Project Pony – new scheme matches talented young riders with top ponies

  • A scheme funding top event ponies for talented young riders who might not otherwise have access to such rides, is paving the way for the next generation.

    Project Pony is the brainchild of 17-year-old Elizabeth Barratt, who enjoyed success with her pony Noble Superman, including a place on the GB pony squad for the Home Pony International at Blair Castle in 2021. When Elizabeth moved on to horses, she came up with the idea to keep “Boris”, but loan him for free to up-and-coming riders aged 12 to 16, who might not have the financial backing to buy a pony of his experience.

    The scheme, which is funded by Elizabeth’s father Ian, now has 10 ponies including some who have competed in pony trials and championships. These have been loaned out to selected riders to compete, and the riders have access to support and training. There is no formal application process for Project Pony; riders can be put forward for consideration by other riders, coaches, or parents, and a viewing and strict matching process takes place to ensure the combination is a suitable fit. There is no loan fee, but riders cover the everyday costs of the ponies.

    Connie Villani, who helps manage Project Pony with Elizabeth, told H&H the aim is to support riders who are “showing a real talent for the sport” and hoping to be in the sport “for the long term”.

    “Our view is we’re educating the next lot of riders. There are lots of children out there who need a leg-up, especially in ponies, and it’s giving them a chance,” said Connie.

    “Although we can’t give ponies to everyone, we’ve started organising training days where riders who aren’t mounted on our ponies have joined us. We’ve found some riders have good ponies but they maybe just need some extra support, and we’re hoping to develop this more.

    “We’re now looking at raising a bit more awareness about what we’re trying to do. In an ideal world we’d love it if more people became involved and supported us, so maybe we can help a few more children.”

    British Eventing accredited coach Annabel Scrimgeour, who has taught at some of the training days, told H&H Project Pony provides a “brilliant opportunity” for riders.

    “These high-quality ponies are expensive and obviously not available to all families, so for the children that get the opportunity to ride these ponies, it’s a great start for their careers. Equally we’ve had quite a selection of children bringing their own,” she said, adding that she was “very impressed” by the standard of riding at the clinics.

    “Some of the riders might be inexperienced, but they’ve got the talent and ability and they all have a wonderful attitude to learning, which is probably as important as natural talent. They all join in together and support each other, and they’re learning these life skills.”

    Sara Ridgway’s 13-year-old daughter Annabel, who events with her 20-year-old loan pony Merrie, attended two Project Pony training sessions and has since been offered the ride on one of the scheme’s ponies, Akim De L’Arquerie. Sue Dawson, Merrie’s owner, contacted Project Pony and recommended Annabel for the programme.

    “Annabel had been competing at BE90 with Merrie, but with Merrie getting older she couldn’t have gone much further,” said Sara.

    “We would never have dreamed of being able to afford a top event pony and we wouldn’t have been able to enable these opportunities for Annabel without Project Pony by any stretch of the imagination. For Annabel her dream has come true. The training offers so much, it’s the whole package. The project is so committed to helping the riders be as successful as possible, and we just feel so lucky.”

    Ian Barratt told H&H his daughter Elizabeth had benefited from “everything ponies have to give” and Project Pony was a way to give something back.

    “When we started working with a couple of children we could really see the benefit, and with Connie’s help we scaled it up,” he said.

    “Eventing is an expensive hobby, and that obviously is going to limit the number of people who can fill their full potential. When you realise how many determined, talented and deserving young riders there are out there, the frustration is almost that you can’t help more people. The sport needs to invest in the next generation, and the more we can get the right people with the right ethos and attitude involved at a young age, that’s going to be what keeps the sport going for generations to come.”

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