I see an awful lot of children struggling with their ponies; in Pony Club, riding schools, everywhere.
Reflecting on this, I’ve formulated my plan for when I have ponies, if I have kids.
Ponies evolved to survive in the mountains, so need to be intelligent to survive. The problem is that when they aren’t psychologically challenged they become naughty. It becomes a full time job balancing their fitness level with job satisfaction and I think many parents under estimate the commitment needed by them, particularly if young children are involved.
I would have a suitable pony, probably about 11 hands for my small child but have one or two sharers for them so that four days of the week were occupied. I would have a share arrangement that included at least one riding lesson a week, so I could supervise the sharers to a certain degree, and I would also opt for sharers who were competent and would grow out of the pony in a years time, as I find that children only really master their ponies when they are about to grow out of them! Plus, more advanced children will be able to hack the pony and jump it so that it doesn’t get bored or stale pottering with it’s small owner. Then as my child progressed, in ability and size, the sharers could be reduced or become redundant – they’ve probably moved onto their next pony anyway!
The days that I was responsible for the pony I would lunge it, do some groundwork to keep it educated, and possibly ride and lead, horse walker, as well as it being ridden.
This sounds like a lot of work for a pony, but if its owner isn’t capable of doing more than half an hour of slow work then additional exercise helps keep the pony’s head level and sensible. By the time you factor in child illness, weather, and time factors the pony would rarely work seven days a week!
If I could not find a suitable sharer then I would enlist a teenager to school the pony a couple of times a week. I don’t mean hop on, canter round and pop some jumps, but proper riding so that the pony automatically goes into it’s corners, and doesn’t nap to the gate. Then these good habits are taken forwards to it’s little jockey. We used to do that a lot as teenagers with the kids’ ponies and even the riding school ponies, to maintain good habits. I think it’s important to supervise the teenager though, as they may not be sure of what to do.
I think I would consider working livery, but it would depend on the terms and the pony itself because I think ponies have to have a robust nature to survive in a riding school. Also, whilst I would want the pony worked, I would also want the freedom to do whatever I wanted with it on the days I wanted or needed, and weekend days are prime examples of that. Your child is off school and wants to ride, but a riding school pony is going to be busiest on the weekend so time is limited and they are tired.
I have a friend who used to ride her 16hh horse and lead her son’s 12hh pony to the gallops and take them both round. Now that pony was never naughty in the school. In her new home however …
In terms of management, I would have the pony living out as much as possible, be careful not to over rug it so it didn’t get fat or too energetic. I would also make it work hard for it’s food; incorporating a paradise paddock system, using small holed haynets, wet hay if necessary, and very little hard feed. By preventing the pony from gorging it will be at less risk of laminitis, not be bored or uncomfortable because it’s being starved, but happier because moving around a lot and working for their food mimics their natural lifestyle.
I also hark back to the time when a pony was the right size when your shoulders were level with it’s withers. That’s the size that a child can handle them confidently and independently; ponies are not something to “grow into” when the child’s legs don’t come past the saddle flaps. By the time the child has grown, they are terrified by the sheer size of their pony, who has also learnt a bag of bad manners, and the relationship never flourishes. I find you need to buy a pony who is the right size for your child now, but has the capacity to carry them for a couple of years. Then although the relationship is short, it is far more positive. Ponies, especially natives, are also very strong so I wouldn’t rush to move my child on to the next size until they are completely outgrown. Last year at Pony Club camp I taught two eleven year olds on section As. Physically the girls were getting too tall for the ponies, but not too heavy in the slightest, and they had a wonderful time, with well behaved ponies that the girls were confident with.
Managing a pony so that it is safe and sensible for a child to ride, particularly a small child, is a full time occupation that I don’t think many appreciate that when purchasing a pony, particularly a wily and cheeky native. They learn the hard way. Like after the fresh pony has decked their child.