Arguing with the instructor. Barging into the ring. Beating up a pony in the lorry park.
These are just a few of the incidents that prompted district commissioners (DCs) in Area 5 of the Pony Club (which covers Cheshire and north Wales) to draw up their own code of conduct for parents.
The code also covers the behaviour expected of children, instructors and judges. It is necessary, says Sue Clark, joint DC at the Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn’s branch, because “so many parents now do not know how to behave”.
Lady Clark — who is the mother of event rider Polly Stockton — first encountered riders’ codes when she was a junior selector for British Eventing (BE) and running the JRN programme.
After a number of Area 5 DCs expressed concerns about parents’ behaviour, she suggested introducing a similar code for the Pony Club.
“They will argue the toss and some have been really rude,” she told H&H.
“People sometimes need to be reminded how to behave — and that we are all volunteers.”
Geoff Bell, a solicitor who is DC of the East Cheshire branch, was asked if he could tweak the BE code. The Respect Code of Conduct, which stresses that “winning isn’t everything”, was then adopted by Area 5.
Geoff Bell believes that much of the poor behaviour stems from overly competitive parents.
“They are often overanxious that their child should compete strongly and do well, and sometimes this can become unacceptable,” he said.
Both Mr Bell and Lady Clark identify parents new to the Pony Club, often from non-equestrian backgrounds, as the source of some of the trouble.
“It is a lack of knowledge that turns into aggression that is the problem,” Lady Clark told H&H.
With this in mind, the code declares that parents must never enter the arena unless invited by a steward and reminds them that children ride and compete for fun.
A number of Area 5 branches have laminated the code and display it at rallies and competitions, and — say the DCs — it is working.
Area 5 DCs asked Pony Club headquarters if it would like to adopt the Respect code nationally, but it declined. Spokesman ClareWalkenden said the Pony Club Handbook had contained a code for parents since 2007.
“Our branches are autonomous and the Area 5 code gives more in-depth guidance than is in the handbook,” she said. “The Pony Club has the highest objectives of sportsmanship, loyalty and self-discipline.
“In the past, we as a national body have banned parents and we make no hesitation in doing that.” But other branches have also had to introduce their own specific behaviour codes for parents.
Tina Grimes, who is treasurer of the Wentworth and District, said they issued theirs in response to “one or two parents who could be very unsportsmanlike”. She added: “We no longer have the problem and all our parents are very supportive, without being pushy.”
Mary Quigley, who is chief instructor for the Tedworth branch, echoed those sentiments.
“I have seen some dubious behaviour, but the vast majority of Pony Club parents are kind, helpful and knowledgeable.”
The full version of this news story was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (28 March 2013)