horse riding. Hannah represented Australia in the London 2012 Paralympics in Dressage. Although she suffers from Sacral Agenesis, a rare congenital disorder, Hannah has been a member of both the Hills District and Arcadia Pony Clubs and says horse riding has been a big part of her physical development, despite her disability.
“Growing up, horse riding gave me a sense of normality,” she said. “No one could tell that I was different from anyone else when I was on a horse. When I got off people were surprised when they saw me in crutches or a wheelchair. When I was on a horse I was just another rider.”
Hannah first sat on a horse at the age of four months, and when her family realised that it was on a horse that she was happiest they decided to make a habit of it.
“My mum was a horse rider so whenever I was home from hospital they put me up on the saddle with my brothers and they found that was where I’d giggle and smile the most,” she said. “Because of the riding I ended up building the strength to start walking at two-and-a-half,” she said, explaining that it happened much earlier than doctors had expected. And when it came time to prepare for her international competitions, her local pony club was always ready to help her prepare and fundraise. “It just felt like you were coming back to a family,” she said. “They’re so welcoming.”

Rider Miranda Barnes and Orana Park Columbian compete at the Hawkesbury Show.

The Hills and Hawkesbury regional pony clubs fall under zones 19, 23 and 24. To find out more about The Pony Club Association of NSW or to view a complete list of pony clubs, visit

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