My dad didn’t realise this when buying my first pony. Instead he believed if he bought me a newly broken gelding, we could “grow up together”. A big mistake!
Jason, the pony concerned soon realised my inexperience, matched his own. We were our own worst enemies. I was unable to school him into the pony he could be and he taught me nothing to further my own skill as an equestrian.
Instead, he was fabulous at throwing me off, or taking off, leaving me to spend more time on the ground, than in the saddle.
Luckily my dad soon realised the mistake he’d made. He sent Jason off to an experienced rider, who had grown up on the back of a horse for further education and he was then sold to an experienced rider.
Meanwhile our farrier came up with a fabulously gentle Exmoor pony that needed rehoming due to being outgrown. Trixie was a bombproof and quiet 15 year old mare, who was perfect for me to learn much from.
Even more amazingly, she was being offered as free to a good home.
It was love at first sight between the two of us and Trixie and I spent many happy years together.
Not only did Trixie help me along the path to being an accomplished equestrian, she also offered her experience and patience to a number of my friends, whom I taught to ride on her.
She even provided a mount for my uncle, who had not ridden for 30 years to enjoy a morning’s hacking with me, after I acquired my second pony. Roly was an exceptional and gallant Australian Pony, as gentle and well -mannered as Trixie, but more able to meet my own needs as I developed in confidence, knowledge and skills as an equestrian. He had more get up and go as a Pony Club mount, as well as fabulous confirmation for the show ring.
Both Trixie and Roly were perfect ‘School Child’s Ponies. The sort you could do summersaults under, crawl safely between their legs, double dink on and even stand on, or do summersaults on top of.
Neither was totally perfect. Sometimes Trixie would play “catch me if you can” and also would charge strangers she didn’t like. Once caught, she was as obliging as ever. Trixie had a weight problem and needed to be locked up to prevent her over-eating and foundering, so her waistline and diet needed constant monitoring.
Roly had wall eyes, with limited pigment and this would lead to him having problems with conjunctivitis, carried by flies in summer. He hated being washed, whereas Trixie would come trotting up for a spray with the hose on hot days.
Roly also had two other quite funny idiosyncrasies. One was to enjoy just standing on the tips of your toes as you walked or groomed him. The other was his capacity as an escape artist. He would squeeze under fences and learned how to open gates by working the catch with his teeth. This ensured every access gate to the road on our farm was locked.
However, these quirks of both Trixie and Roly had nothing to do with their appropriateness as beginners mounts. On that count, both were ideal.
Another hint is to take the pony on trial for at least two weeks before purchase, to ensure your child and the prospective pony are a suitable match.
Disreputable owners have been known to drug horses to make the prospective buyer believe they are purchasing a quiet pony, when in fact the horse concerned has genuine problems.
I cannot recommend highly enough, the wonderful work the Pony Club movement does with developing the knowledge and skills of riders well into their teens.
There are exceptional Pony Clubs at Ballarat, Smythesdale and Beaufort, all who provide instruction, support and competitions that are geared to the rider and mounts level of experience.
I was a member of Beaufort Pony Club and found the social side as enriching as our instruction. I met many friends with whom I could “talk horses” and my two favourite instructors and mentors have a place in my heart to this day, as amongst the most significant and wonderful adults and teachers I have been privileged to know!
Both horses and Pony Club have left an indelible mark on my life and a lifelong passion and skill as a horse woman.
I did fall off “at least seven times” as one is supposed to do in the pathway to becoming an experienced equestrian, but those mishaps were never serious.
Having the ongoing responsibility of keeping a horse and the unique bond your form with each individual animal is one of the most enriching and rewarding experiences it is possible to have in life.
If you are in the position to be able to keep a horse and exercise and train it regularly it is amongst the ultimate of human animal bonds and like no other!
Bear in mind the cost of horse keeping are significant. There are feed bills and possibly agistment as well as farriers to pay regularly. Veterinary call out fees and health checks do not come cheap and should your pony develop a chronic health problem or injury you can easily be up for thousands of dollars, so insurance is advisable.
Horses require a lot of specialist equipment, everything from a halter, bridle saddle, bandages for travelling, a grooming kit, hiring or buying a horse float should you want to be involved at Pony Club or other equestrian competitions and a vehicle powerful enough to tow it. Then there is basic safety gear of riding boots and crash helmet. That is only the start of it. Competitive riding involves specialist gear at “specialist gear prices’!
However, I would not begrudge a penny of this as a parent, if I were in a position to give a child a leg up into the world of horses. My equestrian days are amongst the happiest, most rewarding and proudest achievements of my life. Horses kept me interested, active and occupied at the stage of my life when children can go astray and get into the wrong crowd, or stop exercising in favour of screen entertainment and pursuits.
That said keeping a pony should never be forced on a child. Riding is a two way partnership between rider and horse. From hacking around paddocks and roads, to stock work, the show circuit or eventing and dressage, or endurance riding, all begin with a child’s experience of their first pony.
That is why that first pony choice is so vital!
I also look back in awe at the amount of time my dad was prepared to commit to driving my horses and I to Pony Club and competitions and the patience and tolerance of my mum as she put up with horse gear being laundered in the washing machine, tack cleaning in our living area as I prepared for shows and the amount of time she spent alone as my dad and I were off working with and enjoying our horses.
Yes, keeping a horse is a very major commitment indeed!