In Praise of Dressage Ponies

Why aren't there more adults riding ponies? For a small adult, a large pony may be a perfect partner and engaging friend. By Melissa Marshall for Practical Horseman magazine.
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Why aren't there more adults riding ponies? For a small adult, a large pony may be a perfect partner and engaging friend. By Melissa Marshall for Practical Horseman magazine.

I may not be a commanding presence when I enter a room, but I am eternally grateful that I never grew too tall to ride a pony. I pity those who have no choice but to ride a horse: Ponies are a rush. In my
experience, horses cannot match a pony's spunk, intelligence, determination, all round athleticism, curiosity, appreciation of fun, and sometimes truly devious turn of mind.

Why aren't there more adults riding ponies? For a small adult, a large pony may be a perfect partner and engaging friend. Physically, it is a great fit: your leg is far more apt to wrap around for effective
contact. And for those of us definitively in middle age, the ground is much closer on a pony, making mounting easier and those unexpected dismounts a little less worrisome. Because ponies tend to be very hardy, they are also generally easy keepers, with tough hooves, good coats, and many years of sound health. If you have a full career, these attributes alone can make or break the time you have available for your riding life.

Like horses, ponies have a wide range of athletic characteristics. Many breeds have remarkable jumping talent; at a Connemara show I saw pony after pony spring calmly and neatly over astonishing heights. Although some ponies move with the 'chop' that only a child could adore, others have Warmblood grace. My large pony, a Welsh cross, looks like a Thoroughbred that was put through the washer and dryer at too high a temperature and shrunk; she covers as much ground as a small horse, is a competitive dressage mount, and has a jump that is an act of beauty. As with any horse, the key to finding the right pony is matching its
strengths with your goals.

Those are the rational reasons for choosing a pony, but what I truly adore is the pony personality. Oh, they make me laugh. When I am old and have lost all my teeth and have to be fed with a spoon, I will lie in bed, picking at the quilt, and remember those ponies with joy. My partner, Polo: She's a gifted athlete with the patience of a saint and a keen sense of humor, who taught me to make it through a course of modest jumps intact and without any damage to herself. Who also taught me that only a triple-locked door could keep her in a stall, that electric fences were no issue to a smart jumper, that umbrellas are natural pony predators, that tables are no obstacle if a judge happens to have an orange soda in hand -- and other salient aspects of a determined pony life.

There was Macaroni, my first pony, who during the pre-purchase exam picked up a crop from the ground and started whapping the vet with it. She flunked the exam. I am convinced that a pony acquaintance of mine knew exactly what he doing in always choosing to sun-bathe near a road. He would lie there, legs stretched out, head thrown back, tongue hanging out, looking more dead than yesterday's road-kill. Cars would screech to a halt, people become hysterical, and Little Man would jump up and dance away. He was also a stall escape artist, who then would release his buddies. If the tack room had been broken into and the trunks robbed of treats, it was his work. He could accomplish more than many
people fully equipped with all ten fingers.

A pony is not a horse. It will not be exactly the same as an expansively-moving Warmblood or an elegantly leggy thoroughbred. But many come very close and give you so much else in addition: Love. Laughter. Intelligence. A lushly lovely tail, and a mane that spurts like a fountain with inaccurately gauged water pressure. An extraordinary partnership and hysterically funny friendship. All in just the right size package.

Melissa Marshall is an attorney working for the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) in Washington, DC. For more about her adventures with Polo, and the experiences of other adult pony riders in dressage, see the January 2003 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.