So, it’s time to get that horse-crazy child of yours a four-legged creature affectionately known as a “pony”. How do you go about deciding what’s right for this next phase of life? What do you look for?
As a father of a horse loving 7-year-old boy, I’ve had to answer these questions almost daily from both the parent’s and the trainer’s point of view. Which is the harder task? Finding a good match for my child or finding the perfect kid for someone’s sale horse.
Consider Your Child’s Age, Strength, and Experience
The first consideration is the child’s age. Age is important when you are thinking about the size and strength of the youth rider. Some youngsters just can’t handle a big strong horse and some horses can’t stand a youngster pulling on them; you need to look for an appropriate fit on both ends.
An easy steering horse that will allow contact on the reins for an occasional adjustment of their rider’s balance is often ideal for the beginner youngster. Later, a horse who steers easily enough to let the rider guide it around gently, but not so sensitive that it reacts too fast and unseats the novice driver aboard is a good choice. Lastly, a pony of smaller stature will allow for more hands-on tasks like grooming and tacking up to be accomplished by the child independently.
Obviously, the experience of a child should be considered when choosing the level of mount to purchase. This is where many parents who ride get into trouble because they know that their young proteges are sure to progress rapidly, so there’s a strong desire to buy a higher-level pony rather than the pony their child currently needs.
Temperament of Horse and Child
One must also consider temperament in the match-making process. Remember that some young riders are timid and need that saintly pony who might not be far from retirement, while others can easily handle a bit more “spice”.
While many equestrians’ children will quickly be able to handle a more finely tuned pony, I always strongly encourage parents to consider purchasing a partner for the present in order to build confidence. Parents who aren’t riders frequently don’t have enough knowledge to make an informed decision, so they especially need to consider getting good and trusted help in guiding their decision about a purchase.
The Perfect Youth Horse
Now that we have made a thorough analysis of our child rider, it’s time to look at the perfect mount. In my experience, a “kick” ride is best for beginner kids. A “kick” ride in my definition is something that has to be convinced to go faster. This is not a horse that is timid or afraid to go into places and has to be kicked to do so.
My “kick” ride is also one that is solid as a rock to mount, whether climbing on from the ground, a mounting block, or the rafters; one that stands patiently while forts are built or tails are brushed will be more appropriate than those that always want to be in motion.
Another term I use is honest. If a horse is honest about being afraid of something, then that is their right and is expected of a prey animal—they aren’t machines, after all.
I try to make sure I push all the “buttons” I can find when trying a potential mount for a child in order to see if they are going to be “good citizens” about things when everything isn’t perfect or if they are going to make a bad decision.
Finally, does the horse have the right mindset to be willing to put up with mistakes and childlike shenanigans? I want a horse or pony minus the “ponytude” no matter what size they are. I don’t get too caught up in the size of a horse, but more the mindset. Even though a larger horse can be intimidating to a child, I know that one that is patient and kind will quickly win the heart of a child over one that is small and cute with the personality of a cactus.