Ponies have an irresistible charm that makes them a favorite among beginners and seasoned equestrians alike – and children. Their small size and cute appearance appeal to young children who are intimidated by horses.
In addition, ponies are notorious for providing an excellent foundation for children learning to ride. Children often gain a friend in a pony, and ponies can even be trained as reliable guides for the visually impaired!
A pony can bring immense joy to your child’s life and has the potential to ignite a lifelong passion for horses. It seems like the reasonable decision is to buy your child a pony, right? However, you first need to make sure a pony is right for your family – and that you’re right for a pony.
A pony takes responsibility and dedication, every day of the year. There are several things you need to seriously consider before buying a pony. Some practical considerations are budget, time, space, safety, and companionship needs. Your pony must be well-trained and compatible with your child in discipline, personality, and ability.
You also need to determine your child’s level of interest in a pony. Be realistic and honest, and take your time to do thorough research.
So, here are eleven things you need to realistically and honestly consider before buying your kid a pony!
1. Every Pony Is Different
We’ve all heard of that exemplary pony every lesson stable seems to have. This pony is safe, quiet, gentle, and a pleasure to be around. But not all ponies are like that.
Just like horses, every pony has a unique personality, temperament, and background. They also have quirks idiosyncratic to them. Don’t base your decision on the illusion of a “perfect” pony. You should choose a pony who has already demonstrated a natural inclination toward children. Some dislike kids, after all. There are also excellent ponies who suit adults well but not children.
To illustrate this, I began riding as a child on a much-beloved pony named Lady. She approached forty when I knew her, and she was an all-around great pony. She was calm, steady, and easily lovable.
Now, I have an eleven-year-old black mare named Annie who is too unpredictable, clever, and stubborn for a child to handle. My six-year-old grey gelding, Shiloh, is also rambunctious, energetic, and thoroughly unsuitable for children.
Even though all three are excellent ponies in their own right, they contrast each other wildly.
You need to consider the personality, temperament, age, and sex of a pony before you ever bring him home. For example, you should never buy a stallion for a child. Geldings and mares are more suitable. Related: 10 Reasons Your Horse Is Skittish: Handling Horse Spook
2. Ponies Are Still an Expense
Yes, a pony is less expensive than that Arabian your child begged for last month, but that doesn’t mean they’re cheap.
A pony can cost anywhere from free to well over $3,500. Some are even sold for over $10,000. Cost depends on training, bloodlines, breed, and a myriad of other factors. However, that isn’t the only expense incurred.
Ponies require a visit from the farrier every four to seven weeks, which can cost between $30-$75. Some farriers offer a discount for smaller equines, but not all do. Mine charges $55 per equine, regardless of size. You also need to factor in vet visits, vaccinations, dental work, and insurance to cover emergencies. There are additional recurring expenses such as feed, hay, minerals, supplements, treats, and shavings.
You’ll need tack and grooming supplies. A saddle can range from $100-$600. You can minimize the expense by purchasing a used saddle in great condition. Your pony also requires a bridle and reins ($60-$150), a halter ($35-$145), and at least one lead rope $10-$25).
A complete grooming kit is usually around $45. This should include a curry comb, soft and hard brushes, a wool face brush, a hoof pick, and a mane and tail brush.
Will you board your pony at a stable or do you have sufficient space at home? Boarding can cost anywhere from $100 to $1,500+ per month, depending on what type of boarding you choose. Even at home, you still need to build a fence and a shelter at minimum. You’ll probably also need an arena or round pen for riding.
Now your child needs riding apparel. A pair of riding boots and an approved riding helmet are the minimum necessities. Make sure it’s a helmet specifically for horseback riding and not a bicycle helmet. If your child competes in shows, you’ll also need discipline-specific attire.
Work a pony into your monthly budget to make sure you can properly afford one.
3. A Child’s Pony MUST Be Seasoned
There are several fine ponies (and miniature horses) for sale in my area right now. The primary reason why? Inexperienced parents bought them for their children under the misconception that all ponies are great for kids. Then they realized that an unbroke pony is a hazardous one.
A pony that hasn’t been thoroughly and properly trained poses several safety risks to children. For example, a green or skittish pony can buck a child off his back, causing injury.
Ask the current owner how often the pony is ridden, and who her primary rider is. You should also ask how often she receives tune-ups from a trainer. Bring along a qualified trainer, riding instructor, or equestrian to evaluate the level of training the pony has received.
Whatever pony you purchase must be well-trained in both groundwork and riding.
A Child’s pony should be:
- Be receptive, open, and willing
- Stop and stand
- Go forward
- Back up
- Turn easily left, right, and in a circle
- Walk, trot, and canter on the ground and undersaddle
- Respond quickly to subtle body cues and voice commands
- Have excellent ground manners
- Absolutely 10 Best Pony Breeds
There’s much more to a well-trained pony than that, but those are things you should easily spot.
That also doesn’t include training for a specific discipline. Is your child an avid hunter jumper who regularly shows? Then you should look for a trained hunter pony with experience in competitions – not a trail pony.
Likewise, it should go without saying that a guide pony needs to have lots of specialized experience and training.
Look for a quiet, older pony that is entirely bombproof. You can also specifically look for ponies with previous careers in the lesson or show ring. These ponies will help give your kid the best foundation in riding.
Ideally, you should choose a pony over the age of ten. Ponies at a mature age are more likely – although not guaranteed – to be better trained. Young ponies also aren’t generally suitable for kids, since they’re often too green, energetic, and easily startled.
You’ll need to hire a qualified trainer if you can’t find a well-broke pony. Bear in mind that the training process can take several months to well over a year. Work this into your budget, too! Top Horse Breeds for Showjumping and Dressage
4. Ponies Are Long-Term Commitments – Not Toys
Ponies can live as long as forty years, with an average lifespan of 25-35 years. Although many equines have multiple owners in one lifetime, you still need to think long-term.
Many children leap at the opportunity to care for a pony. And for some, that joy in ponies lasts a lifetime. But it quickly dwindles for others. A pony is not a toy for your child to neglect when boredom sets in.
Here are some questions to help you determine how serious your child’s interest is:
- Does the child take an active interest in learning about horses? Is he eager to visit the barn?
- Is he involved with the other tasks at the lesson stable, such as grooming and tacking?
- Has your child taken riding lessons for more than a year?
- Is the desire for a pony new, or is it ongoing?
- Does your child habitually beg for a new pet, only to grow bored when the newness wears off?
- Do you have to cajole your child into caring for pets and other responsibilities?
- Is this interest motivated by the popular kid at school who has a horse, or a horse-themed movie like Black Beauty?
A child who just started riding lessons does not need a pony. It’s best, in that case, to wait for the child to gain more experience.
5. Your Child Will Outgrow a Pony
Your child will most likely outgrow the pony in just a few years. This is both due to physical growth and, often, their developing skills.
What will you do with your kid’s beloved pony after that happens? Will you keep the pony and also buy a horse? Or will you replace the pony with a horse? Will you lease the pony to another suitable child?
If you keep the pony and retire her from all activity, she’ll quickly grow bored. You should also remember that ponies, retired or not, still require some form of daily exercise.
A Shetland pony may be a good choice for small children. But older or taller children need a large pony, such as a Welsh Standard C or D. These ponies can usually even carry a teenager safely and without risk. Read this essential guide to understand how much weight your pony can safely carry.
You can also find a horse breed that your older child can grow into and continue to ride as a teenager. Morgans, Appaloosas, and Norwegian Fjords are notable for being compact without intimidating kids.
|Tip: Considering a horse your child won’t outgrow soon? Avoid hot-blooded breeds! These include Arabians, Thoroughbreds, and many more. You should generally choose a warm- or cold-blooded horse breed for children or beginners. Follow the same principles outlined in this article.|
6. Ponies Still Pose a Risk
Are you against a horse because you fear injury to your kid, and you think ponies are safer? Well, ponies are closer to the ground, but that doesn’t make them harmless.
Popular media may persuade you that ponies are calm pets for kids, but many spook easily. Some ponies find a child’s exuberance overwhelming. Others buck, rear, bite, and bolt, likely due to holes in their training, conflicting cues, or as a fear response.
This risk is compounded by the fact that many parents remain unaware of the dangers ponies can inflict – even unintentionally.
Another thing: children often give ponies conflicting cues without realizing it. They need to be properly taught how to interact with ponies, and what body language cues they’re sending.
That’s why you should choose a trained and mature pony who is more forgiving and steady while your child learns the ropes.
You also need to supervise your child with a pony. Young children should never be left alone with any equine, especially a recent arrival.
Make sure an adult is always present while your child rides. You never know if your child will fall off and hurt herself. Take the extra precaution.
6. Every Pony Deserves Companionship
Ponies are herd animals with a matriarchal hierarchy. They thrive with companionship, and not just from humans.
Without it, ponies can develop behavioral “problems” and even health issues. A single pony by herself will grow lonely, depressed, and anxious.
Choose an animal similar in size to your pony. Other ponies, donkeys, and miniature horses are typically the best companions. Small ponies can often share a paddock happily with goats, sheep, alpacas, or llamas. Ponies above 12.5 hands can be kept safely with large horse breeds.
Don’t keep a small pony with a large horse. Many owners choose to do this, but it poses an extreme risk to the smaller equine – and not only during the introductory period. Large horses have far more power in their kick. All it takes is one simple swat at flies to accidentally hurt a small pony. There’s also a greater risk when a horse spooks.
There are many dangers imposed by a diverse paddock. Use common sense, and research any companion animals before you integrate them with your pony. Introduce any new animal slowly and carefully.
7. Happy Ponies Need Space to Run
One pony needs a minimum of 72-144 square feet of space in a dry lot. The more animals you keep in one paddock, the more space is required. Technically, you can keep a small pony in your yard. But that doesn’t mean you should. Consider the quality of life a pony has in a small backyard.
I recently noticed a pony crammed into a small pen, without any room to run and play. Annie’s previous owner kept her in a small paddock, and due to boredom, she broke out several times daily.
Ponies enjoy a more enriched, happy life when they have plenty of space to gallop around. You don’t need acres of land for one pony, but you should provide a sizable paddock.
If you don’t have the space, you shouldn’t have the animal. Check out Keeping Horses In a Small-Scale Pasture or Acreage for information on keeping horses happy and healthy on little land.
8. Ponies Need Daily Care – Even During Vacations
A pony requires care every day of the year. That includes food, water, hay, turnout, exercise, grooming, and mucking the stall.
And yes, they still require care while you’re on vacation and during work and school hours. That also includes scorching summer and frigid winter days when you’d probably rather be inside. If you’re not prepared to provide hands-on care, you aren’t ready for a pony.
Young children should definitely help out with chores. It’s a great opportunity to learn life lessons! Older children can look after many of a pony’s needs, such as grooming, mucking, giving hay, and more. But ultimately, a pet pony is your responsibility as the caretaker. For example, you should carefully prepare the feed to ensure it’s the correct amount and to avoid cross-feeding if you have other animals. You should also lunge and exercise the pony, clean his hooves, and deworm him (if your vet doesn’t do this).
You also need to clean a gelding’s sheath. Never let a child do this alone! Most geldings are uncomfortable during sheath cleaning, and some may kick. Let your child observe and assist, but do this yourself.
You can hire a farm sitter during family vacations, but that daily care must be met. Don’t get a pony if his daily care isn’t feasible for your family.
A boarding stable will often accommodate these needs. However, that means you need to choose full-board, which is more encompassing but also more expensive.
9. A Pony Won’t Replace Lessons
Many parents believe that after buying a pony, their child will no longer need riding lessons. That’s not true. A child riding by himself at home can develop bad habits in the saddle.
Your child should continue riding lessons so he learns the best, safest techniques. A pony will help him practice and apply what he learns from lessons at home, which is valuable for his development as a budding equestrian. Check out 8 Kid-Friendly Farm Animals That Make the Best Pets.
10. Ensure Mutual Compatibility – and Be Realistic
The pony needs to match your child’s current discipline, riding ability, and personality. This is why the child should meet the pony first.
Your pony should reflect the discipline your child is learning or experienced with. A child learning Western pleasure won’t appreciate an English dressage pony. You should also think about your child’s riding ability. Someone who only recently began riding doesn’t need an advanced, athletic pony.
You’re undoubtedly proud of your child, but you need to be realistic about this. You won’t do her any favors by exaggerating or underestimating her riding skills.
Try to gain another perspective from someone experienced, neutral, honest, and who has the child’s and pony’s best interests at heart. Your child’s riding instructor should give you an honest assessment. Then there’s personality. An intelligent child will likely prefer a clever, thinking pony. A shy, anxious child will probably bond quicker to a more intuitive, quiet, and loyal pony.
And this works both ways. An athletic pony will grow bored with a beginner rider. Shy ponies won’t benefit from excitable, outgoing kids who rush at them.
Due Diligence When Buying a Pony
It’s critical that you completely check out the pony you are considering purchasing. Check out How to Evaluate a Horse for Purchase: What to Look for, Questions to Ask for a guide of questions to ask and behaviors to look for.
Traits of an Ideal Child’s Pony
What makes a suitable pony? Here are some things to look for:
|10+ years old (remember ponies have long lives)|
|Gelding or mare – never a stallion|
|Trained extremely well|
|Quiet, open, and receptive|
|Friendly with a great personality|
|Healthy and sound (physically and mentally)|
An Unsuitable Pony’s Traits
Here are a few things that generally make a pony unsuitable for children:
|Under 10 years of age (usually)|
|Untrained or green|
|Bucks, bolts, bites, or rears without cause|
|Uncomfortable with kids|
|Hot-headed and spirited|
|Avoid project ponies|
Questions to Ask When Buying a Pony
Buying a pony is an exciting time. Don’t forget to ask the current owner questions! Prepare a list in advance of any questions you can think of. Be respectful, and remember to pay attention to the advertisement. They may have already answered your questions there, so read it carefully.
Here are some questions to get you started:
- What’s the reason for selling?
- How long has the seller owned the pony? Do they know anything about the previous owner?
- Ideally, what type of person best suits the pony?
- What is the pony’s history?
- Has he ever been abused or neglected? If so, does he have any lingering triggers from the abuse that may make a child or inexperienced owner unsuitable?
- Has the pony ever bucked, reared, or bolted? If so, why?
- Does the pony have any vices or bad habits?
- Does he bite?
- Does she spook easily? How bombproof is she?
- What’s her personality like?
- Does the pony demonstrate an active love for children?
- Has he ever had any negative encounters with kids?
- How often is the pony ridden?
- Who currently rides her?
- Is she suitable as a beginner’s pony, or does she require an experienced rider?
- Can your child realistically ride this pony safely, with both parties enjoying it?
- How often does a trainer give her tune-ups?
- Has he ever been shown in competitions?
- What discipline/s is she best suited/trained for?
- Can the pony walk, trot, and canter readily on the ground and undersaddle?
- Who has trained her, and to what extent? Is it possible to contact the trainer?
- Is he easy to catch in the paddock?
- Is she dominant or submissive in the herd?
- Is he herd-sour?
- Has he ever interacted with another species, such as goats, sheep, llamas, etc? If so, how did he behave?
- Is she a bully to other equines and animals?
- Does he stand quietly for grooming, the farrier, and vet visits?
- Has she ever been lame?
- Has she experienced past health issues?
- Is she up-to-date on vaccinations and dental work?
- Who is the vet? Can you view the medical records, with the seller’s approval?
- What can the pony do to surprise you?
Bring a Professional to Help You Evaluate
You should bring a qualified professional with you to meet the pony. A vet, farrier, riding instructor, or trainer can provide a more valuable and nuanced opinion on the pony.
They can evaluate the pony’s health, conformation, teeth condition, level of training, and more. They will likely have more questions for the seller, too. Listen to the advice they give you!
Even an equestrian friend can prove helpful if a professional isn’t available. Still, you should definitely at least discuss the pony with the instructor.
Request a Ride and Walk
Ask to take the pony for a brief walk with you and the child. You need to see how she behaves outside the fence. Does she become too excitable? Does she spook at passing vehicles? Is she too much to handle?
Your child also needs to ride the pony before bringing her home. Ask to saddle and bridle him yourselves. The child should ride around the arena a few times, transitioning from a walk, trot, and then canter.
If the pony is trained in a specific discipline, this needs to be tested, as well.
Purchasing Tips for Buying a Pony
- Don’t overlook rescue ponies.
You can often find gems at horse rescue organizations. Responsible organizations will do their best to appropriately match you with a great pony and ensure you’ll provide the best home.
- Use caution at horse auctions.
You generally won’t know anything about the pony from an auction until you bring her time. It’s not a good time to find out she hates children or bucks when saddled. You can find great ponies at auctions, but make sure you bring along someone experienced.
- Think of local resources.
Is hay readily available in your area, or is it growing scarce? Where is the closest feed store? Does it carry the kind of feed your pony is on? How far is the nearest equine vet? What about a farrier and trainer?
- Do as much research as possible!
Too many people make the mistake of buying a pony on impulse despite being clueless about how to care for one. A pony is a huge responsibility to take on and requires specific care. Don’t buy one until you’ve done thorough research. Read as many reliable books and websites as you can, and speak to local horse owners.
A pony can offer rich rewards to children. Your child can learn confidence, cultivate better riding skills, and gain a friend.
But in return, you need to seriously consider the commitment you’re undertaking. Please do not buy a pony until you’ve thoroughly researched all you can. Use common sense, and be realistic. Every reward requires a bit of effort, and ponies are no different. You’ll be grateful later that you thought carefully about getting a pony!
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