Ranahan Pony Club members Asha Swanberg, 13, left, Elise Sirguy, 12, Libby Swanberg, 15, and Danica Pacilel, 13, with sisters Sierra, 17, Marissa, 15, and Eliza Steffen, 9, gather for a lesson at Serenity Farms, located off Blue Mountain Road east of Port Angeles. (Karen Griffiths/For Peninsula Daily News)

Ranahan Pony Club members Asha Swanberg, 13, left, Elise Sirguy, 12, Libby Swanberg, 15, and Danica Pacilel, 13, with sisters Sierra, 17, Marissa, 15, and Eliza Steffen, 9, gather for a lesson at Serenity Farms, located off Blue Mountain Road east of Port Angeles. (Karen Griffiths/For Peninsula Daily News)

HORSEPLAY: Horse rallies provide competition, education, fun

ARE YOU READY to rally? For Libby Swanberg, rallies are one of the most thrilling aspects of being in the Ranahan Pony Club, a chapter of the United States Pony Clubs.

Libby, 15, is in her 10th year in the club and said she “loves all of it — the horses, the riding and competing.”

Rallies are Pony Club events that allow members to test their knowledge and skills in both horse care and riding in a competitive atmosphere as individuals and part of a team.

She also competes on Sequim High School’s Washington State High School Equestrian Team (WAHSET) as well as Junior Rodeo. Her younger sister, Asha Swanberg, 12, is also a member of Ranahan Pony Club, Junior Rodeo and 4-H in both horse and livestock clubs. Their family owns Bent Gate Farm in Sequim, where the girls help out with all the farm chores and raise their own animals to sell at the Pacific Northwest Junior Livestock Auction.

Sierra Steffen, 17, joined because the Swanbergs invited her and her two younger sisters, Marissa, 15, and Eliza, 9, to join. They are entering their second year in Pony Club.

“I love the education,” Sierra said. “I did do WAHSET, 4-H and a lot of other clubs and horse activities, but the knowledge you get to have, and need to know to progress, is just far superior to the others.”

Yep, you could say she is hooked.

Her sister Marissa Steffen, 15, said the knowledge she’s gained from Pony Club is important to her and she’s excited to be part of it.

“I’m ready to start getting ratings and join in all that the Pony Club offers,” Marissa said.

The girls’ mom, Erica Steffen, said she likes that, through Pony Club, her girls have the ability to learn more about dressage and jumping on a bigger scale than 4-H and the other clubs.

“Pony Club has just been awesome for us,” Erica said.

“You can [certify] your way up to way higher levels,” Marissa said. “We can even get to the beginning stages of pre-Olympics Eventing competitions. Pony Club is like a step-by-step guide to the Olympics, but at a local level.”

The Steffen girls also train BLM mustangs and take part in mustang events, including the Teens and Oregon Mustang Competitions.

The club appreciates being able to meet and practice at Serenity Farms, a private farm off Blue Mountain Road owned by Ken and Sue Sweeney. They started Ranahan Pony Club for their son Greg in 1985. The sport horse farm includes a 2,200-meter cross-country course through the woods, which, according to Sue Sweeny, needs much help maintaining now that they are in their 80s. It also has an outdoor grass arena for stadium jumping, a regular dressage arena and an outbuilding for meals and club meetings, along with lots of stalls for when events are hosted.

I wrote about the Ranahan Pony Club back in 2006 when the Sweeney’s granddaughter, Rio Mowbray, was an 11-year-old in the club. She’s all grown up now and is a lawyer in Seattle. She’s still a member of Pony Club and is currently working on a higher rating, the HA. Her mom, Julie Mowbray, is the regional supervisor for U.S. Pony Clubs in the Northwest Region of Washington State.

Greg Sweeny is still involved with Pony Club and is now a pilot for Alaska Airlines. Mom Sue said she named the club Ranahan because she heard it meant top cowboy, which it does, along with a really experienced cowboy.

The club’s instructor is Cathy Elledge, an event rider and Rolex competitor. She said she’s been traveling from Olympia to Serenity Farms for about 20 years, along with other Pony Clubs in the Pacific Northwest.

She said the women she instructs now are “like my second-generation students.” She pointed at the small but mighty Danica Pacilel as the niece of former student (and pony clubber ) Alicia Hollowell, who was in a corner of the arena, lunging a horse.

Horse lunging is a training method that involves having the horse move around the handler on the end of a lunge line. Lunging is an important training tool that focuses on communication and training, along with stretching and flexion of the muscles. Lunging is especially useful for settling down a nervous or high-strung horse before getting on to ride.

Now 30, Alicia started in Pony Club when she was 9.

“Technically I’m not still in Pony Club. Now I spend my time helping my niece Danica.”

Cathy said Pony Clubs are “by far the best organization to teach kids proper riding.”

She said the club originated some 250 years ago by fox hunters in England. The parents wanted their kids to become good horsemen, too, so they decided to start clubs so that their kids would be able to go out and ride, and to be able to stay on a horse ride while riding cross country.

U.S. Pony Clubs was founded in 1954. Many of the nation’s top equestrians, including Olympic team members, have Pony Club roots.

“Pony clubs now are all about riding dressage, riding cross country and then coming back and doing show jumping and stadium, like in three-day eventing,” Cathy said.

Pony clubs are about life skills and learning about being part of a team. And it also teaches them proper riding, she said.

“Like to ride with your seat and your core, not with your hands,” Cathy said. “Pony Club really teaches horsemanship as far as the riding and the veterinary medicine and horse care.”

There’s no longer an age limit to belong to a Pony Club or take part in competitions. For instance, in August, the Swanbergs went to a Pony Club camp at Baywood Pony Club in Olympia with participants ranging in age from 7 to 63.

Clallam County’s Pony Clubs District Commissioner is Anna Swanberg. Contact her at 360-461-4590 or annat18@hotmail.com.

For more information about U.S. Pony Clubs in the Northwest, visit northwest.ponyclub.org.

Tack sale

From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. today, the Olympic Peninsula Equine Network (OPEN) is hosting its fall tack sale to help fund this local horse rescue, rehab and rehome organization. Shop at the onsite tack shop or at one of the individual booths.

Come see the horses OPEN has up for adoption and/or shop for winter blankets and other supplies. Discounts for young riders, 4-H and FFA members. Located just off Hooker Road at 251 Roupe Road in Sequim.


Karen Griffiths’ column, Peninsula Horseplay, appears the second and fourth Saturday of each month.

If you have a horse event, clinic or seminar you would like listed, please email Griffiths at kbg@olympus.net at least two weeks in advance. You can also call her at 360-460-6299.

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