My name is Jude Watts and I am Commandant of the Ponies (Squadron 5). I have been a Horse Ranger at Hampton Court for nearly 40 years and Commandant for 20. I arrived, just the same as the other recruits on 5 February 1972 and, well... never left!
We meet on Sunday afternoons between 1.30pm and 4.30pm and uniquely are the only Squadron with 8-10 year olds. We could not operate without our Pony Helpers, who are Senior Rangers, who give up their spare time to assist with the horses and children in our Squadron. Often, those doing The Duke of Edinburgh's Award use this for their 'Volunteering' section and end-up staying on as Pony Helpers.
The Pony Helpers also have an opportunity to achieve the Young Equestrian Leaders Award (YELA) for volunteering with the Ponies. The Bronze award requires just 20 hours of service followed by the Silver (80 hours) and the Gold, (120 hours). We currently have 10 Pony Helpers signed up to take part in this scheme.
We also rely on a number of volunteer Parent Helpers to assist with the children when they are in Bushy Park.
The 'Ponies' award system begins with Grade 1 and Grade 2 certificates of achievement, moving on to the Junior Tenderfoot and for those who complete these, they then work towards a Grade 3 certificate. We make sure they all receive their Junior Tenderfoot before they progress to the Seniors after their 10th birthday.
The Children all arrive by 1.30pm when we begin the session with a Parade to take the register and give uniform marks for those who are riding.
The Squadron is divided into 2 groups and each week one will ride while the other has stable management duties. Our Parent Helpers walk the children who are riding, to Bushy Park to meet the horses at the 'tree'. We usually have 2 rides but sometimes 3, depending on the number of children and which horses are available for us to ride.
Those on stable management duties will skip out at the mews and then continue on with activities towards their goals (ie their Tenderfoot badge and Grades). When the riders return to the Mews we have a final Parade, this often includes achievement awards being presented, and the children are then collected at 4.30pm.
However, we don't all finish here as the horses need to be fed and put to bed. These duties the Pony Helpers take-on and stay on with the Officers for about another hour and a half to help.
Sundays 13:30 to 16:30
Captain Judith Watts (I)
Major David Daubney (I)
Adele Cox (I)
Lorna Savill (JI)