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Clare Mackintosh: The branding irony

PUBLISHED: 09:29 01 June 2016 | UPDATED: 10:01 03 June 2016

Tweed-clad or not, pony club kids are a breed unto themselves

Tweed-clad or not, pony club kids are a breed unto themselves


The Pony Club has rebranded - and I haven't felt this depressed since the Brownies ditched button-down dresses in favour of trousers, baseball caps and sweatshirts.

The Pony Club has rebranded - and I haven’t felt this depressed since the Brownies ditched button-down dresses in favour of trousers, baseball caps and sweatshirts

In an attempt to keep numbers more stable, the Club has revealed its first rebrand in 87 years. Out with the Tudor Rose logo and the posh tweed; in with sorbet pink, social media channels, and a series of diverse poster boys and girls, all designed to help the Pony Club jockey for position against other tween activities such as Playstation, TV, and hanging about the town hall steps talking to boys.

The new look is fresh, bright, and appealing. And I hate it. I haven’t felt this depressed about a rebrand since the Brownies ditched A-line button-down dresses in favour of brown trousers, baseball caps and yellow sweatshirts. The Pony Club is an institution. It’s serious. It boasts dozens of Olympic champions among its alumni, from Zara Phillips to the entire equestrian team at the London 2012 Olympics. Their prowess was surely not built on ice-cream colours and political correctness, yet our future champions will have to be. Because, not content with changing the logo, the rebrand extends to that stalwart of the Pony Club; the District Commissioner.

Such is the impact of this key role, I can still remember the full name of my own DC, despite last seeing her across a muddy field in 1991, as I careered around a cross-country course. Public-school posh and impossibly glamorous, in a tweed jacket and a Hemes headscarf, in my day the District Commissioner was Pony Club royalty. Interviews for the role must surely have required a voice test, to ensure applicants had the strident voice necessary to stop in their tracks any young girls foolish enough to horse around in her presence. Like Mary Poppins, she was firm but fair, and mildly terrifying. Yet it seems such an approach is outdated. Modern children can’t handle the military style instructions, barked without so much as a would you mind awfully? They must instead be cosseted and cajoled; persuaded to conform instead of disciplined when they don’t. A horse, in other words, entirely of a different colour. Less Pony Club, more Political Correctness. At the risk of sounding older than my years, I can’t be the only one to bemoan the loss of discipline from life in general, and from children’s lives in particular. I’m not advocating daily floggings at Pony Club camp, but a healthy dose of respect is part and parcel of the pony world. Looking after horses takes dedication, hard work and fearlessness; being shouted out for having dirty tack is an excellent training ground for taking the sport seriously. Want life to be soft and fluffy? Get a rabbit. Discipline is essential when you’re mixing a field full of four-legged friends with a horde of over-excited children, and in my book that’s no bad thing.

My feisty daughter, who likes to kick back against parental authority with a character transformation of Jekyll and Hyde proportions, will listen meekly as her riding instructor bellows, “HEELS DOWN, EVIE!” and doesn’t bat an eyelid when she’s told off for getting too close to the wrong end of her pony. In her eyes, instructor Bea has celebrity status; what she says, goes.

But times are a-changing, and discipline now as rare as rocking horse proverbial. No doubt the new breed of Pony Club District Commissioners will be sent on endless equality courses, returning with the diversity bit between their teeth to make sure members never feel ‘uncomfortable’. Will it work? Or has the horse already well and truly bolted? As a pony club alumna I’ll support any endeavour designed to boost numbers, but I’m still on the fence about whether a rebrand is the answer.

Tweed-clad or not, pony club kids are a breed unto themselves. I hate to be a neighsayer, but it’ll take more than a new logo to change the Pony Club. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.


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