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Pssst! Want to buy a pony?

This article has appeared previously with Equestrian Life. To see what's in our latest issue, click here.

 The ideal first pony. © Chloe Chadwick

The ideal first pony.

© Chloe Chadwick


Buying a first pony can be exciting and daunting, yet taking time to find that faultless first gem is worth it and gives the young rider the best chance to discover the joys of life on horseback. Here is a guide to the do’s and don’ts of what to look for in your first pony.


Why get into riding? Riding has many benefits for both the mind and the body. For the young rider it is a great chance to get outside, away from the glowing screen, and have fun learning new skills. Horsemanship and the care of another creature teaches a great deal about responsibility and can prove a balancing pastime that encourages making new friends -- both human and equine alike! However, finding the first pony is a little like finding a needle in a haystack; the pony must tick many boxes, with safety and reliability paramount. Here are some of the factors to take into account.

consider options other than outright purchase. If you have never owned a pony before, leasing can be a great way for young riders to immerse themselves in the complete experience of owning a pony (including all the hard work) without the commitment. Leased ponies are often beloved family pets that no one can ride any more without their feet scraping the ground, but have become too integral a family member to let go. These ponies can be a great introduction for the young rider to the equestrian world, having made their way around the traps at pony club and local shows, and give a first-time owner a taste of what they will be up for in the long haul. Typically, leasing arrangements do not involve any monetary exchanges, but the lessee becomes responsible for all related costs, including feeding, shoeing and any veterinary fees. It is best to establish the guidelines of the agreement on paper so there are no misunderstandings. The advantage of a leasing arrangement is that once the pony is outgrown, guardianship of the pony can be returned to the owner and the appreciated, but now too-small friend does not become the first in a long line of expensive and rather hairy garden ornaments!

DON’T rush into it. Buying a pony as a birthday or Christmas surprise can result in a hurried purchase that ultimately doesn’t end up being the most suitable. Shop around.


Best friends!

© Chloe Chadwick

DON’T buy sight unseen and stay away from saleyards. Both these options can result in getting something unexpected, unsuitable, unsound, or in the worst-case scenario, dangerous. Some of the best options for finding that bombproof treasure are through a local riding or pony club, where talking to members and their families can uncover the tried and true pony club schoolmasters. Horsey friends, riding instructors and farriers are other great contacts. They often know of a pony for sale, or are familiar with a potential pony, know its history and any of its vices.

DO bring someone experienced with you when viewing a pony. It helps to have a knowledgeable eye look over your potential purchase and know what questions to ask. They will pick up on obvious vices, and recognise a good temperament.

DO ride the pony you are considering and, if possible, have a short trial. The pony may have a good way of going when ridden by the owner but react quite differently to someone new. A trial allows you to see the pony out of its comfortable home environment, and will give you a feel of how you are going to get on with each other.  The pony may seem perfect on paper, but a first pony should be more than a ribbon winner or teacher; it should also become a friend. It is in a trial period that you can find out not only the pony’s vices and whether you can live with them, but also if he or she is well behaved. There’s nothing quite so discouraging to a new rider’s confidence and interest as a pony that turns his chompers on you as soon as your back is turned!

DON’T buy an unbroken pony for a young rider. It may seem obvious, but two green youngsters simply do not mix. Age is important in a first pony. Old pony books often say that a horse and rider’s age should add up to 20, and though of course it isn’t always accurate or applicable, there is some use to this formula. For example, an experienced 15-year-old pony that has been around the traps and gone through everything the local equestrian circuit can throw at it would likely make a suitable first mount for a five-year-old. However, of course, this does not mean that all 17-year-old riders should own green three-year-olds!
Ponies typically live a long time, and as the saying goes, looks aren’t everything. A pony may look a little grey and woolly but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have many, many fun, competition-filled years ahead.

buy a Thoroughbred as a first pony. Thoroughbreds are built for speed and athletic performance, not a cool brain, and are unlikely to be the suitable first mount. Breed is something to consider in your first purchase, but should not be the deciding factor. A pony of mixed or uncertain breeding can be just as good a schoolmaster as the impeccably bred show pony, if not better. A popular breed that frequently makes an excellent first mount is the Welsh Pony (Sections A, B and C). With their versatility, sturdiness and usually friendly dispositions, a Welsh Pony will provide a hardy mount for a young rider and allow them to develop their skills in any discipline they turn to, with Welshies being seen in pony club showing, jumping and eventing competitions all around the country. Arabians are frequently popular for their beauty and movement, though -- like Thoroughbreds -- often do not make suitable first mounts, with their flighty temperament not lending well to the bombproof steadiness required of the first pony. Part-bred Arabians, however, such as Arabian riding ponies, are often ideal for the more confident young rider after something with a bit of a zip.
Shetlands, though often thought of as purely leading-rein material, can be the perfect first pony for a small child. They are hardy and low maintenance, needing little to no rugging, and can allow a child to go from the lead rein to riding on their own with ease.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Australian Stock Horse, though sometimes too large for smaller children, can make a great introductory mount, with versatility to burn. Stock Horses can take an older beginner through all of the disciplines with durability and an unflappable temperament.


The bombproof treasure.

© Chloe Chadwick

consider conformation. When I say that looks aren’t everything, that doesn’t mean to completely overlook how the pony is put together. Looking out for faults, particularly in the hooves, can save a lot of future heartache and money. Look for a set of strong, clean limbs and a good shoulder that allows for freedom of movement. Length of stride is important, as it is hard for a beginning rider to learn on a choppy, short-gaited pony. Likewise, a shorter-legged rider will often find it hard to learn on a barrel-like pony (as many well-fed ponies tend to be!), and a narrow type will help a young rider feel more secure and develop a good seat.
Height is another important factor for the young rider. Ponies are officially classified as being below 14.2hh, and though you do not want a pony that makes the rider look like a pea aboard a pumpkin, you also do not want a pony that ends up being outgrown in six months’ time. It is best to go for something slightly on the bigger side and use a milk crate in the meantime!
When looking at a pony’s appearance, aspects such as colour are trivial, but as the saying goes, “the eyes are the windows to the soul’’. A “kind eye” is definitely something to look for and can be telling of a horse’s disposition.

get a vet check. This gives you important insight into the pony’s history and any major issues. It should also inform you on whether the pony’s teeth and feet are in good order. This is a good way to judge the pony’s general sense of wellbeing and health, and whether it has been well looked after.

DON’T buy a stallion for a child. Though some stallions are calm and friendly, they can be unpredictable and will limit the events and places to which a new rider can take their pony. Geldings are the most suitable choice, being traditionally thought of as the most levelheaded, yet many mares also make terrific first ponies.