By definition, a pony is considered to be any equine that is less than 14.2 hands tall. Ponies come from a variety of breeds, and some pony breeds are actually deviations of regular sized horse breeds. Ponies are capable of everything horses are capable of in terms of riding, driving and competitive events.
Ponies are often considered to be the best choice for small adult riders and children because they provide a good physical fit for smaller riders. It can be difficult for a small rider to control a large, heavy horse when their foot barely comes halfway down its girth and their leg will not reach around the animal's barrel. This is why pony riding can be beneficial for smaller people.
Riding a Pony
Pony riding should be no different than riding a regular horse. A well-trained pony should know all basic commands and may know upper-level movements and maneuvers as well, depending on the level of training that has been put into the pony.
The pony's rider should be the correct fit for the pony. Their leg should not extend more than an inch or two past its girth and riders should not be noticeably overweight or large. Most pony riders need to be somewhere between 40 and 120 pounds, with 120 pounds being the weight limit on ponies that are 13 to 14 hands high. A good rule of thumb is that the rider's weight should not exceed 20 percent of the pony's weight.
Common Pony Issues - Tack
Ponies are not known for having the best physical conformation, though some specimens are definitely better physically built than others. The better a pony's conformation is, the more money it will sell for. Ponies with excellent conformation and athletic ability typically sell for quite a bit more than horses with the same build and talents, so many entry level pony riders wind up with less than picture perfect animals. This would not be a problem, except for it can cause real issues when trying to make tack fit both the rider and the horse.
Ponies need well-fitting, comfortable tack in order to perform their best and avoid tack-related pain and issues. However, it can be very difficult to find small scale, high quality tack, especially when the pony is built just like a 55 gallon drum with legs. Many pony owners try to have money by sacrificing pony tack quality, especially if the rider is a child who will be outgrowing the saddle and the pony within a couple of years. It is important to invest in quality equipment for a pony and follow all the same fitting guidelines that apply to full-size performance horses in terms of saddle and bridle fit. In some cases, it pays to have a saddle maker custom build pony tack for a specifically hard to fit pony. The investment will pay off in the long term comfort and happiness of the pony.
Common Pony Issues - Training
One of the biggest problems pony riders and owners encounter is a lack of proper training and bad habits, especially for smaller ponies. These are animals who are ridden by small children most of the time, and most small children are not known for their horse training skills. As a result, ponies have a tendency to be green broke to start with and develop bad habits from there, including leaning on the bit, grazing while being ridden and a general tendency to go wherever they please, including back to the barn.
Where a 150 lb experienced adult rider can quickly jump up on a misbehaving 15 hand horse and correct its behavior, that same rider is unlikely to be able to jump onto a Shetland pony that is acting up and correct the behavior without risking injury to the pony. Riding a misbehaving pony can also frighten many children and inexperienced riders, which in turn will cause them to have even less control. This is why it is critical to buy a pony with a good disposition and make sure that the rider receives adequate training on how to handle the pony, preferably through regular riding lessons for children.
Experienced riders who are small enough to ride and train ponies are in high demand on the pony show circuit, so their time is typically only spent on the equines with the most potential with owners who will pay full training related fees and expenses.