Learning to Ride To Time

11 December 2023 Written by VRC

Pony Club is about fun, friendship and having a go, while teaching and developing important safety and riding skills. One of these is learning how to ride at a certain pace, and to judge how fast your horse is travelling, a vital component of being a jockey. The Pony Club Victoria Ride to Time program grows stronger every year, and with the help of Racing Victoria provides a link for riders who may be interested in becoming a part of the racing industry in roles such as track riders, apprentice jockeys, stable hands, even trainers.

In 2021, Jamie Kah made racing history when she won 105 races in a season in metropolitan Victoria. Sailing across the finishing line at Caulfield on Deep Speed to break the magical 100 mark, Kah’s achievements in the saddle inspired countless young riders.

Many of those hopefuls who dream of emulating her success belong to Pony Club Australia. Australia’s first Pony Club was founded in 1939 in Ingleburn, New South Wales, and since then the sporting organisation has grown to have 800-plus clubs dotted across the country with more than 40,000 members.

Pony Club builds riding skills and knowledge about how best to care for horses and reinforces the responsibilities that come with horse ownership. Taking part in riding-based sports and competitions and building friendships are also part and parcel of Pony Clubs up and down the country.

Pony Club riders work towards achieving certificates that start at the basic level of learning how to put on a halter and get on and off a pony to learning how to feed.  By the time members reach the higher certificate levels they can take a horse and do its foundation training, ride unfamiliar horses and they also have sound veterinary knowledge. The aim is for members to build their knowledge in horse care, nutrition and horse behaviour while developing their riding skills.

Sports taught include show jumping, dressage, eventing, mounted games and tetrathlon where riders compete in a four-phase show jumping, running, shooting and swimming event. In Stockman’s Challenge events, competitors have to navigate their horses through an obstacle course as quickly and carefully as possible. Pony Club members can also learn how to Ride to Time.

What is Ride To Time?

Ride to Time, or Speed to Safety, is learning how to ride at a certain pace, and judge how fast your horse is travelling. For those who are competing or thinking of a career in the racing industry, Ride to Time is the perfect foundation. If you go too slow in the show jumping arena or on a cross country course, you will get time faults. Courses will always have the time allowed printed on the map of the course (e.g. 450 metres per minute), or riders are expected to know it because of the grade/level they are riding. The course is always measured with a measuring wheel, so a 450m course, for example, has a time allowed of 60 seconds. Jockeys and track work riders need to know how fast they are travelling as a trainer may ask for ‘15 seconds per furlong (200m)’ in training. The times have been set based on the cross country times for each grade, accounting for the fact there are no jumps. Riders have one practice run before attempting the competition time in a Ride to Time competition. Rider closest to required speed (timed) is the winner.

Formal Ride to Time Events are run over 1000m and participants must be 12 years or older). While just learning or trying it out, riders can use a 200m straight stretch of flat ground with good footing which will give a time that is multiplied by five as not all riders have access to race tracks. While not the same as riding 1000m, it gives an approximate idea.

The pace that riders go is dependent on a few factors. Formal events for Ride to Time or Speed to Safety use: 120 seconds – Horse trials Grades 3,4,5 riders must ride 1000m at 500m per minute (120 seconds). This is called ‘Maiden’ Class. 109s – Horse trails Grades 1 and 2 riders must ride 1000m at 550m per minute (109 seconds). This is called the ‘Open’ Class.

To put it into context, on a race day a jockey might ride a 1000m race in under 60 seconds, so for Maiden class Ride To Time, that’s ‘half pace’.

Pony Club Victoria (PCV) and Ride to Time

In Victoria, a Ride To Time State Final is held each September at Moonee Valley Racecourse during a race meeting. The Pony Club members dress in racing silks – some riders wear their own family silks or borrow from a trainer they might work for. Those who don’t have them are fortunate to wear famous silks such as Sunline, Better Loosen Up, Maldivian to name a few and canter past spectators and the winning post. The program involves graded riders from across the 10 PCV zones attending a series of training and education sessions where professional jockeys and/or suitably accredited instructors assist riders with the skills required for riding at a given speed. At the Zone training clinics, a given speed will be nominated for a time trial. Practice riding to these times is carried out for the duration of the training session on a local racetrack. After the clinic, riders will be selected to represent their Zone at the Ride to Time State Championships. A total of 20 riders, a finalist from each Zone in each section, will represent that Zone at the metropolitan event.

Ride To Time teaches riders the importance of riding safely, in control and to a given plan. They learn the significance and importance of control and safety whilst introducing broader opportunities that await them within the equine industry. The program also provides the opportunity to ride in track pads, use beepers (metronomes) and to learn track-riding skills and techniques used by track riders and jockeys.

These techniques can also be transferred to a number of different equestrian riding situations such as in the cross-country phase of horse trials.

In the past 18 months, Thoroughbred Industry Careers in conjunction with Pony Club Australia has introduced Pony Racing for young riders on ponies, which is proving very popular. Riders train in aspects of racing, and are selected to ride at metropolitan race meetings in various states, in a special pony race as public entertainment.