Are you an adult rider tempted by the adverts featuring native ponies for sale? If so, adjust your brain before you buy, writes Carolyn Henderson.
A friend who events her 14.1hh Connemara – and regularly beats the big boys and girls – says the first thing to decide is whether you think like a pony, or think like a horse. It all comes down to the old joke about how many equines it takes to change a light bulb:
Warmblood – “Light bulb? What’s a light bulb?”
Thoroughbred – “The light bulb’s gone! How terrifying!”
Show hack – “How dare you ask me to change a light bulb?”
Show pony – “Lights? Where? Just make sure you get my good side.”
Native pony – “Why bother? I’m not afraid of the dark – and if the bulb’s gone, you can’t see me raiding the feed bin.”
Before anyone points out that they have a warmblood which deserves the equine equivalent of a PhD or a Thoroughbred which would win an award for bravery, it’s a joke. Apart from the bit about the native pony…
Let’s say you’ve bought a fabulous Connemara with fabulous paces, so you decide to do some serious schooling in preparation for a dressage competition. Everything goes well on day one, but on day two, you take him into an arena and it feels as if the handbrake’s on at every stride.
Lesson one: With a warmblood, you might have to remind him of everything he’s supposed to know before moving on to a new concept. With a native pony, you’ll probably need a constant stream of new concepts, because once you’ve trotted three circles, he’s bored.
In fact, when it comes to flatwork schooling, you might have to forget that arenas exist. Pick markers out hacking and ask for transitions, or practise lateral work on a bridlepath or in an open field, and you’ll usually get a great response.
Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re fooling him by schooling on a hack. You can’t fool a native – but you can negotiate. If you keep him interested, he’ll co-operate. As going to parties is interesting, you should also find that the work you do on a hack can translate to a decent test away from home.
You can also negotiate by combining flatwork schooling with jumping. In pony terms, lengthened strides over trotting poles have much more value and canter circles at one end of the school are worth the effort when followed by a jump down the long side.
Going native can be challenging. Instead of shopping for sparkly browbands, you’ll be looking for grazing muzzles and getting out your weigh tape every fortnight, because these ponies can turn into balloons on four legs with remarkable speed and remarkably little grass.
You may also have to put up with unenlightened remarks from people who think ponies are just for children. Grit your teeth, smile, and tell them it’s horses for courses, and that you’re in good company.
If a 13.2hh Fell pony is good enough for Her Majesty The Queen, it’s good enough for me. It’s also one hell of a lot of fun.