Craig teen earns U.S. Pony Club ratings |

Craig teen earns U.S. Pony Club ratings

Joe Moylan
Holly Dunaway rides the cross-country course at Elk River Equestrian in Steamboat Springs. Dunaway passed both her D3 and C1 ratings from the local chapter of the U.S. Pony Club, which required three full days of testing between August and October.
Courtesy Photo

A Craig teen was recognized Oct. 25 for earning her D3 and C1 ratings by the Yampa Valley Pony Club, a local chapter of the United States Pony Club.

Holly Dunaway, 14, took part in three full days of testing Aug. 6, Oct. 2 and Oct. 19 at Elk River Equestrian in Steamboat Springs. She was recognized by Patty Gold, district commissioner of Pony Club, for her distinctions in English-style riding.

“It was pretty exhilarating, and I felt pretty accomplished,” Dunaway said. “It’s rewarding to know I have the physical and mental capabilities to get as far as I have in the horse world and it has given me the motivation to work even harder.”

Dunaway said she would love to make a career out of riding.

“I would love to be an A-rated Pony Clubber,” Dunaway said. “In the horse world, that would be like going to the NBA.”

She said she knows that being an elite rider is a long shot, but hopes to make a career out of working with horses.

“No matter what I have done in my life, horses have been a main focus,” Dunaway said. “It’s something I think I can dedicate my life to.”

Deb Coniff, Holly’s mother and avid horseman with more than 30 years of experience raising and training horses, said the Pony Club is much more than a bunch of kids riding around in a field for fun.

“The U.S. Pony Club is part of an international organization,” Coniff said. “So, I could go anywhere in the world and tell a horseman I’m a C3 pony clubber, for example, and they will know exactly what I can do with any horse in their stable.”

In addition, Coniff said five out of six members from the most recent U.S. Olympic Pentathlon team were former pony clubbers.

“It’s the elite horseman organization in the country and around the world,” Coniff said.

Pony Club has historically been focused on teaching English-style riding, she said. Education begins at the D1 and D2 levels where students are taught the basics of how to sit properly in a saddle, horse diet and body parts, and the ability to manage the animal in a walk, trot and canter and over small jumps.

Training is not only done in the field, Coniff said, and students are expected to memorize more than 200 pages of written material for each level. The amount of knowledge required increases exponentially with each classification as does the expertise in handling a horse.

“The move from D2 to D3 is the most difficult because the jumps increase to about two feet tall,” Coniff said. “Not only do they need to know how to do certain things, they need to know how to verbalize why.”

Pony Club’s top rating is “A” and only one out of every 300 members reach that distinction.

Coniff said it has taken her daughter six years to reach her C1 classification.

Although Pony Club has focused on English-style riding for the majority of its history, Coniff said the U.S. organization is experimenting with bringing a similar level of teaching to western-style riding.

However exciting the new focus on western riding is, Coniff believes English-style is the best place for new riders to start.

“As far as learning to ride with balance, being able to sit properly in a saddle and counteract the movements of the horse, those who learn how to ride English first can switch to any other type of riding,” Coniff said. “If you start with Western, it’s much more difficult to transfer to other styles, particularly when it comes to jumps.

“Jumping in a western saddle is awkward at best.”

The main difference between English and western riding is the saddle, Coniff said.

“Western is a very functional type of riding,” Coniff said. “It’s what the cowboys use. The saddle is designed for long hours of riding and moving cattle. It’s a working saddle.”

English saddles, on the other hand, are less functional but allow for more athletic moves like jumping, Coniff said.

Dunaway was joined by five other Yampa Valley residents for testing at Elk River Equestrian.

Jennie Symons, 12, of Steamboat Springs, and Cosette McLaughlin, 10, of Steamboat Springs, both earned their D1 and D2 ratings. Sydney Boyd, 13, of Steamboat Springs, Hayleigh Aurin, 13, of Steamboat Springs, and Millie Delaney, 14, of Hayden, earned their C1 classifications.

The Yampa Valley Pony Club will be meeting Nov. 28 at Snow Bowl in Steamboat Springs, 2090 Snow Bowl Plaza.

Anyone interested in participating in Pony Club should call Coniff in Craig at 620-2583 or Gold in Steamboat Springs at 879-7968.

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