October 2018 - Pony Or Horse
Written by by Cassidy Gallman
Thursday, 27 September 2018 19:52
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Which is the best place to start for a youth rider?

by Cassidy Gallman

Let’s be real. The equestrian world is complicated and confusing. This is especially true when you are first starting out as a youth rider. Riders under the age of 21 are presented with unique problems and unique opportunities when they first enter the equestrian world. Whether to start with a pony or horse is one of the first hurdles to surmount.



A pony is defined as a smaller horse with a height roughly under 14.2 hands and a horse is defined as standing over 14.2 hands. Both ponies and horses offer opportunities and challenges, and the choice of equine partner is a highly personalized decision that belongs to the parents, rider and trainer involved.

David Koss and his first ride, the horse Yogi Bear. Photo: Ed Moore

There are pros and cons to each choice.

Ponies can be a great place to start as a pony can keep a youth rider humble and striving for more. Also, due to their small size, ponies can be easier for a youngster to handle and to learn riding techniques from more quickly. However, a rider can become comfortable with the small size and get intimated when transitioning to a horse. Ponies, depending on the discipline, also have limited competition opportunities in the United States. Therefore, a horse may offer more of a future as the child advances.

The rider’s age, height and level of experience are more factors to consider.

Acclaimed international eventing rider and dressage judge, Robyn Fisher, who has trained multiple students to the North American Youth Championships, weighed in on the issue. Robyn began her equestrian journey on a 15.3 hand spotless chestnut Appaloosa Quarter Horse named Toby Tyler. She trained him for hunters and eventing and began competing in local hunter/jumper shows when she was 8. He taught her many lessons about roundness, sitting up, keeping her heels down and remembering a cross-country course.

Robyn Fisher and her first ride, the horse Toby Tyler

As it applies to competition, Robyn says the pony/horse question is very dependent on the quality of the pony or horse. In any case, Robyn asserts that the first experience a youth rider has with a pony or horse should be on a mount that knows the game, is experienced and will take care of the rider. Ultimately, the pony or horse needs to match the needs of the rider.

Niki Clarke of Dressage Unlimited, a Grand Prix dressage rider and trainer, feels similarly. Deciding on a pony or horse is a personal decision and whatever the choice, it needs to set up the rider for success so he or she can learn as much as they can. She also emphasized that it is often the program, not the horse, that is the most important for a youth rider’s development. Knowledge in tack, anatomy, shoeing, fitness and overall care are crucial in the development of youth riders and these are all elements that a rider can learn on a pony or a horse. Niki recommends riding anything that is safe and to learn anything you can from that equine partner. This is how you grow as a rider.

Popular international event rider and show jumping course designer, David Koss, describes starting his competition career on a horse named Yogi Bear. “He was the perfect teacher for a teenage boy and the only reason I am still riding is because Yogi made it so enjoyable for me.”

This is the biggest takeaway. The equestrian world can be complicated and confusing, and a youth rider will face obstacles. If those obstacles are faced with a partner that they love then they will have success no matter the result.