CHOOSING A SUITABLE HORSE FOR PONY CLUB
Note: This information is intended for inexperienced riders/families and members new to Pony Club. Some of the information contained in this section may not be relevant to you and your circumstances. We strongly recommend that you discuss any decisions about your horse and your riding with a relevant equine professional.
An ideal pony club horse is generally a quieter, educated horse.
For your child to get the most out of starting out in pony club you want them to be having fun while learning the basics of riding, not fighting to control a misbehaving horse.
When looking at a potential purchase or lease of a horse for pony club, your pony club is not allowed to give specific advice, but can give you general guidelines. Therefore, it is a good idea to take someone more experienced, such as a trusted instructor with you when you look at a horse. He/she may also be willing to advise you about a relevant price range for a purchase, since they have a broader knowledge of the equestrian ‘market’.
Observe the ground manners of the horse and its temperament while being ridden. A horse should be well-proportioned and move freely and evenly (this is relevant not just for pony club, but for all riding activities).
Briefly, look at the conformation and all the paces and transitions from the side, front and rear.
You should also look for any scars and lumps and bumps that do not look normal, and that may indicate prior injury.
For a purchase, professional advice from an equestrian veterinarian is essential in the form of a veterinarian examination (“Vet Check”). The vet can advise you about conformation, gait, health, possible previous injuries, temperament, and suitability for pony club.
The vet cannot advise about price.
TEMPERAMENT, BREED, SEX, AGE, CONFORMATION
The most important aspect of a pony club horse is its temperament:
On lead, the horse should walk when you walk and stop when you stop
The horse should not show any aggressive behaviour towards you, such as biting, pushing, or standing in your space, especially near food.
The horse should have good responses to the rider’s aids (the riders hands, legs and seat). A horse that has good responses is an obedient horse.
The horse should be willing to work for the rider, ie., not sluggish under saddle or tense and flighty.
Any breed of horse is allowed at PC. Typical breeds are thoroughbreds, warmbloods, arabs, quarter horses, clydesdales and riding ponies (e.g., Australian, New Forest, Welsh), and crosses between these breeds.
Only mares or geldings are allowed at pony club. Stallions and rigs ( “failed geldings”) are not allowed.
In general middle aged, educated horses are the best choice for Ponyclub.
Young horses require constant work and you are responsible for teaching them all the foundations to become a well mannered ridden horse. This requires riding skills, knowledge, instruction, time and commitment. More senior horses require extra care and time to maintain fitness and condition.
Horses must be 4 years old to compete in Pony Club events.
Conformation is how the horse is ‘built’ and how this affects how it moves now, and the likelihood that it will be able to be schooled in all movements.
Conformation is a very complex area of knowledge, and professional advice from an equestrian veterinarian is essential in the form of a veterinarian examination (“Vet Check”)
HORSE AND RIDER COMBINATION
It is common sense that the horse and rider should be matched in size, both in height and physique.
A slim 140 cm rider cannot effectively ride a 17 hh solid horse. On the other hand, a tall, solid rider will look very out of proportion on a smaller or narrow framed horse. A rider whose size does not match the horse’s size is said to be “over or “under ridden”.
It is not just the ‘look’ of the rider/horse combination that is relevant here, but the probability that the rider cannot apply riding aids sufficiently, both for learning and safe riding.
Ability and ‘Schooling’:
A horse’s performance is only as good as the rider on its back.
Note: Comments here refer to riding for pony club activities, not pleasure or trail riding. Pony Club teaching in general covers flatwork (dressage), jumping and activities such as games on horseback. The rider is taught the basics of how to ride in these disciplines, i.e., ‘seat’ and balance, posture, hands and legs and how to apply all of these to ask the horse to do the various movements required.
An inexperienced rider will find it very difficult to ride and train an inexperienced horse. This is because the rider’s own balance is still undeveloped and the rider cannot apply aids correctly – this only confuses a green horse and will frustrate the rider.
So, ideally, an inexperienced rider should look for a horse that has been in pony club before (and possibly competed at PC events), often known as a “been there, done that” kind of horse. It will be quiet, tolerant of an unbalanced rider, and know how to correctly respond to the rider’s aids, even if incorrectly or insufficiently or inconsistently given.
However, buying a horse that has been ridden at the highest PC level (Grade 1) for a grade 4/5 rider is not always a sensible option, as the horse may tend to become “rider smart” – it learns that it does not have to obey the rider, since the rider does not have the ability to enforce the required behaviour.
The moderately experienced rider (i.e., has been in PC before and/ or has had lessons from a qualified instructor on a regular basis) has a wider choice of mount, as it does not necessarily have to have pony club experience. They should look for a horse that has had a good basic education, i.e., it should have steady even paces (walk, trot and canter) and smooth transitions between these paces. A horse schooled to this level enables the rider to concentrate on their own balance and aids, thus learning and enjoying riding more.
The experienced rider will be looking for a horse to complement their chosen discipline, i.e., an experienced dressage, show jumping, eventing, or games horse.
Remember that the care and riding experiences that a horse had has in the past, may or may not help its suitability for pony club activities.
Contract of Sale
Finally, a contract of sale is highly recommended to protect both the buyer and the seller from unintended outcomes. A contract may range from a simple one page document with a few terms covering description of horse, buyer, seller, price, tack inclusions and delivery conditions to a complex document with special conditions (e.g., veterinary investigations, circumstances in which the contract is void and what happens then, etc.) There are several websites which advertise standard equestrian contracts of sale.
Settling Horse into New Paddock:
Take to new agistment in the morning to give horse a whole day to get used to the paddock
If possible, walk it around the perimeter, and show it where the water is.
Watch your horse for at least ½ hour to ensure it is settled before you leave, check it regularly throughout the next few days.
Come back at the end of the day to confirm that it has settled in.