The dream of a pony in your backyard for your child to love on and gallop through the pastures in joyful delight is a fantasy rarely achieved. Just a few generations ago horses were a part of everyone’s lives in one way or another. Our ancestors had every day experiences with horses and unconsciously learned the skills necessary to safely and adequately work with them. In addition, horses of the time worked 8 hour days which gave them a machine like steadiness that few horses today will ever achieve. Putting your child on the back of an animal without proper instruction or training would be equivalent to throwing them off the side of a boat in the middle of the ocean with the expectation of them swimming off competently and without fear. The pony in the backyard will often become a lawn ornament and the child’s opportunity to build a bond that would have taught responsibility, confidence and character will be lost. If your horse experience is limited, seek advice from a respected professional in the industry.
Too often someone that has ridden and owned a horse or two may feel competent to train one and offer it for sale. These horses are rarely trained to the “industry standard”, in other words, the horse is not taught the same criteria established as being correct by centuries of study by accomplished horsemen. This horse may look adequate when the do-it-yourself trainer is on him but anyone else, even those with accomplished skills may not be able to communicate with him. The horse trained to a specific level by a good trainer should be able to be ridden by anyone with that same level of skillsets. Beware of the animal that comes with an instruction manual on how to ride him.
Riders need to be mounted on an animal that is suited for their skill level. A common mistake is to over mount a young rider in an attempt to make a pony last longer. Unfortunately, most of the time this animal is too much of an athlete and will scare a young rider and hinder their progress. On the other hand, a rider that has outgrown the skill level of their mount will quickly become bored and will be unable to development more advanced skills. Ponies last on average about 2 years for a rider, 3 years if the pony has progressed as well and the rider has not become too large for him.
Size does matter. A young rider’s skills will progress faster, they will feel safer and be more confident on a pony that is suited for their size. The rider’s calf should reach the widest part of the pony’s barrel for stability and the capability to apply aids. Suitability is also a factor for many judges in the show ring. A child mounted on a pony well-matched for their size and frame is more pleasing to the eye.
Do not plan on making money when buying and selling your child’s ponies. Most young riders do not increase the value of their pony. Like a car, ponies will eventually decline in value from wear and tear from being used. Another factor, as your child is learning to ride, they inevitably teach the pony bad habits; a pony’s mouth may become hard or he will learn to evade the bit or toss his head as a child is developing good hands is one example. Riding and showing horses and ponies is a hobby unless you are a professional trainer. It is an investment in your child in that it will build confidence and teach responsibility. Most of all, working with horses teaches a long list of invaluable life lessons.
Remember the terms “prospect”, “potential” and “green broke” do not always turn out as hoped. You can often save money on buying a pony listed this way and when it works out you got a deal, but consider the downfalls. Training on a young or green pony will be your greatest financial expense when done correctly by a professional. It takes a minimum of 2 years to take an unbroke pony to a finished pony if all goes well. Your child may be able to ride and compete on the pony during this time but a rider will need to be patient and understanding when the pony is not yet able to do what other riders and ponies are doing. ALSO, Beware of the terms "Prospect" and "Green Broke" being used to describe an older pony. Some ponies are so tough to train that they spend their lifetime defined as a prospect. Not all ponies out there go on to be great riding ponies and even less become great show ponies.
Compare finding the right pony to finding a spouse. You consider personality, compatibility and if you both want the same things in life. When you find the “right one” life is good. But sometimes it just doesn’t work out or changes as time goes by. When it comes to ponies; cut your losses and move on to a more appropriate one ASAP. Your child’s junior riding career is short and when they are riding something that scares them, or hinders their progress it can be devastating to their love of horses. Most children will not tell you if they feel this way in fear of losing the pony. I promise you when your child is on the suited mount for them they will quickly forget the last one that wasn’t much fun to ride. If a child is going on to the second year with a disagreeable pony and the two are not showing signs of improvement, move on. Some parents may feel a difficult pony will give their child a challenge, learning to ride properly is challenging enough without having to do it on a contrary mount.
Please remember riding ponies are not pets. Yes we can love them but they should still be considered livestock. This sounds hash but it is good advice and helpful for your child to understand from the beginning. Unless you have unlimited funds or enough land to house every pony that comes into your family’s life this is important. Some families collect horses and ponies either because they love them as pets or feel they can give them a better home than the alternative. This is fine if your heart is in it and you are financially able to properly care for all of them. Unfortunately, many times none of the animals are suitable for a young rider or more advanced activities. One good pony is a far better investment than multiple below average ones. Children (and adults) do get attached and can’t imagine selling something they love so much. I have found that owners do quickly recover and look forward to the new pony they will get to work with.
Life insurance and major medical policies are available through several agencies that specialize in equine insurance. An average yearly rate for full mortality is about 3.5% of the insured amount, usually the purchase amount or value based on show record or breeding bloodlines. Major medical and colic surgery coverage can be added for an additional fee. It is recommended to insure your pony if you would not be financially able to replace him or pay vet bills if something happens.
Do you need to own a pony for your child?
Owning a pony is a privilege that only you can decide if your child deserves. The expense to purchase and care for one is not possible for all families and some feel it is more than they want to spend on one child’s activity. It is recommended your child start with riding lessons before making a purchase. A lease may be a good option if you’re not sure of the child’s commitment. Some stable owners have young ponies or sale animals and are happy to let ponyless children work with them on non-lesson days.
Does my child and pony need to go show?
There are many rewards when learning to ride and work with horses so going to competitions is not necessary. For junior and amateur riders, competitions give them sense of how well they are progressing, either on their riding skills or with a pony they have been working with.
Equestrian sports are recognized by the NCAA at many colleges, it is an event at the Olympics and it IS a sport. Going to a horse show for a rider is the same as a tennis player or swimmer going to a meet or a football or baseball player going to a game.
Riding horses is an activity people enjoy in different ways. The expectations on what their horse will be differs as well; it may be a family pet that lives in the pasture or a pampered show mount in the stable. Those not aware of the opportunities and possibilities will miss out on the inconceivable rewards horses have to offer. Learning to ride properly is a gift any horse lover will treasure their entire lifetime. Never has there been a true enthusiast that didn’t wish they learned more as a child or is appreciative of what they did.