Blog & Calendar

Alumni Spotlight: Emily Thomas '18 Represents the United States Pony Club Abroad

Ellie Dalkin, Director of Young Alumni Relations & Communications
The Greenville Foothills Pony Club is a familial affair for the Thomas family. Emily Thomas ‘18 has been a member of the organization for over ten years and her mom, Amy, grew up in the club as well. Founded in Britain in 1929, the Pony Club has since evolved into a worldwide organization “with the main goal being to promote sportsmanship, stewardship and leadership through horsemanship.” Members learn both about horsemanship and riding and move through various levels of certifications based on experience and training. 

Horses have always been an important part of Emily’s life. She grew up riding horses and participated on the Clemson Intercollegiate Eventing Team throughout college. Emily holds the second highest certification in Pony Club, which entails an intensive 3-day test with a panel of examiners. The knowledge required for certification equates to the first year of a veterinary program, and very few individuals reach this level of expertise. It took her many years to work up to that level, and reaching that goal was certainly thrilling. But she could not have imagined the next adventure that awaited her halfway around the world. 

In January, Emily represented the United States in the 2023 Inter-Pacific Exchange in New Zealand. The Exchange takes place every two years and rotates between Canada, US, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Hong Kong. It is an opportunity for the very best Pony Clubbers to come together from all around the world to compete, build community, and learn from each other. Every team consists of a team manager, a coach, and four team members. Emily grew up aspiring to be on the team, as she watched her trainer serve as the United States Pony Club (USPC) coach for many years.  After graduating from Clemson University last spring, she finally had the chance. 

The 2023 team was announced in October, and Emily was overjoyed to learn that all of her hard work had paid off – she had made it. The four members came from college eventing teams all across the country and would soon become the closest of friends. After fundraising the entire cost of the trip, the team met for the first time in Atlanta for a quick training camp two days prior to their flight to New Zealand. Complicated by travel issues, the trip became a 50-hour nightmare. As Emily put it, “our group became close rather quickly.” 

A three-week long event, the Exchange consists of bonding with the other teams, competing for a few days, and most importantly exploring and learning about the host country. The competition entails two different components – the Kiwi Cup, a scramble event in which teams are mixed up between countries and the coach is randomly assigned, and the Nations Cup, a showjumping competition in which every country competes against one another. For only the fifth time in the history of the entire exchange (60 years!), the United States won the Nations Cup – an exciting feat for Emily and her teammates. 

After their victory, they spent the remainder of the trip sightseeing with the other teams. Some of her favorite memories include taking a boat tour around the glaciers of Tasman Lake, cruising through the Milford Sound, and visiting the Mount Cook National Park. She journaled every step of the way, and when asked what she learned from her journey, she responded “slow down and smell the roses – don’t take a single moment for granted.” She left with priceless memories and lifelong friendships. And, as a bonus, she now has a place to stay if she ever visits one of the participating countries. 

Though her journey came to a close at the end of January, she embarked on her next adventure shortly thereafter. Soon after landing back in the United States, she was on her way to Florida to work with a professional horse eventing rider until July. When she returns, she will start her first year at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine. While passionate about horses, Emily is even more passionate when it comes to pursuing her dream of helping others through the field of medicine. “If you change one person’s life, that’s their world," she says. "I don’t need to change the world, I just want to change one person’s world.”
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    • The US Team at Governors Bay in New Zealand

    • A Tasman Lake souvenir!

    • Emily competing in the States with her horse Strider

    • The US Team at the Kiwi Club

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