From early colonial times, horse riding has been practised in the Penrith region. Originally much of the riding was done, of necessity as a means of transport, but gatherings of horsemen and women for hunting were common recreational pursuits. Usually these hunt meets were organised affairs, with all the local gentry assembling together to follow the drag laid by someone in the area with a skill in such things. The dogs would be shown the scent, and the horses followed the dogs. A successful meet involved a good run with plenty of fences and creeks to jump, giving the riders plenty of chances to show off their skills. At the end of the meet, the host would provide a meal for his guests.
At other times, animals were hunted. In the earliest years kangaroos, possums and dingoes could be the targets, later foxes that had been introduced for the sport, were more likely to be the quarry. Most hunts occurred in daylight, though it was not unknown for a moonlight hunt to occur. The Rev. James S. Hassall wrote of his uncle’s practice of suddenly deciding, on the spur of the moment, on a moonlight night, to “order the horses…and off we would go through the barren scrubs, with a dozen or fifteen kangaroo dogs, killing opossums, wallabies, and dingoes, as luck might serve, and getting home again about one o’clock in the morning.”
Although fox-hunting is no longer practised, the skills of those riders are still reproduced today in the many equestrian centres and pony clubs in the district. With much of the area still rural in character, many people either own their own horses, or hire them from the riding clubs.
One such Club is the Londonderry Pony Club, which began in 1974. Their first riding ground was in the Richmond Dog Track car park at Londonderry. A couple of years later, the Club leased new grounds from Farley and Lewers – now Ready Mix Concrete. They stayed at these grounds known as Tyreel Paddock, for twenty years, only moving when Ready Mix Concrete (CSR) reclaimed the land for sand mining in 1996.
The forty acres were situated at Castlereagh Road Agnes Banks, and were ideal for riding. At first, the Club shared the venue with the Windsor Polocrosse Club on alternate weekends, but became the sole user when the polo moved to Richmond.
With the resumption of the land, the Club moved to their present site on Londonderry Road, to land owned by the Department of Mineral Resources – now Test Safe. The clubhouse was moved intact from Agnes Banks, and horse yards and an amenities block was constructed at the new grounds with the help of members and volunteers.
The Londonderry Pony Club caters for riders from 3 to 25 years and always has between 50 and 90 members. Former young riders, have later become Instructors and their children are now members. The Club members have participated in State and National Championships, as well as Agricultural Shows. Events include show jumping, dressage, horsemanship, sporting events, mounted games, and one day events.
Horse riding, it is clear, is still very popular in the Penrith region even after 210 years.
Hassall, Rev. James S. In Old Australia: Records and Reminiscences from 1794.
Londonderry Pony Club, Brief History, supplied on request, March 2000.
Nepean Times, 20/8/1898, p.6.