Many children dream of owning a pony. They might have been to riding lessons for some time and their instructor might be full of praise about their progress towards being an international show jumper. However, very few have an understanding of the costs and commitment involved.
Your commitment as the parent
Ultimately, as the real owner, it is your responsibility to care for a pony.
You will need to decide whether your child is likely to contribute their time to the pony’s upkeep and whether you can fit the commitment into your daily routine.
Bear in mind that initial enthusiasm might wane as your child grows up. Caring for a pony that lives throughout the summer in a field is very different to caring for one that is liveried throughout the winter. You child may be enthusiastic to ride now, but will he or she be enthusiastic to muck out stables on a cold, dark winter afternoon? Will you be willing to lend a hand?
Although you should be able to sell any animal reasonably quickly at a fair price, bear in mind that your commitment could be over several years.
Many riding schools allow young teenagers to volunteer with mucking out and grooming the horses under safe supervision. If possible, find a school that encourages volunteering and enrol your child as it will give them an understanding of everyday duties.
Make them stick it out, without help from you for at least three months, preferably into winter, to show that there is no ‘let up’ from the responsibility.
Making the decision to buy
You should consider four key factors before deciding to buy: the pony’s size; its purpose; your child’s ability and the selling price. You will want a pony with a calm, kind temperament.
Also consider whether buying is best value for money - would your child receive more benefit at a lower cost from regular riding lessons on someone else's pony?
Sharing and loaning - alternatives to full ownership
Sharing ownership with someone else could lower the costs and spread the work you or your child does to look after the horse.
Shared ownership may also be a way of finding a suitable home for your pony if your own land and facilities are limited.
You might also be able to find a horse or pony on loan - you take full responsibility but for a limited time. Read our tips about how a deal might work if this could be an option for you.
What is the ideal size of pony for a child?
This is a far trickier question than it seems, simply because children grow faster than ponies. You don't want to purchase a pony your child has outgrown in six months.
Suitable riding ponies can range from 10hh Shetlands suitable for a three/four year old to 14.2hh Welsh cobs, strong enough to carry an adult.
Your child’s instructor should be able to offer advice on a suitable size, and the size of the pony your child currently rides. Add two inches to this, and the pony you buy should see your child through the next two years.
Cobs and native breeds are generally good ‘weight carriers’, so if your child is not confident on larger ponies, then this could be an appealing option. If you have a teenager or tall child, then buying a pony that is 14hh+ as a parent/child share might also appeal if you also want to ride.
What is my child’s riding ability?
Consult your child’s riding instructor about their ability. Your son or daughter may beg for a show jumper, but if he or she is only learning to trot over ground poles, an advanced horse is unlikely to be suitable. Your child may have difficulties reining in an athletic pony, or the pony may not be challenged and regress in ability (and value).
Will ownership replace lessons?
If you are buying a horse to replace riding lessons, consider the disadvantages as well as the advantage of saving on lesson costs. Your child may grow in confidence, but is unlikely to progress in technical ability from lack of tuition. If your child is a born natural, you need to consider how to provide the appropriate challenge for him or her, through a combination of the right horse and the opportunities you make available. He or she might need fewer lessons, but might need more lifts to events, or to a teacher further away. Riding lessons provide continual development and different opportunities. Most riding schools put on competitions across the year.
Look to the future
How you expect your child's riding career to develop will influence whether you buy a ‘safe plod’ or something sharper. Remember: a nippy pony can unseat its rider more easily than a large horse, on account of its agility. You should watch your child ride and speak at length with their instructor to decide on the type of horse matches his or her level of skill and balance, both now and in the short term future.
The horse’s purpose
Different uses require different characteristics
A young child will be contented to ride his horse on lead rein, up and down the paddock. As he gets older, he may wish to enter a local pony club and show, jump or enter into gymkhana events. You should buy a pony that suits your child’s favourite discipline. Judges look for certain qualities in ‘show ponies’, whilst a gymkhana pony has to have agility. Ponies that have these attributes and a calm and kind temperament will command higher prices.
Commitment to be a member of a pony club
You also need to consider the expense and time commitment involved in pony club activities. A horse box or trailer is essential, as well show gear for both child and horse. Shows days are long and involve preparing and transporting the pony and then waiting for classes that last a maximum of ten minutes. There is reward in this, especially seeing your child’s self-esteem rise, but these events require a lot of patience and perseverance.
Alternatively, your child may wish to hack out with the pony. You need to make sure you find a safe location and someone who is willing to escort her. Some livery yards have more young riders than others, and may be a source of more experienced friends with whom to ride. If you are likely to keep your pony in livery, you might want to read about finding a livery yard.
How much does a pony cost?
The cost of the pony very much depends on its breed, temperament, age, health and expertise. Most ‘safe’ ponies will be priced higher than those that are ill-tempered or spooky. Health is important too. An older horse will probably be cheaper and calmer, but it may have ailments and may be more difficult to sell on. A young, ‘green’ horse may also be inexpensive, but unless you are experienced at training, it may not be suitable for a novice rider.
Show and competition experience
A horse that has show experience, especially if it has won ribbons, will also be worth more. It is likely already to be trained in how to stand square for a judge and should have a strong gait in walk and trot. Similarly, if it has competed in local show jumping courses, it is likely to fetch more. There are affiliated junior leagues for each discipline: for a first time pony, it is not recommended you pay out the premium for a horse with this level of experience. It is more ideal as a second pony, once your child has enjoyed going to local shows and can compete with confidence.
Overall, there are many things to consider when buying a pony for a child. It is a big time and financial commitment for you as a parent, especially if you have no passion for horses. However, ownership can bring its rewards, in bringing out your child’s confidence and giving him or her opportunities, ambitions and pride.
Above all, remember what is essential: a calm, kind temperament. This does not necessarily come at a sky-high price, but if you have found a horse that is considerably cheaper than the rest, you have to ask yourself why.
Further information and useful documents
This article is part of a series that offers advice on purchasing a horse. You might be interested in reading about buying a horse through a private sale or buying one at auction as many of the tips in those guides apply to buying a pony for a child.
We cannot overemphasise the importance of recording a sale with a good contract. You should look at our collection of agreements, which provide an inexpensive way of obtaining some protection from buying a horse or pony with undisclosed problems.