The Online Horse Magazine for Equestrians of all Ages


Kids grow, but ponies don't! What will happen when your child outgrows the beloved pony?

What You Need to Know Before You Buy

Most young children don't have the maturity, patience or consistency necessary to train a pony. Purchasing a pony that requires training may seem like a good value. However, it can take up to 1000 repetitions to set a desirable behavior in horses and ponies. Cues must be consistently applied for young ponies to grasp what is being asked of them and positive reinforcement must be administered within seconds of the desired response in order for the animal to associate the behavior with the reward.

Conversely, most young children just want to ride for fun. The dedication needed to train or retrain a pony can quickly lead to boredom, frustration and disinterest. While a horse can always be worked by an experienced parent or sent to a trainer, this is seldom an option with ponies due to their limited weight-carrying capacity. So, unless one has access to an experienced youth who is willing to help with the training, it's advisable to start a novice child on a pony that is fully trained.

Ponies tend to live longer than horses. Because young horses have an abundance of energy which can translate into behavior problems, many riding instructors and equine experts recommend that novice riders start with a horse or pony that is at least six years old. Buying an older, more experienced animal for a beginning rider is an even better idea. Older ponies have been exposed to a variety of stimuli over the years. They tend to be safer, quieter and more dependable than younger mounts.

Nowadays, modern advances in veterinary medicine has led to many horses living longer, more useable lives. More horses are remaining healthy and sound well into their mid-twenties. Pony breeds, in particular, are known for their longevity. It's not unheard of for Shetland ponies to be passed down through successive generations in a family. These ponies can still be healthy and sound when their former riders are grown and have their own children of riding age.

Involve the child in the pony selection process. Nothing can be more satisfying than seeing the look on a child's face when a much wanted gift is finally opened. So on the surface, it may seem a cool idea to surprise a child with a birthday or Christmas pony. Unfortunately, these fairy tale experiences seldom have a happy ending in real life. While it may be possible to surprise a child with a horse that has been test ridden by an experienced parent or the child's riding instructor, this option is not viable with ponies that are too small to be ridden by adults.

Ponies are more appropriately sized for children to saddle, bridle and groom. This leads to a greater sense of independence and confidence around horses.


Tips for Purchasing a Pony

Purchasing a pony-sized mount also allows the child to participate more fully in the care, grooming and riding preparation process. Much of a child's confidence around horses is developed during interactions with the animal on the ground. Being able to lead, groom and tack up their own mount will make a child more self-assured in the saddle and helps foster the bond between pony and rider.

Ponies have a limited weight-carrying capacity. Several studies, based on the weight-carrying capacity of equines, indicate that horses have difficulty when asked to carry loads equal to 25% to 30% of their body weight. These studies concluded that loads in this range are the absolute maximum that horses and ponies should be asked to carry. Loads in the 15% to 20% range are considered much more humane. For a 500 pound pony, this is equal to 75 to 100 pounds of rider, tack and equipment.

The bad news is that few adults fall into a suitable weight range to ride and train small to medium sized ponies. This makes the well-trained, safe and dependable pony somewhat of a rarity. Thus, locating and purchasing a good pony is much more difficult than finding a suitable beginner-level horse. Since the demand for good ponies is often higher than the availability, the price for a quality pony can easily equal or exceed that of a horse.

A well-trained pony will be cooperative with young riders. Avoid purchasing a pony that will only behave for adults.

To have a successful partnership, the child and pony must be a good match for one another. The best way to determine compatibility is by observing the child as she rides and handles the pony on the ground. Before committing to a purchase agreement, be sure the child is able to lead, groom, and pick up the pony's hooves. When riding, even an inexperienced child should be able to guide their mount at a walk and stop the pony themselves. Refusing to go where directed or running off with the child are red flags that indicate the pony lacks sufficient training for the rider's skill level.

In general, ponies are unfairly labeled as having a poor temperament. If the truth be known, every horse breed contains individuals that naturally possess an undesirable demeanor. Ponies are no different. They can be sweet and loving, mean and vicious, or stubborn and willful. Ideally, a child's pony will be friendly and inquisitive.

In a buyer-beware marketplace, it's important to note that sellers are not always honest about a pony's shortcomings. However, ponies rarely lie, especially when it comes to their temperament. A pony's ears, eyes and body posture are accurate indicators of the pony's personality. A calm, relaxed pony will carry its head in a comfortable position and stand quietly. Their eyes will be alert and their ears will be primarily pointed toward the people around them. Ponies that hold their heads high, expose the whites of their eyes and quickly flick their ears in different directions are likely to have a nervous or shy temperament. An angry or ill-tempered pony will indicate his feelings with flattened ears and a swishing tail. Receiving a thirty day trial period when purchasing a pony is highly desirable. This permits the buyer to monitor the pony's temperament for any changes as the animal adjusts to its new home.

Beauty and conformation are secondary to safety when selecting a pony for a child. Purchasing a pony based primarily upon physical characteristics is a trap into which even experienced equestrians can fall. After all, who isn't smitten by a cute pony sporting a favorite coat color or gorgeous markings. But unless the pony has the training, age and temperament to make it suitable for the young rider, it's best to keep searching. After all, safety should be the number one criteria when selecting a pony for a child.

Likewise, minor conformation faults are incidental if the pony is a good match in other ways. In general, ponies tend to be sounder than horses. Getting caught up with the fact that a pony has a little too much angle to the hocks or a slight splay on the front legs may mean missing out on the opportunity to purchase a great mount for the child. If these faults cause concern, be sure to discuss the matter with the vet during the pre-purchase exam.

Ponies tend to be more prone to founder than horses. Many breeds of ponies originated from feral herds that once roamed the mountains or moorlands of Great Britain and Europe. These semi-wild ponies survived in harsh environments due to their small stature and ability to exist on a diet comprised largely of poor-quality forage. Since lush green pastures can deliver feed that is far too rich in carbohydrates and sugars for these ponies, they tend to be more susceptible to grass founder than their larger equine counterparts. Preventing founder in ponies does require more attention to management practices, particularly those regarding pasture turnout.

The total cost of caring for a pony is not significantly different than that of a horse. Many aspects of pony care bear the same financial responsibility as horses. Veterinarians have set fees for routine vaccinations, teeth floating and farm visits regardless of the size of the animal. Farriers also charge by the services performed. In addition, many boarding stables don't offer discounts to pony-owning clients. While it's true that ponies consume less feed than horses, it takes the same expenditure of labor to care for them. Labor costs, utility bills, and rent or mortgage payments are more closely related to the number of equines kept, rather than their height.

As many pony owners will attest, any savings that is reaped by feeding smaller equines is usually shelled back out when it comes time to purchase pony-sized tack. Ponies come in a variety of shapes and sizes, so it can be much more difficult to find tack that properly fits. Even something as basic as a pony-sized fly mask might not be available locally. Ordering online can add shipping fees to the cost of these items.

Have an exit strategy in place before purchasing a pony. Sadly, most children will eventually outgrow their ponies. While many novice riders develop sufficient skill to move up to a more challenging mount and may choose to sell their beginner-level horse, physically outgrowing a pony leaves the rider with few options but to progress to a larger animal. Unfortunately, the child may not be emotionally ready to take that step. Planning, well in advance of that sad day, can reduce the heartbreak and tears.

If at all possible, plan to retain ownership of the pony while the child bonds with the new horse. This allows the child to make the transition at their own pace. Ideally, the pony can be passed down to a younger sibling or close relative. If not, leasing the pony or a lease-to-own arrangement can make it possible to keep the pony during the transitional phase, while at the same time relieving the financial burden of owning two horses.

If the pony must be sold outright, projecting a positive attitude from the start can prepare the child to emotionally let go when the time comes. Just like the favorite teacher that is left behind at the end of the school year, explain how the pony is moving on to teach another child how to ride. Photographs are a great way to illustrate how the child has grown over the years, but the pony has not. Finally, focusing the child's attention on additional riding opportunities that will come with the new horse will make it easier to emotionally let the pony go.

A pony can be a wonderful way to introduce a child to the world of horses. These pint-sized equines can teach your child to ride as well as help them develop a lifelong love of the sport. And there is no doubt, no matter how many horses we own and ride over the years, there is something special about our first pony.   

Is your child ready to start riding? If so, you're probably debating whether a full-sized horse or a kid-sized pony would be the better riding partner. Perhaps you've discussed the matter with fellow equestrians and found an array of opinions on the subject. If you're not sure which way to go, here are a few facts about ponies that might help you decide.

Size does matter when it comes to matching a young rider with a suitable mount. While it may be tempting to purchase a horse that the child won't soon outgrow, placing a small child on a horse that is disproportionately too large compromises the rider's safety. Larger equines generally have wider and longer barrels than ponies. If the barrel is too wide for a given child, the rider will be unable to grip the horse with their legs. This makes it more difficult for the rider to stay balanced. Likewise, if the rider's legs don't reach at least halfway down the side of the horse, the rider's calves won't be in the correct position to properly cue the horse. Thus, the child will have more difficulty controlling the animal.

In other ways, ponies tend to be safer mounts for children than horses. Being at eye-level with youth makes the child more visible to a pony. This reduces the risk of the child being accidentally stepped on or knocked over by the animal. Since ponies are closer to the ground, children generally feel more confident riding a pony than larger equines. And if the child does take a tumble from the saddle, the distance the child falls is shorter. 

Copyright © 2012 - 2016 PonyZine, LLC​
All Rights Reserved