MANY congratulations to Zara Kelly, a member of the Bray Branch of the Irish Pony Club, who celebrated her 21st birthday on Monday and, the following morning, learned that she had passed her A Test.

“I’m just over the moon!” enthused Zara who is from Leopardstown in south Dublin. “I was one of three who wanted to do the A Test with the Irish Pony Club last year but when the other two dropped out it seemed like I would miss out as well. However, Jillie Rogers, who has coached me through my B Test, H Test and now A Test, and Faith Ponsonby fought to allow me sit the exam in England and I have worked extremely hard over the last 12 months, particularly the last six, to pass it.

“I first sat the exam at Wellington in October and passed three of the four sections. I lost out in the riding section but it was more to do with the different ways of phrasing things between Ireland and England and I knew that, with a few tweaks, I should be fine when the chance to sit that section came around again.”

That opportunity arose last Thursday week, just seven days after Zara had represented the Republic of Ireland in the Pony Club dressage home international at the Royal Windsor Horse Show. There, riding Roo Too, she finished eighth in the Open class while the team placed third.

“I was due to go home for a few days and travel back over to Ingestre (Stables in Staffordshire) to sit the Test when the Ingestre owners, Tim Downes and Rob Lovatt, thought it would be better for my head if I didn’t have all that travelling to do so they invited me to Ingestre where I stayed with their working pupils.” As ever, Zara had been accompanied to Royal Windsor by her very supportive mother, Sharon, and the latter’s sister Lorraine Dunne, who brought Roo Too back to Ireland.

“When you do the A Test in Ireland, you bring your own horse and then swap rides with others taking the exam. In Britain, you ride strange horses and I rode six that Thursday. I was told I wouldn’t hear anything about the results for 10 days or so and, I was so worried that I didn’t pass, that I immediately applied to do the Test again next September. When I saw the email on Tuesday morning I thought it had something to do with that application so was absolutely shocked, and delighted, when I saw that I had passed!

“My Mum was thrilled and so was my Dad (Dave) and my brother Adam. Dad was delighted that I wouldn’t have to go back to England again but more so that I had achieved what I wanted to achieve. I cannot thank Jillie Rogers enough for all that she has done for me, she is amazing, and also Paul Kilbride, an eventing coach based at Spruce Lodge.

“While I trained as a florist last year, I work full-time with horses, mainly riding for others, and am coach with several Branches of the IPC. On the riding front, my main aim this year is to compete in the working hunter class for traditionally-bred Irish horses at Dublin on Roo Too and then to take her eventing.” The 10-year-old bay mare by Jackaroo was bred in Co Wicklow by William Micklem out of Glen Bliss (by Kings Master).

When we said at the start that Zara was a member of the Bray Pony Club we only told a third of the story as she is also a coach with the Branch and is a member of the committee. “Everyone on the committee was very involved in my journey – as was the former DC (District Commissioner) Wendy Lee – and were all very supportive.”

The Branch was quick to post the following on its Facebook page on Tuesday morning: “We are so so proud of Zara as The Pony Club A Test is the highest test within The Pony Club structure and requires a lot of hard work and commitment, and passing is not a given. It is a really worthwhile achievement and provides the foundation to specialise in a branch of equitation. It is an exam for a serious and dedicated rider who is prepared to devote time and effort to improving their own riding and their practical knowledge of training young horses. Well done Zara!”