I’ve been giving lessons and producing clinics for the past ten years. I’ve ridden my whole life and started training horses and ponies in the past six years. In this time, I’ve learned quite a bit about ponies and why they sometimes have a bad reputation. The main reason? Lack of education. The pony doesn’t have a solid foundation (isn’t broke), the rider is young and/or inexperienced and if there is someone present to help, the person helping the rider might not have the background or experience to help. The helper might also be a well-educated parent, but we all know kids don’t like to listen to their parents.
Let’s relate ponies to driving a car. I grew up on a farm and started driving around the age of ten with the help of my dad, an experienced driver. I couldn’t get my permit until I was fourteen and after driving with an experienced adult for six months and passing a summer-long driver’s education course, I got my school permit right before I turned fifteen. I didn’t get the privilege to have a license to drive alone until I was 16 and I still had a law enforced curfew. My first car was an older, but trusted car. I didn’t get to upgrade to a newer, more powerful truck until I’d proven, with lots of driven miles and no accidents, that I was ready. My vehicles weren’t taught how to be driven, I only had to learn how to drive them. I had help from multiple people. When they broke down, I’d have someone fix it and be on my way again. I never had to retrain a vehicle or try to figure out what it’s thinking.
Now let’s talk about ponies. Ponies have brains and they do have to be taught before they can teach. For a pony to learn, it needs a teacher. The trainer (teacher) will teach a pony how to move correctly at different speeds and to stop. A trainer can sense when the pony needs disciplined and will know the correct action to take. They expose the pony and help them get through obstacles they are uncertain about. After a pony is ridden and exposed with a trainer, then that pony will have the education to teach an inexperienced rider. It becomes more like a trusty old car.
The rider also needs to be a student first. To be a student learning how to ride, the rider needs two teachers; a knowledgeable person to teach them what to do and an educated pony that will allow them to learn how to do it correctly. The teacher should teach the rider from the ground up by teaching safety, tack, proper riding techniques, balance, how to reacting to unexpected situations and any glitches the pony may have.
If you are an educated and experienced horseman or horsewoman trying to help your children learn how to ride, it might be worth finding someone you trust to teach them. Often, even if a parent knows what to do, a child will listen better to someone else. After being a clinician and giving lessons for the past ten years, 90% of parents say “I’ve been trying to tell them the same thing for weeks, but they never listen to me.” It’s natural for kids to have a hard time listening to their parents, I recommend not fighting it. Find someone you trust and go for a few lessons so they hear and learn basic horsemanship someone else. They’ll realize mom or dad aren’t so dumb after-all.
So, do ponies really deserve a bad reputation? No. Take the proper steps to make sure everyone involved has an opportunity to become educated, build confidence and have fun!