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November 01


Galloping through childhood

- by Emmanuelle


The Pony Farm is well known to many children who grew up in Auroville. Emmanuelle is one of them. What is the future of this children's paradise?


I will always carry with me vivid memories of the long hours of my childhood spent galloping on pony back, with friends, through open fields, the wind blowing in our hair. Those moments were an initiation into the joys of belonging and being one with nature. Today, some twelve years later, a new generation of Auroville children has replaced ours in spending many happy hours at the Pony Farm with their friends, the ponies.

The Pony Farm in Kottakarai, was started in the mid-eighties by Gaya and Achilles. The first ponies to find a home there were those that had previously belonged to individual Aurovilians. Gaya and Achilles left for Germany, and Nicolette took over management in the mid-nineties. One month ago, Nicolette in turn left, and Lea, with her twenty year-old daughter Sara, were appointed caretakers.

Today, the Pony Farm is home to eighteen ponies and horses of different breeds. About twenty-five children of Auroville, from the age group of 7 to 12 years, come to the Pony Farm a couple of times a week to take riding lessons.

Lea, not only runs the place but also gives riding lessons to the children, while Sara and Madeleine, a long term guest, take them on ride-outs.

Lea, in giving her riding lessons, follows the Hemphling Method: "It is about following the soft way: natural, bareback pony and horse riding." This is a method that has always, to a certain degree, been followed at the Pony Farm, and it stresses the importance of the relationship and communication between the pony and rider. "There are two ways of dominating a pony," continues Lea, "either you break its will through classical training, or, by developing your own personality, you gain your pony's respect, and from that point it listens to you. This is the method I want to follow with the children, although I am still learning it myself. This method is also about working on oneself, and with time, the children will see the results."

During the school holidays, the children spend their days at the Pony Farm. This September, for the mid-term two week holidays, they were there from 7 A.M. to 4 P.M. almost each day. They would groom the ponies, brushing their coats and cleaning their hooves, help to feed them, and then either take riding lessons in the corral, or go for long rideouts. If it was a particularly hot day, upon returning the ponies were given a bath, and after that, the children themselves went for a dive in the Pony Farm swimming pool.

It wasn't much of a holiday for Lea, though: "To have some fifteen children shouting for your attention all day is quite exhausting. At the end of the day, I basically had to chase them out to have a bit of peace and quiet. But we did have a great time: we often rode to the Solar Kitchen to have lunch together, and the children really enjoyed themselves."

They sure did. They are all very happy with Lea, who has so much energy and so much patience (which is essential if you're dealing with that age group!), as their new 'riding teacher'.

A new riding school, The Red Earth Riding School, was started in Auroville some eighteen months back. The approach of this school is classical, and more 'professional'. The children are taught to ride with saddles and are trained to take part in shows and competitions. While the Red Earth Riding School has become equally popular, there will always be those children who continue riding at the Pony Farm and who are more attracted to bareback, free and natural pony and horse riding. And of course there are those families who cannot afford to pay for an individual pony/horse, as the Red Earth Riding School mostly works on that basis.

Almost continuously the Pony Farm has faced financial difficulties. In the early days, SAIIER (Sri Aurobindo International Institute for Educational Research) paid a big part of the Pony Farm's expenses. Then that funding stopped. For Gaya and Achilles, who had to continue feeding and taking care of the twenty-odd ponies, this period was quite a struggle.

In the mid-nineties, the children's parents paid for the riding lessons. Since a few years, Auroville's Central Fund is contributing towards the expenses with Rs. 6,000 a month. This helps, but it only represents a fraction of the monthly expenses. The parents of the children contribute Rs. 600 a month, which leaves the Pony Farm with the recurring challenge of having to cover a deficit of about Rs. 10,000 each month. It would be a great help if some well-wishing individuals or Auroville unit holders could contribute a monthly sum.

Many of the ponies at the Pony Farm have been there since its beginning, and some of them are getting very old, and cannot be ridden any longer, yet they still have to be fed and taken care of. Many of the ponies are also only big and strong enough to carry children up to ten years old, and as the children grow up and continue wanting to ride, that becomes a problem. Lea has been thinking that getting a couple of 'Katavari' horses, a local breed, which is sturdy and resistant, could be a solution. However, the present financial situation makes it impossible.

In spite of the present problems, the Pony Farm continues running and Lea is still positive and optimistic about the future and sure that things will work out.

Says she: "I think the Pony- Farm should be like a second home to the children, where they feel happy to be with their friends, the ponies." To the children it is already very much a 'second home'.

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