Pony Express 4-H Club celebrates 40th anniversary
Founders to be recognized during fair
CENTREVILLE — This year, 2016, marks the 40th anniversary of the Pony Express 4-H Club. Started in 1976, Pony Express became the organization that headed up the Queen Anne’s Fair horse shows each year, and it has continued to do so every year since.
The name Pony Express came from original club leader Bev Platzke-Shamer’s nephew’s belt buckle.
“The buckle had the impression of a horse and rider galloping and the words ‘Pony Express’ under the image,” said Platzke-Shamer. “My nephew stood up in our organizational meeting and proposed that be the club’s name.”
Also related to the club’s name, “Our family favored Western riding, so many, but not all of our original members rode Western,” Platzke-Shamer added. “We did game shows, rodeos, trail ride, and lots of speed events. That’s all part of the history of the club’s name.”
Don Potter of Wye Mills was a leader of the Pony Express club for nearly a decade (1989-1997). He said, “I became involved with my family at the 10th anniversar y of the club (1986). About three years after joining, I became the leader. I have to give 95 percent of the credit to Bev for making the club what it became. She was the leader before me, and we just carried on the good things she has started, having the kids wear sashes to show all the activities they have been involved in, establishing the Outstanding Member Award criteria, and so forth.
“Back then, we had the county fair horse show on Saturday as the fair was ending,” said Potter. “Both English and Western shows were run the same day. There was no horse barn back then, and the show ring, which the Jolly Circle Horse Club built, was an all grass surface.”
He added, “At club meetings we always asked the kids what they wanted to do, and if they voted for something, we, as adults, tried our best to make it happen. We did activities like jousting, fox hunts, team penning, vaulting, Roman riding, taking the horses for a swim while on horseback, calf roping. We tried to give the kids a broad overview of what you can do with horses.
“Kids learn lots more in 4-H than just working with their ‘project animal’ you know,” Potter continued. “I had a teacher tell me once that they could tell within a week after school starts which kids are in 4-H. ‘They’re more outgoing, and nice kids, respectful to adults,’ I was told. I agree with that teacher’s assessment.”
Lona Todd of Centreville grew up as a Pony Express member during the 1980s. She had a Appaloosa mare she loved, but “it was an App with no spots! My grandfather bought that mare for me when I was 11 years old. We didn’t have that many horse shows back in those days, but we rode our horses every night. That’s all we did! We lived out here in the countr y.”
Todd has a copy of a Record-Observer newspaper dated Aug. 12, 1986, showing her at age 16 with several other people at the barn dedication during the Queen Anne’s County Fair. So, that makes the horse barn 30 years old this year.
She said, “A lot of people donated money to have that barn built. My grandfather was one of them, and all those who donated had their names posted on one of the stall doors. Many of the names are no longer there. The names have fallen off over the years, and that’s a shame.
“4-H was fun,” Todd added. “We had good families. We rode our horses in parades and went trail riding.”
Also remembering Bev Platzke-Shamer, Todd said, “She was awesome. I love that woman. She was always happy and always had a smile on her face. She’d tell you like it was too, and not hurt your feelings.”
Todd still owns horses and said, “My next dream is to do cowboy-mounted shooting. I’ve tried it, and I’ve never had a bigger adrenaline rush in my life.”
Platzke-Shamer was the original leader of Pony Express 4-H Club, however, she is quick to tell you, she was not the only leader during her time.
“I delegated to other parent leaders who fulfilled roles in the club,” she said. “Fortunately, we worked together and not against each other. If only one person’s doing all the work, it limits how much can be done.”
Before Pony Express, there was the Queen Anne’s 4-H Equestrian Club, run by Kathy Downs. Then a couple named Alvin and Charlotte Lane took over from Downs.
“Kathy and the Lane’s ran that club for a number of years before I came along, and Kathy was a English riding instructor,” said Platzke-Shamer. “When they gave it up, we started Pony Express.”
Platzke-Shamer organized the successful effort to build what is today the horse barn at the 4-H Park. She said, “That was a team effort too. We presented the blue prints to the Park Board and we raised the money to buy the materials, having the barn built by volunteers.”
She described herself, laughingly, as “a thorn in their side” “I told them we had to get stalls built for our 4-H equestrians, and we did it,” she said. That horse barn is one of the great reasons why the 4-H Park in Centreville is “the envy of the state of 4-H parks,” many have said. The Queen Anne’s County Fair is one of the only fairs that has a facility where the 4-H youth can stay all week at fair with their horses, making for a unique experience.
She said, “Our kids would always go to the state fair each year and do well. We also had Horse Bowl and Horse Judging as activities which helped the children to learn more. Over the years, the number of members doing English and Western riding has changed. At times, more English, and at other times more Western, whatever the children’s personal interests.”
The plan is that Platzke-Shamer and Don Potter will be recognized during this year’s Queen Anne’s County Fair for the work they did many years ago, which has continued through others who have taken over “the reins of leadership” in following years.
There are and have been additional equestrian 4-H clubs in the county as equine interests have been diverse, all evolving out of Pony Express. The next club formed was the Kent Island Young Riders 4-H Club, about 10 years later. Their focus was on “flat classes,” meaning English and Western Pleasure riding at shows.
In 2007, a third equine club, Dream Riders 4-H was formed, focusing on beginner riders. Six years ago, the Young Riders club merged with the Queen Anne’s County 4-H Canine Club and was renamed Wags & Whinnies 4-H Club.
Pony Express continues to be the largest of the three clubs in membership. The club has had numerous other leaders since Potter gave up the reins; Roxie Cross and the late Robin Gearhart ran it together for a few years, before Cross took it over following Gearhart’s departure. Even after turning over the club six years ago, Cross had continued to be the county fair horse show chairman until this year, as her daughter, a former PE member in her youth, Shannon Cross, has taken over as fair horse show chairman.
Tom and Dotie Gannon are the current leaders. “I’m not sure they know this,” said Potter, “but the farm they now own is where the Pony Express 4-H Club actually started back in 1976. The farm was where Kathy Downs gave riding lessons for many years.”
The Pony Express 4-H Horse Club takes part in the Centreville Christmas Parade.