Tiverton Pony Club

Frequently Asked Questions
Last updated 16th March 2017

These questions and answers are intended to help those who are new to the Pony Club, or who are contemplating membership. They try to answer some common questions, but there is no substitute for talking to people who belong: come along and see for yourself.

Questions and answers more for children:

Questions and answers more for their parents:


Do I need to own a pony to join the Pony Club?

No, you don't have to own one. There are Pony Club Centres (click on the link to find one near you) which are generally riding schools or stables. Membership of a centre is specifically designed for those who do not own their own pony: you will be able to ride the centre's ponies, take tests, learn about horsemanship, and so on.

However if you want to join a local Pony Club Branch (click on the link to find a branch near you), which will be a local club of members with their own ponies, you will struggle a bit if you don't own your own pony. There are unmounted rallies, such as stable management, and non-horsey events such as hockey, tetrathlon and parties. However the main point of the Pony Club is riding, and you will feel left out if you have nothing to ride.

It is possible to borrow a pony: sometimes they are available on loan (for example a family's pony may be too small for child A, but too big for child B, and a home is needed for the intervening period).

It may be possible to rent a pony too, eg from a riding school, but remember that they will need their ponies during the school holidays - just when you want them too!

Generally riders who become keen will want their own pony, particularly if they want to compete, and the remainder of this page makes the assumption that you have one, or are thinking of buying one. To get some idea of the costs involved take a look at the entries lower down, starting with "What does it cost to buy a pony?"


I'm a beginner, am I a good enough rider to join the Pony Club?

Definitely! It caters for all abilities and ages. There are some very competent people but also some near beginners - remember everyone had to start somewhere. You will learn from other members, but you will need to have had some riding lessons in order to take part.

The Pony Club adapts its rallies and events to the riders, not the other way round: you will be grouped with people of similar ability, not forced into a category because of your age or size. Only summer camp is split up by age, see below; and most competitive events are split into age, experience and/or pony size groups for fairness.

The UK Pony Club has a series of formal tests, ranging from D (recommended age 8) to A (serious knowledge at age 17!). The Tiverton Pony Club has its own E test for riders aged 5 - 9. See the Tests page to get an idea of the knowledge required. There are also less formal achievement badges which can be gained at rallies or camp while learning the skills needed to take the formal tests.


How old do I have to be to join?

There is no formal lower limit, but youngest age would be about 5 or 6. The upper limit is 17, but those aged 18–25 can be associate members.


I've heard that Pony Club people are very snooty - is this true?

No, you will find a complete cross-section of society. What they all have in common is that the children love their ponies, and the parents are prepared to put in a lot of time and effort on behalf of the aforementioned children. In fact you will find that "horsey" people are about as down to earth as it is possible to get.


What does the Pony Club actually do?

The purpose of the Pony Club is to teach young people to ride, and also to give them a good grounding in horsemanship - the skills needed to care for and use a horse or pony properly.

There is a strong emphasis on good manners and sportsmanship, and a high standard of behaviour and turnout is taught and expected. However it is by no means all serious: the intention is also to have fun.

This is done in a range of organised settings:

Rallies Where an instructor will teach a group some aspect of riding.

Flatwork involves basic riding skills: seat, aids, paces, and generally riding properly.
Show-Jumping teaches you how to jump artificial fences in a ring
Cross-country teaches how to negotiate a mixture of natural and artifical obstacles out in the open.
Unmounted means the pony stays at home, and you learn about something, eg stable-management.

There are also just plain fun rallies, for example Easter Egg hunts, mounted Halloween.

In the winter months rallies tend to take place at weekends, during half-term and school holidays, usually at indoor locations. In the summer they are usually outdoors in the evenings: most summer weekends have local shows going on.

Sports Pony Clubs also run specific sports, both horsey and non-horsey:

Tetrathlon (swimming, riding, running and shooting)
Polo and Polocrosse

See the useful Contacts page for people to contact in the Tiverton Pony Club regarding these.

Tests There are a series of formal tests (E to A, see the tests page), suitable for ages 5 to 18, which give you a chance to learn and demonstrate specific skills. These are not just about riding: you will have to learn stable management, feeding, how to load and unload from trailers, how to ride on the road, bandaging, first aid (for you and your horse).

The Pony Club organises both tuition and examination, and the colour of the backing behind your Pony Club badge denotes what level of skill you have reached.

Camp In the summer holidays you can spend several days camping (or going home at night if you want) at one of the two "camps", split up by age, where there are organised events and teaching every day. This is not all serious: evening entertainments have included making and sailing rafts, swimming (one tends to lead to the other), putting on dance shows, paper chases, barbeques, etc

This is a chance to spend an extended time with your pony, and gives the opportunity to improve many skills at the same time.

Events Each Branch organises gymkhanas, shows, and also more serious events.

Tiverton Pony Club runs one and two-day events, two shows, and a hunter trial, which are for older and more serious riders. It also runs "mini" one-day events which allow younger riders, typically 9+, to learn what it is all about.

There is also a tetrathlon team (swimming, running, shooting, riding), and a hockey team.

There are also inter-branch competitions, and training for regional and national events. The standard of these is high!

Shows are not always terribly serious: our Christmas show includes classes for the most festive looking combination of horse & rider, which attracts some remarkable looking entries!

Fun We hold parties, barbeques, trips and other fun events - with and without our 4-legged friends.

See the Events page to get an idea of what the Tiverton Pony Club is doing over the next few months.

You will be encouraged to improve, take tests, compete at shows, and so on; but all of these are entirely optional, and you are free to proceed at your own pace: there is absolutely no compulsion to attend any event.

With the possible exception of the 13yrs+ age group, where beginners are rare, you will find that there is a complete range of abilities from beginner to expert, and you will not be the "odd one out" whatever your experience (or lack of it). At the time of writing (April 2003) Tiverton Pony Club has 110 members, mainly in the age range 6 to 15, so you stand a good chance of getting to know everyone in it of about your age.


What is "camp"?

Every summer holidays the Tiverton Pony Club organises two camps, split up approximately by age

Non-residential camp 8 years & under
Is a non-residential camp: the ponies can stay overnight, but the children come home. Activities take place during the day only, usually over 2.5 to 3 days.

Totally supervised.

Residential camp 9+ years Ponies and riders stay. Organised activities during the day, but more autonomy at other times. Usually 4 - 5 days.

In all cases the daily activities involve full-time teaching by qualified instructors covering most aspects of riding and stable management. Tests are taken and usually the last day includes a competition (gymkhana or mini one-day event).

For my children this is the highlight of the riding year: they have enormous fun, and both children and ponies are totally knackered but happy at the end of it!


What is a "rally"?

"Rallies" are relatively informal gatherings at which an instructor will be present to teach you about some aspect of riding or horsemanship. Most involve riding and require a pony (a "mounted" rally); but some are unmounted and teach stable management, road safety, etc.

There are related events such as overnight rides, Prince Philip Cup training, etc - see events.

Some are formal training for particular tests or disciplines.

There are also informal events for parents such as trailer management (and reversing).

Finally there are also events that are just plain fun: gymkhanas, mounted Halloween, easter egg hunts.


What are shows?

During the summer holidays there are local shows every weekend throughout Devon. They range from small village affairs up to the Devon County Show (Exeter), Mid-Devon Show (Tiverton) and the Tiverton Horse Show.

Shows have more than just "showing" classes. There will be some permutation of:

Programmes for shows tend to appear about 6 weeks in advance, available in local saddleries, feed suppliers, and horsey shops generally. I will try to include them in the calendar section of this web site.

Here is some advice on shows for beginners:

Perhaps surprisingly large, professional shows can be just as much fun for a beginner as little local ones. There will be a greater variety of classes to enter (= more chance to win something), more things to watch, more people to talk to; so don't be scared about going to them.


What is Showjumping?

A showjumping competition is run over a course of artifical jumps in a show ring. The jumps are designed so that if you do more than just tap them the poles, blocks, etc from which they are built will fall. Knocking down any part of a jump incurs "faults" (penalty points), and you also get faults for refusals (stopping at a jump, or running out) and circling (crossing your tracks). The jumps have to be taken in the correct order and in the right direction - get this wrong and you are disqualified. You are also disqualified if you have three refusals and, in some competitions, if you fall off.

The rules vary, but most showjumping classes at local shows will have two rounds: the first round is untimed, and only those who go clear (ie no faults) qualify for the second round which is a "jump-off" against the clock. The fastest clear 2nd round wins, the runner-up is the next fastest, and so on. If no-one goes clear then it is the fastest person with the least faults who wins, and so on.

Classes are always organised by height, and often the fences will be raised slightly in the jump-off. For example the class might be "Pony 13.2HH and under, fences 2'3" in first round", which probably means that the fences will go up one hole to about 2'6" in the second round. Jump-offs are usually over a shorter course, and the judge will invariably select a course that demands some quite tight turns and rewards intelligent riding. Also tight turns even out the effects of pony size: a small pony might be slower on the straights (shorter legs!) but will probably turn faster than a bigger pony.

Showjumping is a test of precision and control under pressure, and you can afford to make mistakes because the jumps are designed to collapse if you get them wrong and go through rather than over them! It is probably the best spectator sport too: the action takes place in the confines of a ring so that (unlike cross-country) the spectators see everything, and there is the drama of competitors trying to outdo each other's times in the jump-off.


What is "cross-country"?

One of the disciplines of "eventing" is the cross-country course, (the others being show-jumping, dressage and steeplechasing). It is, as the name suggests, a course of jumps and obstacles laid out across country. The Badminton horse trials are a televised example of this.

The jumps are different to those you will encounter show-jumping: they are mostly rustic in nature (water troughs, logs, bales of straw, brush, flowers, banks, water) and the course will use the natural contours of the countryside, ie definitely not flat. The jumps will mainly be rigid, as the courses are permanent, which makes it a more unforgiving event.

Penalties are awarded for refusals, circling (crossing your tracks) when presenting to a jump and taking jumps in the wrong order. Three refusals at a jump, or missing out a jump (wrong course) = elimination.

The course is timed, but for safety reasons it is not now usually the case that the fastest time wins. Instead there will be an optimum time based on a "good hunting pace", which translates as a steady canter with a bit of galloping (probably 300 metres/minute on a junior course, rising to 400m/minute on a senior one). A window either side of this optimum time is allowed, but if you go either too fast or too slowly you will incur time penalties: typically 1 penalty point for each 3 second period.

Hunter trials generally have a short "timed section", sometimes with an obstacle such as a gate to be opened and closed, with the rest of the course un-timed.


Most One Day Events and Hunter Trials have a "junior novice" (or similar) class, with jumps around 2' high, which is designed for beginners. It is often over a shorter and/or simpler course, and is generally not timed.

There are also "mini" One Day Events which are intended for smaller children with courses that are often only 1' to 1'6" high. In the smallest classes competitors may be led (or pushed, or dragged), dressage can be commanded, jump judges usually have one or both eyes shut, and the emphasis is very much on getting the child and pony successfully round the course by whatever means.


For a beginner the challenge is not so much about the height of jumps (as in show-jumping), but rather the navigational problem of getting yourself and your pony (at the same time!) across a wide range of obstacles out in open fields.

Tiverton pony club has the use of several cross-country courses, ranging from "mini" events in which the jumps start at 12 inches up to those at Pontispool (used for camp). There are training rallies that cater for all ages and abilities, and some of the courses have multiple versions of jumps at a range of heights which permits a range of ages to compete in a single day. Junior and Senior camps both have one-day events which include cross-country.

At Pony-Club level it is the only time when you are encouraged to dress down: the correct apparel is a rugby shirt and matching hat cover, in your choice of colours! You should also wear an effective back-protector, a hard hat (meeting PAS 015, ASTM F1163, AS/NZS 3838 1998 or Snell E2001) and a medical armband. If you have long hair it should be tied up in a net, otherwise the jump judges will not be able to read your number.

What is a Hunter Trial?

This is a cross-country course only, much like the cross-country phase of eventing. Generally there is a "timed section" on part of the course: usually involving opening a gate, or some similar obstacle; however most of the course will be untimed. Faults are scored as for eventing above, and speed through the timed section determines the winner among those with clear rounds.

Hunter Trials tend to be much more relaxed occasions than one and two day events: riders will be in their cross-country colours, and most are there for fun rather than for competition. They tend to be held in autumn and spring, so there will be a fair smattering of shaggy looking animals, and probably not a plait in sight!

Dress is as for cross-country above: rugby shirt & matching hat cover. A proper hat, back-protector & medical armband are compulsory.


What is Dressage?

Dressage is another of the eventing disciplines. It requires the rider and horse to execute a precise series of manoeuvres in a marked out arena, at a range of paces between walk, trot and canter. For example "perform a 20 metre circle at a trot between A and E".

Marks are awarded for precision, control and obedience, and this is a real test of your riding ability and control of your pony. You will be expected to make correct use of aids, transition smoothly between the various paces, ride precisely the course specified and have your pony under perfect control at all times.

The dressage arena is marked out in a strange sequence of letters, which can be remembered by the following acronymn:

All King Edward's Horses Can Make Big Fences

The Pony Club has a range of dressage tests that are used for events. These are available online at http://www.pcuk.org/index.php/sports/dressage/dressage_tests


What do I wear to rallies?

You will be expected to be clean and tidy, and will need:

Your pony will need to be reasonably turned out, but not "smart" as for shows. (Noone expects plaits or minds a bit of mud in winter.) Tack needs to be in good order and well-fitting, the instructor will check it.


What do I wear to shows?

As for rallies, but always a hacking jacket and not a sweatshirt, and preferably gloves. If you are jumping a back-protector is a good idea.

Your pony should look smart: as clean as you can get it, with plaited mane and tail if you are doing "working hunter" or showing classes. You will be down-graded in showing and family pony classes if your pony is in a "strong" bit (eg Pelham, Kimblewick). If you have a strong pony you may need to balance having a snaffle bit for these classes against the need to have adequate brakes.

If showjumping is your thing the winner is he or she who gets the fastest clear round: appearance is not scored, but most ponies are well turned out for these classes too - a matter of pride for their owners.


What do I feed a pony on?

The short answer is grass. A "native" pony will be of a breed that has survived in the UK since long before people domesticated them, and it will be well able to look after itself by eating what grows naturally - it will do best on a large area of poor quality grazing. The problem today is that farming means a pony can no longer roam wild, and thus its grazing is restricted.

In the summer months, roughly April/May to September, a pony will be quite happy to live on the grass it can find in a typical field. As a rule of thumb you will need a minimum of about 1/2 acre per pony - but not the same 1/2 acre all summer: you will need to move ponies around fenced off parts of a larger field in order to allow the previously grazed areas to recover. This is because ponies are very wasteful grazers: they will eat the bits they like down to the bare earth, and leave other bits untouched. They also have to dung somewhere, and they won't eat where they have done so. You should pick up droppings from a small paddock as often as you can, as this will reduce the area that becomes fouled and also reduce the chances of your pony getting worms. If you are lucky enough to have lots of grazing then you have it easy: you can move your ponies around, and let sheep in after them to clean up the fields. (Sheep will eat the long, dank grass where horses have dunged; and as sheep don't suffer from horse worms, and horses don't suffer from sheep worms, they make excellent complementary grazers.)

Unless your pony is working very hard it will get plenty of food in summer just from grass. In fact you may have to restrict its grazing in May and late August (when it is warm and wet, and there is a "flush" of grass growth) to stop it getting too fat. Ponies liable to laminitis are a particular problem in this respect. It is for this reason that you also shouldn't graze ponies on pasture that has been heavily fertilised (eg for dairy cattle): it can be too rich and give them protein poisoning. Plenty of poor quality grazing, ideally with lots of herbs and weeds, (but no ragwort, yew or other poisonous plants please!) is the best - it is what they are adapted to.

In the winter months a pony with restricted grazing will need extra feed, as there will not be enough grass and the nutritional value of what grass there is will be a lot less. The best feed is plenty of good quality hay. You can tell it is good because it smells sweet (and tastes sweet if you chew it) and the pony yums it up. Palatable hay doesn't really smell of anything much, but they will eat it; stale hay smells off, and they will only eat it if they are starving: get the best hay you can find. Our ponies get a full haynet each morning and evening in mid winter. You could feed "haylage" instead of hay: this is half way between hay and silage, and is becoming more common - ask a friendly farmer - it has much better nutritional properties than hay, so you don't need to feed as much, and it is not dusty but it is more expensive. The important thing is that a pony needs plenty of bulky, low calorie food going through its system to keep its digestion in good order.

You can also give "hard feed", which means pretty much anything that arrives in a sack. A small (11HH or less) pony almost certainly won't need any, but larger ponies and those which are working hard will benefit from some. This food has a much higher calorie (energy) content than hay, so you need to make some attempt to match it against the pony's needs - but this doesn't have to be very scientific: if the girth gets tighter you are feeding it too much, and vice-versa. Our (13.1HH and 13.2HH) ponies get about 1kg dry weight of sugar-beet (soaked of course!) between them, in lots of Mollichaff, for their tea. They really look forward to it in winter, and by throwing in a handful of Pony Nuts ("horse cubes") they get a few minerals too. (I put salt licks in their stables, but they have been totally ignored - other than for scratching purposes!)

There is a huge range of feed supplements, herbs, oils, etc available. Unless your pony has special dietary needs you can ignore the whole lot, as most of them exist to serve those people who like to spend money on horses. A native pony runs on what grows here: if it is not eating properly, or you think it is ill, call a vet; otherwise tell it to eat its greens and shut up.

There are whole books on feeding, but I would recommend the Pony Club's "Keeping a Pony at Grass" (click here for their online bookshop). We started off with a pony, a field and that book; and we all seemed to survive the experience. It's a straightforward book written by someone who knows what they are talking about.


What is a farrier? And why not a blacksmith?

In the olden days there were blacksmiths who operated forges, to whom you took your horses to be shod, and who stood around under spreading chestnut trees in slack periods. They also operated a general repair and manufacturing capability to a local farming community. I doubt there is a single general blacksmith left in the country now, and virtually all shoeing is done by farriers who do that and nothing else.

Your farrier is crucial: "no foot, no hoss" as Mr. Jorrocks said. Any horse or pony who is ridden on anything other than fields will need shoeing, otherwise their hooves will wear down too quickly and they will go lame. Even an unshod horse needs to be seen regularly by a farrier to make sure that its hooves are trimmed to the correct shape. A farrier is a highly skilled tradesman who has spent many years learning his craft, and when you find a good one hang onto him for dear life. Virtually all farriers are now mobile: they will come to you with a portable forge and anvil in the back of a van.

A typical pony will need to see the farrier about every 8 weeks for re-shoeing, maybe every 6 weeks in summer. Its hooves grow under the horseshoes, just like your fingernails, and the shoes will have to be taken off so that the hooves can be trimmed to maintain their correct shape. Depending upon their wear the farrier may put the old shoes back on, or fit new ones. Expect to pay about 65 to shoe a pony, maybe a bit less if you can arrange to be shod as part of a group at a stables.

Get into the habit of looking at your pony's feet every day and check for warning signs: excessively raised clenches (nail ends), worn shoes, loose shoes (these three are all related); shoe contacting the frog, overgrown hoof (growing out of the shoe). At the end of spring and in the autumn check often for missing shoes as they can get sucked off by sticky mud. Try to synchronise your shoeings with periods of activity: just before half-term, at the beginning of the school holidays and just before summer camp.

It is when you have problems that your farrier comes into his own: he will be able to advise you about improving feet, lameness, different shoe types, dietary supplements, and so on. Your farrier will prefer to be contacted immediately if your pony loses a shoe, and will come promptly if he can as it is far easier for him to refit a shoe if the hoof has not been worn down by being left too long unshod. Get him to show you how to take off a loose shoe, as it's harder than it looks to remove one that is partially off without damaging the hoof.

It is actually illegal for someone who is not a qualified and registered farrier to shoe a horse - not that I've ever been tempted to try!


Why does my pony need to see the Vet?

Even a healthy pony should see a vet once a year (maybe twice a year for older (15+) ponies). They will give it a general once over, and also:

Your vet can also test dung for worms and draw up an annual worming programme for you.

Some stables, and most serious competitions, require an animal to have evidence of vaccination. Your horse passport will provide space to record vaccinations, and you should take it with you when you go to competitions, or to any event held at a race-course. If you compete seriously make sure that your vaccinations are up to date - falling behind by even one day can require an expensive series of jabs to "catch up" again.

For normal Pony Club events below Area level you don't need any sort of certificate, but the passport is still useful to remind you and your vet of what has been done, and as evidence of vaccination when you sell the pony.

Getting the vet to test dung for worms (a "faecal worm count") is cheap, and can in fact save you money: if your pony has a zero or low count you are obviously managing worms well and you can probably afford to stretch the manufacturer's recommended worming intervals. Given the cost of worming medicine this can be a significant saving.


Is there a good book I could read to learn more?

Lots, in fact far too many. I would suggest three:


Where I live means I would have to ride a lot on roads - is this safe?

Riding is never totally safe, and there are degrees of "busyness" of roads. Do you ever see anyone else riding on the road(s) in question? If so then it is possible for you too; if never, then maybe you shouldn't either. As a rule of thumb "A" roads (red on a map) and above are too busy, as are some "B" roads. But a lot depends on context: a tiny road that is used by busy commuters as a "rat-run" is likely to be a death-trap.

If you don't have an ordnance survey map of your area buy yourself a 1:25000 one. You may be surprised to find how many bridle-paths there are and, with a bit of ingenuity, you may be able to work out safe routes. If you see someone on a horse stop and ask them what their experience has been.

The most important thing is to find a pony that is "bomb-proof" on roads - and a surprising number are just that. Don't take a seller's word for it: expose a prospective mount to the worst you can think of, and reject it if it "spooks" at things on the road as this is one risk you simply can't afford to take.

The other important thing is to learn to ride safely on the road. If you are 12 years old or over you can take the Pony Club Road Safety test (a mandatory part of the C test). This will teach you how to recognise and handle dangers, how to ride your horse as safely as possible on the road, how to give signals that motorists will understand, and many other things. If you are under 12 years old you should only go out on the road with more experienced company.


My parents aren't horsey, what can I do?

Try to get them on your side. A bit of white-mail works wonders, try any combination of any of the following:

But be honest, especially about the cost (see below) and the fact that you will need your parents' help with taking you to rallies and shows. Your parents don't have to ride themselves, but they do need to be prepared to learn a bit on your behalf (looking after pony when you are ill, towing a trailer, getting feed, etc).

If your parents still don't want to have anything to do with a pony try to find a local stables or riding school and ask if you can help. You will find that most of these have a number of young helpers who, in return for mucking out, cleaning tack, feeding, grooming and helping generally are repaid in kind by getting rides. You will also learn a lot.

Another alternative is to find a friend with whom you can share the keep of a pony or two: if your parents have the money but not the enthusiasm, and your friend's are the opposite you might be able to work something out. Don't give up!


What do parents have to do?

You do not have to ride yourself (the author does not) but you will have to:


What does it cost to join the Pony Club?

For an individual it is 64/year, although for three or more members of a family it will be cheaper to have a "family" membership for the 3rd & subsequent family members. This seems steep, but it includes 3rd party insurance for the pony - even if it is not being used for Pony Club activities or by its owner. 

(Note that the membership fee does not cover events such as rallies and camp: these have to be paid for separately, but they tend to be subsidised in part by the Pony Club. For example a typical rally might involve 1 - 2 hours of tuition at a cost of 10:00. The price varies, see the Events page for details.)

What does it cost to buy a pony?

This is a "how long is a piece of string" question, but an approximate answer is between 500 and 2000 for a typical first pony depending on its size, age, health and ability. As a first estimate use:

(Rider's age - 5) multiplied by 250.

If you don't know what you are doing ask for help: your child's riding instructor will almost certainly see it as being part of their job to ensure that your child's first pony is suitable. Ask them to come with you when viewing an animal, and ask their advice about looking for one in the first place.

Bear in mind that buying the pony is by no means the end of the expenses: it can easily cost its purchase price or more every year in keep and other costs: see What does it cost to keep a pony? below.

A lot of people end up with a fairly unsuitable first pony, mainly through inexperience, leading to all sorts of problems - and sometimes danger. In my opinion the two most important characteristics of a good child's "first pony" are a kind nature and safety.

Try to find an animal that seems genuinely pleased to see you, and which takes care of its rider. Speed, jumping ability and showiness are all nice; but your child's happiness and safety are infinitely more important. When you've gained more experience you can tackle a more challenging animal - you wouldn't give a learner driver a Ferrari, would you?

So please, if you are new to all this, get advice from someone whose judgement you trust. See also the section on How do I choose and buy a first pony? below.


What is the right size of pony for my child?

There is no hard and fast rule, but the following should guide you:

This hasn't really answered the question. A pony is right for a child if the child is happy, feels reasonably secure and is in control. For most beginners under the age of 9 this means something of 12HH, possibly smaller. For younger children still you should be looking at 11HH or less, which is shaggy shetland pony territory. My eldest started at 10 years old on a 12.2HH, my youngest (who is a bit bigger) at 11 years old on a 13.2HH.

As always, take independent professional advice - preferably from a riding instructor who knows your child and who has no financial interest in what or where you buy. Most instructors will see it as part of their job to help you to find the right animal for your child, and will usually be pleased to come with you to look before you buy. Offer to pay them for this, and give them a present if they do it for nothing.

A purely personal view is that beginners should avoid like the plague the so-called "family pony". This means "13.2HH or above, suitable for both parent and child to ride", which on paper looks like a wonderful idea. In practice I have observed that such an animal is no use for the parent (too small and slow), while also being far too big and strong for the smaller child. And "family ponies" tend to be too cumbersome to be any use at gymkhana, Prince Philip Cup mounted games (where you have to vault on/off), and all the other things that smaller children tend to do. In short, a waste of time for a beginner.


How do I choose and buy a first pony?

You've made, or at least been bullied into, the momentous decision to buy your child's first pony - how do you go about it?

Ponies will be advertised for sale in local newspapers, and the "free ads" (typically yellow) papers are a particularly fruitful source since placing an advertisment costs nothing. You may also find ponies advertised in local tack and feed shops, on notice boards in riding schools, and in Pony Club newsletters. Most Riding School and livery yard owners buy and sell ponies, and will be able to advise you about local sources. There are also horse yards who make a business out of breeding, buying and selling ponies. And of course there are internet sites.

In short, you will find plenty for sale. Your initial choice is going to be based on size and price, for example "I want something about 12HH and my limit is 900", and from that starting point you should be able to draw up a short-list of animals to see .... which is where the difficult bit starts.

The priorities for a beginner are:

  1. Safety.

    Whatever you buy is going to be five to ten times heavier and twenty times stronger than your child, will be capable of 25+ mph, have four steel-tipped hooves, large teeth and a mind of its own. You need an animal that is controllable, good-natured, well-behaved and kind to your child. At a bare minimum you must convince yourself of the following:


  1. Temperament.

    In my view this is crucial for a child's pony. Most children have a rather romantic view of what a pony will be like, they will want to love it and to be loved back. Unfortunately ponies are not dogs, and very few of them are genuinely affectionate towards humans - although some are, especially if they have been home-reared.

    However a lot of ponies are good-natured, reasonably pleased to see you and kind to children; and some are also the opposite - you definitely want one of the former! This pony will become part of your family: you wouldn't voluntarily invite a difficult and bad-tempered playmate for your child into your family, let alone pay for them to come; so don't make an exception just because it happens to have four legs, large teeth and weighs
    1/4 of a ton!

    You will be working hard at looking after this animal, paying out money for its keep, and entrusting your child into its care. It's a lot more rewarding to do this for a kind pony which you all love than for a grumpy *&"! which, for all its other merits, simply treats you as a meal ticket. A nasty pony takes just as much money and effort to keep as a nice one. It is possible to find genuine, kind and safe ponies, but it can take a bit of effort.

    And finally you want to try to match the temperament of the pony to the child: ponies can be quick or slow, easily "wound up" or calm, sleepy or alert, and so on. You need to think about what sort of characteristics your child will be happy with.


  1. Suitability for your circumstances.

    Think about what the pony is going to do (general hacking, gymkhana, jumping, showing, hunting, driving, ...)
    Think about where it is going to live (in a field at home, in a livery yard, with friends, ...)
    Think about your child's temperament (nervous, so-so, happy-go-lucky, brave, crazy, ...)

    Most children's ponies have to be all-rounders, but it makes choosing a pony easier if you've narrowed the field a bit. For example:
    • Is your child nervous? Err on the side of slow and safe.
    • Does your child want to do gymkhana and mounted games? If they do then something small and nippy is going to be an advantage.
    • Is your child keen on jumping? Make sure the pony can jump before you buy it.
    • Does your child want to event or hunt? Make sure it's controllable in the open, and has done XC.
    • Is showing your thing? You will need something of a recognised breed and good conformation.
    • Will it live in a muddy field? Keeping a grey clean is far harder work than a chestnut or bay.


  1. Health, age, breed, size.

    I've put these lower down because, while they are important, they are areas in which you can afford to compromise.
  1. Check it out.

    Don't take just the owner's word for it: ask for, and expect, references. They should be able to give you some combination of the following:

Be suspicious if the owners always arrange to meet you at some location away from where the pony lives, or if they insist on some specific circumstances. You have to ask youself what they are trying to hide: bad home, pony misbehaves when other horses around / not around, or some other strange quirk.

Also be suspicious if there is no current rider without a good reason (eg child has lost interest), and even more wary if there is no current tack. A pony that is any good will have a queue of children wanting to ride it, whereas one that is not being ridden may be a problem.

Expect some documentation. There should be some evidence of medical care, eg vaccination certificates. A well-bred animal will probably be registered with a breed society, and will have papers. If it is freeze marked there should be some documentation with this which you must check: it may be stolen if there isn't! From 1.1.2004 all horses & ponies will need passports. Ask when it was last wormed, and what with. Ask when it was last shod.

  1. Make a considered decision.

    Ideally you will be allowed to take a pony on trial, possibly for a week. You will be responsible for it during this period, so you will be asked to insure it, but you will have an extended opportunity to try it out in your own environment. If you are able to do this then make sure that you use the time fully: expose it to all the situations you can think of, and get second opinions. This should be ample time in which to make a decision.

    Sadly this opportunity is becoming exceptional, and many owners will not let you do this. So you will have to make a decision based on trying the pony out at the owner's home. However you can make the task easier:

Don't be surprised if you get inspected too. A responsible owner will want to ensure that their pony is going to a good home, and this is an almost certain sign that you are getting a good pony. You should have an answer to the question "where are you going to keep him?"

If you do decide to buy you will generally be a stranger to the seller, and you will have to pay by cash or banker's draft. Get a receipt since this will probably be your only proof of the transaction taking place and your subsequent ownership. It's not a bad idea to draw up a letter beforehand with blanks for names & addresses, date and price; and both buyer and seller should have a copy.

  1. Finally, some "don'ts":

    Do not buy a pony from a rescue centre, no matter how much it tugs your heart strings. You are guaranteed to be buying a problem: either it will be physically unfit in some way that will make it useless, or its temperament will be totally unsuitable for an inexperienced home. Ponies are valuable animals worth many hundreds or thousands of pounds, they only end up in rescue centres if there is something very, very wrong with them.

    Do not buy a pony from a horse sale. This requires a lot of experience that a beginner simply won't have.

    Do not be lulled into a false sense of complacency when buying a pony from a "friend of a friend". At any one time there are many people trying to offload some totally unsuitable animal they have landed themselves with onto some other mug. I have met countless people who have bought a 4-legged disaster in this way. Treat any seller whom you don't know extremely well, and trust implicitly, exactly as you would treat a complete stranger.


What does it cost to keep a pony?

There are some basic costs that no-one can avoid:

If you are a member of the Pony Club you and your pony are covered for 3rd party liability for all normal riding activities, not just Pony Club ones. However the scope of this insurance has limitations, it lapses if you do not pay your subscription, and it interposes an intermediary between you and the insurer. You may decide that this provides adequate insurance - check the terms in the Pony Club Yearbook, or see http://www.pcuk.org/index.php/parents_information/members_insurance/. My personal approach has been to take out my own insurance as well, even if there is some duplication.

Then it depends upon where you live and how much work you are prepared to do yourself. The figures below are typical for a 13 hand native pony (typical for a 10 to 12 year old child) but each situation is different. (A bigger animal, and especially a horse, ie 14.2HH or above, will be more expensive.)

Where you live will affect these costs. The numbers above are for Devon which is stock-keeping country, so things like hay and grazing are reasonably abundant. If you live elsewhere, and especially if you are in the home counties, you may have to pay more.


Do I need my own land to keep a pony?

No. You can rent grazing, or possibly share with a friend who has some; or you can keep your pony at a stables or riding school "at livery".

For a beginner livery at a riding school is best. They manage the pony for you, and have experienced people who can answer your questions. There will be instructors, a school ring, jumps, probably help with transport, a farrier on tap and a lot of local knowledge. Another significant point is that all riding schools have a floating population of children who want to be with ponies, and riding can therefore become a social experience for your child who will get lots of help and support from contemporaries. You will meet the parents too, giving further opportunities for sharing lifts, horse transport (and grumbles about your progeny!)

However the disadvantage is the cost: probably 35/week in summer, rising to 50/week or more in winter. Also the riding school will use your pony for teaching other children, which is not necessarily a bad thing so long as it is not overdone and exhausts the poor animal or leads to it becoming stupified with boredom.

Renting grazing is not usually satisfactory unless it is practically next door to where you live, as you will have to go there every single day to check on your pony, and to feed it in winter. You will also find yourself worrying about the security and welfare of the animal, particularly if the grazing is near a road. However given the right circumstances - perhaps renting from someone who also keeps horses, or who has had their own horses in the past and can offer some help - this can be a good solution.


How much land do I need to keep a pony?

The first point to bear in mind is that keeping one pony on its own is unkind, as ponies are herd animals and really need the company of their own kind to be happy. If you can't keep two ponies you should consider providing some other sort of four legged company, for example sheep, but another pony or horse is best. You won't have any trouble finding a "companion" horse or pony who has retired to share your field.

So the question should really be "how much land do I need to keep two or more ponies?" The answer depends on their size and how good your grazing is, but you could manage - just - with one acre for two small (say 12.2HH or under) ponies. Bigger ponies require more land, rising to a minimum of an acre or more for a horse.

However with this little land you will have to work hard at keeping your grazing clean by picking up droppings, otherwise the field will become "horse sick". You will have to rotate the grazing using electric fencing to allow eaten down areas to recover, and also restrict their grazing in winter to stop the land getting too chewed up. Your grass will last roughly from April to October, so you will have to buy hay for at least a third of the year and maybe longer if your grazing doesn't hold out.

If you have more land then you have a much easier time, and in fact you may find yourself wondering what to do with all your grass. You can make your own hay (an acre's worth of good hay will feed two ponies through the winter), but this is difficult to organise unless you have a friendly farmer next door who can cut, turn and bale your hay at the same time as his own.

If you are contemplating buying land next to your house don't be surprised if you have to pay well over the agricultural value for it. This "amenity land" is recognised as adding considerable value to a house, and the farmer who sells it to you will be aware of this and will probably want his share of any future profit.


Do I need to have my own stables?

No, you don't have to have a stable for a pony, and in fact living in a stable is a totally unnatural existence for a pony who will much prefer to be outdoors. A reasonably hardy native pony will be quite happy outside all the year round so long as its field is not too exposed, and it has some shelter from the weather (either natural such as hedging, or in the form of some sort of open shed).

However people have stables for several reasons, all to do with the management of the horse.

So no, you don't have to have a stable, but it does make life easier. A barn, or maybe a yard you can fence off, will serve for most purposes.

We ran an experiment last week (I'm writing in November 2004) to see whether our horses would rather be inside or outside on a cold wet winter's night. We brought them in to feed them their tea as usual and put haynets in their stables, then electric fenced off the yard and left the field gate and their stable doors open so that they could come and go as they pleased. The aim was to see whether they would rather be warm and dry in their stables, or cold and wet outside. They chose cold and wet.

They had their rugs on, and they are not clipped, both of which factors may have influenced their decision; also the haynets were untouched as there is still some grass out there. We will try this experiment again after Christmas when the grass will really and truly have run out, to see what they choose then.

Later (post Christmas 2004). Well, there is not much grass out there now and it has been cold, dark and wet come 5pm so, sure enough, we now have two ponies at the field gate keen to come in and get their tea; and they are quite happy to be in their stables watching the rain, sleet and snow fall outside.


What does it cost to buy a trailer or horsebox?

Horseboxes are purpose-built or converted lorries or large vans, often with living quarters built in. They are only worth it if you are going to stay away with your pony, typically eventing, or you want to carry more than two large animals. This is expert territory, and well beyond the scope of these pages.

Horse trailers may be double or single, and come in a range of sizes from "pony" up to full-sized "hunter". (It is also possible to obtain three horse trailers, but they are rarely seen.) A new double trailer will be 2000 to 3000+ depending on its size and specification: if you can afford that then getting one is simple - just buy what you need.

If you want a second-hand one you will find trailers for sale in local papers, web-sites and through word of mouth. Prices start at around 100 for a wreck, to about 350 for something that you could use having done some work, to about 600+ for something old but reasonable, to 1500+ for a recent model. Points to watch are:

Electrics, paintwork and cosmetic rust are all relatively cheap and easy to fix. Don't be put off by something that looks shabby, but is mechanically sound. Good signs are greased wheel-bearings, towbar and brake linkage - it has been maintained.

The towing vehicle should have a professionally fitted towbar, and be up to pulling the weight. It may require extra cooling fans and, if it has an automatic gearbox, an oil intercooler. Remember that a laden horse trailer is in the 1.5 to 2.5 ton range, which is a lot heavier than (say) a caravan.

Treat buying a second-hand trailer like buying a car: if you are not mechanically minded take along someone who is. Also remember that, like a car, it will need servicing: preferably annually.

Trailers don't need MOTs, but the Police can and do stop and inspect them, and they can issue a banning order on the spot if the trailer is unsafe, leaving you stranded with ponies and children - quite apart from any possible summons. A banned trailer has to be taken to a testing station and inspected before it can be used again. There are some simple precautions you can take to reduce the chances of being stopped in the first place:

Check tyres, lights & general condition every time you hitch up to go somewhere. A trailer should be serviced once a year, which means check and adjust if necessary tow-hitch, wheel bearings and brakes. This is an easy (if messy) job that you can learn to do yourself if you are at all mechanically minded.

Some more hints:

  1. You don't need a jack to change a tyre on a twin-axle trailer. Equip yourself with a wedge-shaped piece of wood, about 4 - 6" thick. Drive the good tyre up onto the wedge and it will lift the other one on that side off the ground. You might need to unload first if your suspension has a lot of travel.
  2. Never leave a trailer parked with the brakes on, as the brake shoes can stick themselves to the drums. Always chock the wheels instead, and leave the brakes off.
  3. If you reverse your trailer to park it always go backwards about an extra two yards, then roll forwards again to the final stopping place. This allows the auto-reverse mechanism on the brakes to disengage, making it far less likely that the brakes will stick on while it is parked.
  4. If the brakes do stick on after being parked for a while it's easy to release them: bang on the inside cover of the sticking brake drum with a hammer. You don't have to hit it that hard - usually a gentle tap will move the brake shoe and free the wheel. (You can bash on the outside of the wheel itself till you're blue in the face - it won't budge the brake shoe.)
  5. If you have to unhitch a trailer on a reverse slope (ie with a tendency to roll backwards) ALWAYS put chocks behind your trailer wheels. Putting the hand-brake on will appear to hold it initially, but if anything (eg a horse!) pushes it even a little way backwards the auto-reverse brakes will disengage and it will roll down the hill. If you have to unhitch on a hill try always to do it facing downhill so that the trailer brakes will hold - and it's best to chock the wheels anyway (use the spare tyre flat on the ground if nothing else is available).


What is the law on trailers: - towing vehicle, weight, driving age, etc?

A rough summary of the UK law (I'm an engineer, not a lawyer) is:


Those who passed their driving test before 1/1/1997 are allowed to tow braked trailers of up to 3.5 tons, so long as they don't exceed the towing capacity of their car. They can also drive a "small" two axle lorry of up to 7.5 tons capacity.

Those who passed their driving tests after 1/1/1997 are subject to further restrictions:

To get round these restrictions they have to pass the "LGV" (used to be called "HGV") test. Since almost all cars have unladen weights of much less than two tons (even a range-rover is about 1.75 tons unladen), and double trailer MAM weights start at about 1.6 tons, this means that the LGV test is effectively compulsory.

There is a grey area over what is a "safe towing weight" for your car. Manufacturers quote a maximum towing weight that is based on what the car will start on a steep hill, which is simply a function of engine power and gearing, and doesn't take into account the weight of the towing vehicle relative to that of the trailer, or the robustness of its suspension or brakes. If you've ever towed a heavy trailer you will know that the danger comes from being pushed out of control going downhill or under braking; or from the trailer "weaving" when going too fast or in a cross-wind - all a function of the ratio of the trailer weight to the towing vehicle weight.

The normal advice is that the weight of the trailer should not exceed 85% of the weight of the towing vehicle, otherwise there is a serious risk of the trailer taking over. A laden two horse (as opposed to pony) trailer can easily reach two tons, (and my three horse one is rated at 2.6 tons) which is well above this limit for any ordinary car you can buy in the UK. In addition you will destroy the engine and transmission of an "ordinary" car if you try to pull heavy trailers with it - as I and many others have found to their cost!

This means that you need a "proper" big 4x4 for the job: vehicles such as Land-Rovers, Discoveries, Range-Rovers, Mitsubishi Shoguns, Toyota Landcruisers, Isuzu Troopers and the like are all specifically designed to haul these heavy loads. They have towing limits in the range 2.8 to 3.5 tons, and their transmission, suspension and brakes are beefed up to handle such weights. They have low-range gearboxes (which you'll need for hill starts), and four wheel drive (possibly with diff-locks) which gives you the traction you need to get out of muddy fields.


What if I break down when towing a trailer/driving a horsebox?

Standard AA, RAC, etc cover will rescue your vehicle, but generally they will refuse to have anything to do with livestock - not much use if you are carrying horses!

The Organisation of Horsebox and Trailer Owners provides a "bolt-on" extra to AA cover that will rescue you, your vehicle and your horses and take you to your destination. Cover starts at 36/year for "trailer" membership if you are already in the AA, ??/year if you are not - see their website for more details.

The RAC offer "Horse Box Assist" as an addition to their standard cover for an additional ?? per year. See http://www.rac.co.uk/breakdowncover/uk/horse_trailer.



Horse Passports:

From Jan 2004 all "equidae" (which includes elephants!) must have passports.

These record their identifying marks, previous owners, vaccinations and significant medications. It is a legal requirement to have this with you when travelling with the horse, so I keep mine in the car.

Make sure that any vaccinations are recorded in this as if you compete at all seriously you may be required to produce it as evidence that your horse has been vaccinated. It will also be needed if you take your horse to a venue like a racecourse where they will be very sensitive about the possibility of infection.

When you buy a horse insist on seeing the passport. If it doesn't have one ask some searching questions about the horse's origins, and be prepared to walk away if you don't get acceptable answers.


Some general information

"Hands": Ponies are traditionally measured in "hands". 1 hand = 4 inches = 100mm, and the dimension is taken to the withers (the bump at the base of the mane). Fractional measurements are given as hands and inches, thus a "13.2" pony measures 13 hands and 2 inches. Recently there has been a move towards metric measurements for horses and ponies but, outside bureaucratic circles, it hasn't caught on.

Pony size vs. child size: If the child needs a step-ladder to mount it the pony is too big (they need to be able to get on by themselves), if the child's legs meet underneath it is too small. More or less anything in between is OK (most ponies can easily carry the weight of a small adult): you will observe that many of the most successful riders are those visibly growing out of their ponies, they have got the animal firmly under control. As a very rough guide a child needs a pony that is its age + 1 or 2 in hands: thus a 12 year old needs a 13 to 14HH pony. In practice a pony will last a child 2 or 3 years, so you may end up buying something bigger for them to grow into.

Pony Breeds: "Native" refers to the breed of pony, and implies a breed native to the British Isles: Welsh Mountain, New Forest, Exmoor, Dartmoor, Connemara, Shetland, and so on. Most native breeds grow coats in winter which make you realise that Thelwell wasn't exaggerating much, and are eminently capable of surviving outdoors all year round in our climate so long as they have food, water, a bit of shelter and companionship. Ponies are stabled for the convenience of the rider (try grooming a wet, muddy horse) and to conserve grazing (grass doesn't grow in winter, but mud proliferates), not for the good of the animal. An unclipped pony is much happier outdoors than in, even in driving rain.

Pony Age. You are unlikely to find a pony younger than 5 or 6 that knows what it's job is, and a beginner should try to get something at least 8 years old as it will have some experience and be over (some of) its youthful indiscretions. You will find that ponies over 15 are classed as "veteran", and that you can't get Vet's fees insurance, but in fact you will come across plenty of ponies in their late twenties to early thirties teaching children in riding schools. A pony is probably at its most valuable when 9 to 12 years old, but so long as it is healthy and fit, and its feet are good, age is not a big issue. An older pony, say 15 - 20, is often ideal for a beginner as it will know far more about the whole business than its rider, will generally be fit enough for Pony Club, shows and novice events and is usually easier to look after and handle than a younger one. An old pony is not necessarily a slow pony: we have a 16 year old Arab cross who looks like a bag of bones, but who goes like a rocket when he sees a jump.

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