How do I know my child is ready for a pony?
- Emotional maturity: Think hard to determine if a pony is something the child really wants. Often it is more the wish of a well-meaning adult than the child. This can be tested by taking the child for riding lessons for several weeks or months. If the child's interest remains high, he or she may be ready to take on the greater challenges of daily riding and management. It takes a great deal of patience and will to learn to care for and ride a pony consistently, equal to the greatest challenges you face as an adult. Proceeding too quickly can be overwhelming for all involved.
- Physical maturity: It takes a measure of strength and balance to ride safely. To a child, even the smallest pony is a greater physical challenge than a horse is to an adult. In general, it is best to wait until the child can competently ride a bicycle, has good hand-eye coordination and the skills to function in challenging situations.
Where do I look for reliable ponies?
- Friends: People you know and trust can give you a chance to observe how a pony behaves over a long period of time.
- Reputable farms: Farms with a reputation for producing reliable trained mounts can be a good place to start, but getting to know one can take time. Talk with professionals who have a good showing record and whom other professionals trust.
- 4-H or U.S. Pony Club: Getting in touch your local 4-H or U.S. Pony Club can get you acquainted with families who have experience with ponies that have proven safe and reliable for their children.
What are important points for evaluating a pony?
- Background: Is the pony from a caring family, or a riding academy where it might have been over-used? The pony's background greatly shapes its attitude and how well it will adapt to the needs of your child.
- General health and soundness: Health will also shape a pony's attitude, its longevity, and ability to perform. Is the animal alert? Does it have a good general appearance? Does it recover quickly following moderate exercise? Are its hooves and teeth in good condition? These are visual signs of health that a non-professional can spot without much experience. For a complete evaluation, however, a trusted veterinarian should be hired prior to any purchase agreement.
- Temperament: Does the pony like people and other animals? How does it act in the stall and handle on the ground? How does it act in a group of other ponies or horses when riding or turned out? A pony with a good temperament acts reliably and safely in a variety of situations.
- Size: Although it is not as critical as background, health, and temperament, size can affect suitability. A small pony might be quickly outgrown by an 8-10-year old child. On the other hand, a pony that is too large may be difficult for a child to manage.
- Additional points include the pony's age, general appearance, and quality of gaits, all of which will affect the pony's compatibility with the child. Cost is also a consideration, but, as seasoned horse owners know, equipment, transportation and daily care can quickly overtake the purchase price of an animal.
No animal is perfect. Every pony has some shortcomings that are not always apparent to the eager buyer. A trial period away from the owner's farm, if it can be arranged, can help a family get to know a particular mount and decide if it is manageable. In taking a pony on trial, expect to assume financial responsibility for potential loss or injury. A written agreement between the owner and the prospective buyer can address the concerns of both parties and give satisfactory opportunities for both. If a trial period away from the owner's farm cannot be arranged, work out a series of visits so that the pony can be evaluated over a period of several days or weeks. Ask permission to take photos or videos of the pony in action. A methodical approach will demonstrate your commitment as a serious buyer. Before reaching an agreement, consider purchasing options. Leasing as an alternative to outright purchase can often be arranged. This offers an alternative to the long-term commitment of ownership.
Competent adult supervision and plain common sense are important for making a child's first rides on a new mount successful. Helpful guidelines include:
- Ride in a contained area, away from loud noises, machinery, and other potential hazards. Always use safety equipment such as protective vests and headgear, regardless of the rider's discipline or interest.
- Schedule the riding so that no one is pressed for time. Adjust the time if necessary to find the optimum level of cooperation between pony, rider, and instructor/supervisor.
- Plan and work for small gains at first and try to conclude each ride with a success. This will allow the pony and child make confident, gradual adjustments to each other.
- Intervene immediately if the situation becomes unsafe. The child's well-being and willingness to continue riding depend on the parent's assurance that the child's safety always comes first.
Your local Pony Club is a good place to start in your search for the right pony. It is also an ideal training ground for your child in all aspects of horsemanship.