Are you a show pony, with fine limbs, elegant lines and natural grace? Or do you have the stamp of a show cob, with a chunky build, powerful stride and the ability to put on weight at the sniff of a crisp packet?
Beauty and talent comes in all shapes and sizes, whether you’re talking about horses or people. And as long as you are fit, healthy and realistic about the type of horse or pony you expect to carry you, you shouldn’t feel guilty if you can’t fit into a pair of size 8 breeches.
Of course, no one wants to see an animal’s welfare compromised. The general advice that the combined weight of rider and saddle should not exceed 20% of the pony’s weight is accepted by most; as a rough guideline, that means an up-to-height Dartmoor pony should be comfortable carrying around 69kg in total.
Unfortunately, publicity over policing at the Great Yorkshire Show, where some adult riders were asked to dismount, has had unfortunate repercussions. Some people now have the impression that our native breeds – and not just the Dartmoor, Exmoor,Welsh A and Welsh B, who are amongst the small breeds category - should only be ridden by children.
There are plenty of adults who are light enough to satisfy the 20% guideline. There are also plenty of individual ponies who are more suited to an adult rider, either because of their powerful way of going, level of experience, or both.
We should also remember that native ponies were bred to do a job, and that job was far harder than the average workload of today’s animals.
For instance, the Exmoor Pony Society says the breed “was used by the hill farmers to undertake all kinds of work from being ridden for shepherding to being used in harness for ploughing, harrowing, taking feed to stock and the farmer's family to market and church. Today, their sturdy build makes them excellent family ponies, being small enough for a child but with enough substance and length of stride to make an excellent mount for a small adult.”
The Rare Breeds Survival Trust’s watch list says that the Dartmoor and Exmoor are endangered. The Fell pony and Highland are vulnerable and the New Forest pony is at risk.
If you’re a (reasonably) small adult, please don’t automatically “think big” when you’re looking for a new equine partner. Small can also mean long-striding and versatile, as I discovered when I fell for a Fell pony. I’m 5ft 6in and 55kg; he’s only 13.2hh, but we have huge fun.
Don’t automatically raise the bar in your expectations. Lower it, to 14.2hh or below. You won’t regret it – and if you’re an adult riding a native pony, we’d love to see your pictures!