My first horse was a gray Quarter Horse gelding. He was about as wide as he was tall, standing at 15.3 hands. He was an absolute saint. He was 100% safe, he took care of me. But, I was 8 years old and slightly taller than a midget and a whopping 45 lbs. We kept him a couple years and he was great. However, he was too tall for me to tack up by myself. My legs were too short to learn how to correctly use my aids. He was just too big for me. My next horse was a 13.3 hand pony named George. Note: I was still about the same size as I was when we bought the quarter horse (unfortunately). Now George, I could do everything with, without any help. I could tack him up properly and my leg laid in a spot where I could learn how to use my aids in a correct way. Not to mention, even though George was very safe, he tested me every. Single. Day. But he tested me in a way that I was never in danger, he was purely making me a better rider and a better horsewoman. I wish more parents and trainers would place children on good ponies. Nowadays, I see so many kids over horsed. Trainers and parents (and the kids too of course) want to win. They want to be on the fancy big horses that catch everyone’s eye. Understandable? Yes. Is it going to help you become a better rider in the long run? Maybe, maybe not.
The FEI offers Pony Tests. It is for kids up to age 16 years old and for any ponies up to 14.2 hands. The tests are equivalent to second level. I made it a goal of mine to compete in this division. I ended up finding an Arabian/ Warmblood pony mare that the owner agreed for me to lease. I got the pony in the fall and I planned to show in the spring of the following year. “Zoe” was training level when I got her. I quickly taught her the tricks and headed down centerline. Those tests are no joke. They taught me how to ride extremely accurate and smart because everything came up so quickly. Go try to ride a 6 loop serpentine at the canter with only one simple change in the middle…it’s not easy. Learning how to be so smart riding tests at age 14 was incredible for me. The Prix St George test seemed like nothing after riding those tests. We traveled around a lot for shows with the pony and I was almost always the only one riding that test. I would actually have to contact some of the shows for them to add the test and they had never even heard of it.
Fortunately the division has grown since then, slightly. Wellington offers a few CDIs were the FEI pony division is included. And it has been added to the USEF Festival of Champions. But still the most you will see in a class is 4 or 5 ponies. I see the hunter shows and you see pony after pony after pony and so many kinds having a blast on them. I can’t help but think if we could somehow build up this division and program, then maybe we could get more young up and coming riders. In Europe, trainers encourage their young students to compete in the FEI pony disvision. It’s practically a requirement for them to ride ponies before they get to move up to their first, probably FEI Junior, horse. A right of passage, if you will. The beauty of the division is that you don’t need a 6 figure horse to compete and win. You just need a good pony with 3 decent gaits. You will need to teach it trot half passes, lengthenings and a ton of canter walk transitions. Very doable and won’t cost you a fortune.
I feel that this is such a good program and I wish more people would use it. It will build up our future Dressage riders and get them FEI experience without having to have a 6 figure horse. And let’s face it, if you can navigate a naughty pony through those tricky tests, your move up to a horse will be a walk in the park. I would encourage all trainers and parents, buy a pony! You won’t regret it. Don’t be in a huge hurry to go buy that 16.2 hand warmblood. Let the kids ride ponies until their legs can wrap around the ponies belly (or in my case forever a pony rider).
More information on the FEI pony division can be found at https://www.usef.org/compete/disciplines/dressage/dressage-national-championships–najyrc/usef-pony-rider-dressage-national-championship