A new British Eventing rule which allows 12-year-old riders to compete on ponies at intro level has met with a mixed response from event organisers.

Munstead organiser Rupert Harvie, at whose March event more than 45 ponies competed at intro and pre-novice level, commented: “As a course-designer it is a worry. An up-to-height intro fence is a big effort for a small pony and several came unstuck at Munstead while trying to negotiate fence nine, a straightforward but maximum dimension spread fence.”

Great Witchingham organiser Maggie Sayer concurred with Rupert Harvie’s view.
“It is not so much the age that bothers me, but more the fact that these youngsters are allowed to tackle a cross-country course unsupervised and unmonitored,” she said. “Intro events usually have to ballot anyway, so surely this is going to put even greater strain on organisers?”

The new ruling was introduced in order to incorporate youngsters into the BE system at an earlier age. Pony Riding Juniors – as they are now referred to — are not required to have been accredited or to have competed at Pony Club to a specific level before tackling an intro.

The purpose of lowering the age limit, said Valerie Gingell, JRN co-ordinator for the Eastern region, is to promote more integration between the Pony Club and BE and to give parents and Pony Club organisers the opportunity to avoid the time-intensive and health and safety issues that go hand-in-hand with running a Pony Club one-day event from scratch.

“There have been a few teething problems implementing the new system, though,” said Val. “Riders who are under 16 and who want to compete at a level that is higher than they would normally be allowed, have to complete a log book that requires them to list their qualifying results obtained at Pony Club level. This is then submitted both to their JRN co-ordinator and to BE before they post their entry. But the system is still not really in place and Pony Clubs are being slow to grasp the new procedure, which is having an effect on the entry system.”

In the long term, Val believes the new system should relieve pressure on entries secretaries because the paperwork will be dealt with before an entry is made.

Moreton organiser Liz Frampton-Hobbs is quite happy to see 12-year-olds and ponies competing. She pointed out that many 12-year-old pony riders are more competent than their adult counterparts at intro level.

“I am happy, so long as they are correctly monitored,” she said. “Ponies are in the sport to stay and there are now increasing numbers of them competing at the lower levels with adults.”

This news story was first published in the May issue of Eventing magazine, on sale now.