Why should young kids have all the fun with their horses? That was a question Lothian's Hope Jacob asked herself when she saw children - members of the U.S. Pony Club - "playing games on horseback."
Pony clubs, which provide what might be called the recreational sports of the horse world, are open to riders younger than age 21. They're the first equine experience for many children, offering riding thrills and experience on a child-size scale.
"Someone said, `Hope, why don't you do this for adults?'" Jacob said. And thus, in 1999, was born the nonprofit Old People's Riding Club.
"The first chapter started with four people in my living room," Jacob said. Today, the organization has spread to 33 states and Canada and has 800 members.
About 60 riders - at least one of whom is 67 years old - are members of the Anne Arundel County chapter.
As promised by Jacob - and as in any pony club - the emphasis is on fun, safety and horsemanship. Clubs have "gymkhanas," where members play games on horseback, such as riding with an egg on a spoon or popping balloons with a sword or dropping beanbags into buckets while riding.
Clubs have more traditional horse shows, as well. But, they're very low-key, Jacob said.
"You don't have to have the clothes," she said. "You don't have to have the $100,000 horse."
Riders of all stripes are welcome, although a basic knowledge of riding is requisite, and riders in English tack might try a Western event while riders in Western saddles might find themselves riding a dressage test, traditionally done in English tack.
The group has adapted traditional riding events to make them fun and safe, such as lowering jumps or offering cross-country courses where the riders don't have to jump at all.
In fact, said Severna Park's Whitney Williams, who coordinates communications for the Old People's Riding Club, "you can go out in teams if you don't want to be out there in open country by yourself.
"A lot of people love the competitions and rallies. They open it up to people who aren't upper-level riders and riders who don't jump."
The horses, too, are of varying ability, from sleek thoroughbred hunters to sturdy quarter horse-crosses.
This month, Anne Arundel chapter members took their horses swimming at Solomons Island.
Williams, whose thoroughbred was recovering from an injury, was lent an older quarter horse cross-breed by another member. She rode bareback across a field from the horse trailers to the water.
"All the horses are spooking and backing up, and I said, `Make way for the pro,' and we went swimming," she said. Once her horse entered the water, the rest did, too.
"We have pictures of people in velvet hunt caps and bikinis, because our [safety] rule is you have to have a helmet," Williams said. "Two of the horses couldn't resist dropping to roll in the sand, but fortunately, the riders anticipated that and jumped off. After horses and riders were done swimming, the riders had a picnic. We try to make that one of the regular annual events."
The educational component of club activities is important for older riders, too.
The club conducts clinics of all types throughout the Baltimore area, including a popular "bombproofing" clinic that teaches horses to get used to unusual items that might scare them.
Arnold's Valerie Levin was sharing a leased horse with her daughter, Kara, 13, who was in a Pony Club, when she read about the Old People's Riding Club in a horse magazine.
"We started going, and we just had a blast," she said. "I didn't know what `eventing' was or what dressage was. We just wanted the camaraderie of something organized."
Since then, she's learned what eventing (a three-competition horse show) and dressage (one type of competition) are, and has tried her hand at them, along with cubbing, which is fox hunting.
"Every year it's something - that's what's so fun," she said. "It gives you the chance to experience things I'd never heard of or get to be able to do."
Those teaching the Old People's Riding Club members enjoy it, too.
"I've had top clinicians say, `You guys smile, and I've never seen anyone smile,'" said Jacob, recalling, too, a letter from a dressage judge saying how much she enjoyed seeing a rider kiss her horse after a competition.
Levin added that the club also plans horse-theme trips every other year. Members have traveled to the Mediterranean island of Majorca to ride Andalusian stallions, and done a wine trail ride in Seattle. Last year, they went to Colorado dude ranch and herded cattle. Next year it will be Ireland.
Closer to home, members are getting ready for a three-day clinic at Waredaca Farm in Laytonsville with a noted eventing trainer.
"We smile and try to do what she tells us," Jacob said. "We're not go-getters. We've already gone and went."
The typical member of an Old People's Riding Club chapter is a middle-aged woman, although some men have joined. Annual dues are $35, event fees are extra, and members do not need to own a horse or trailer.
Information: www.oldpeoplesridingclub.org or call Hope Jacob, 410-867- 7111.