I’ve recently had a fun job of exercising a little pony for her owner. She’s ridden by the owner’s young son and had a share rider over the summer, where she unfortunately learnt a few bad habits.
It’s inevitable unfortunately. Ponies are highly intelligent and rapidly learn how to take advantage of small jockeys and their lack of strength.
One of my favourite things when I was growing up was getting to ride the naughty ponies. They weren’t necessarily that naughty, but as soon as they started pushing the boundaries, cutting corners, stopping at jumps, one of us teenagers got to ride them in a lesson.
Our job was to push the pony back into their box; stay around the outside, canter when asked, jump the jump correctly. Not only did it remind the pony of the correct expected behaviour but it also gave them a good experience as they had a balanced rider on for a while, and often got to do a few more jumps, possibly bigger than with the little jockeys, and other exciting things.
When the young kids at the yard got their ponies us older helpers rode them a couple of times a week for the first month or so to establish and improve their level of schooling so that their little rider could manage them. Then we were weaned off them, and only remounted when the ponies got above their station and started being cheeky.
If anyone I knew was looking to buy a pony for their child I would always recommend enlisting the help of a small teenager or adult to school the pony regularly. This doesn’t mean having a canter around the school or a blast on a hack, as you always need to bear in mind that the pony is to be ridden by a smaller person. Schooling should correct bad habits and any hacks should have controlled “blasts” to carefully let off steam and not let the pony anticipate the canter. Even if there’s no one to ride the pony weekly it’s worth lunging them a couple of times a week, or leading them out when you hack your horse, to give the pony a break from trudging around the school or to take the edge off them if they not been ridden for a couple of days.
One lady I know used to lead her son’s 11hh pony down to the gallops from her 16hh mare and have a good canter on the mare with the pony galloping beside – an excellent way of wearing out a stable kept pony!
Exercising ponies is fun for kids, and me too – you have to think on your feet and be quick to correct any wavering from the straight and narrow. It also, in a weird way, lets you revert to childhood cowboy riding. For kids leg means go, they often don’t even comprehend that lateral work exist, and hand means stop. Obviously instructors want to make sure there’s no yanking of the mouth, but when you ride a kid’s pony you have to switch back on to the pull-kick method otherwise the pony gets confused and won’t behave any better for the child as they aren’t understanding the child’s aids. You have to improve the discretion of the child’s aids, but then use slightly cruder aids as an adult in order to keep the riding consistent for the pony.