As a pony rider, I’m used to hearing, “Hey, can you get the gate since you’re so low to the ground?” or “Are you really going to jump that? It’s bigger than your pony!” I take offense to neither of these comments, and with my faithful pony standing quietly, I lean completely out of the saddle to latch the gate as the bouncing Thoroughbreds jig around us nervously. Then I proceed to hop my pony over the 3’6″ coop beside the gate (most times giving one or two flustered and unwilling horses a lead) and head off after them. Nobody ever said ponies can’t jump well, and how complimentary it is to hear “your horse jumps like a pony!” Tight, careful, and smart, not to mention a smooth jump.
My family breeds Connemaras, and I have a special pony that I’m currently competing at training level in eventing and foxhunting. It’s inspiring to see that some ponies of the past and present can keep right up with their larger relatives. Theodore O’Connor, partnered with Karen O’Connor, competes at the advanced level in eventing and frequently gallops up to sturdy cross-country fences he can barely peek over. Stroller was another personal favorite. A capable jumper, the Connemara gelding is the only pony to have ever earned an Olympic medal. He received the silver show jumping medal behind Bill Steinkraus and Snowbound at the 1968 Olympics, clearing a wall of 6’10”. Talk about gutsy! Standing only 13.2 hands, Little Squire, another Connemara, won the open jumper championship at the 1939 National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden, rocketing over fences almost 7′ tall. What they lack in size they sure do make up for in heart.
Even if they’re not clearing huge fences, there’s still something about a pony that catches people’s eye, and it’s not always the “cuteness” factor. Everyone loves an underdog, and often their popularity comes from people wanting to see them beat “the big guys.” Usually I’m the only competitor in my division competing on a pony, and many times I’ve beaten horses three hands bigger than my own mount. Sometimes it’s actually unfair to them–I have a distinct advantage in jumper classes, because we cut turns that no one else dares. In dressage, I have more time to complete my movements because doing a trot lengthening across the diagonal on a pony takes a lot longer than doing it on a horse with a stride nearly twice the size. It’s fine with me; it gives us more time to show off!
Ponies, though active little creatures, often require much less maintenance than horses. Known for having strong, sturdy feet, many ponies hardly ever need shoes. How would you like to cut your farrier bill in half? Many ponies I know tend to get fat on air–no more stocking up on beet pulp and expensive supplements.
Many of us have known at least one special pony in our lifetimes, whether it be a childhood friend and teacher or merely a make-believe fantasy. I have no fonder memory than of seeing a great big bow tied to my pony’s neck for my 12th birthday. Dreaming of owning a pony isn’t necessarily a passing rite of childhood; adults compete ponies as well, and with great success (don’t forget Lendon Gray on Seldom Seen too).
If you’re tired of falling off your 17-hand warmblood or have recently dropped your crop and dreaded the thought of climbing all the way back up in the saddle, consider a pony; they make life easier. Move over warmbloods and Thoroughbreds, the athletic, versatile, and–let’s not forget–cute ponies are here to stay.