Have you noticed the increased number of articles lately about successful dressage ponies? Did you ever consider buying a pony for yourself? It’s true that ponies are not likely to become the next Olympic contenders, but there are many reasons to consider a pony for your next dressage mount. As a dressage judge, competitor and trainer who has actively judged, competed and coached ponies in the dressage arena, I am a huge advocate. Now that the USDF has opened a new division devoted to ponies ridden by any age rider and the Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, Florida, has added that division to their prizelist, there has never been a better time for adults to compete dressage ponies. Why should the kids have all the fun?
First, consider that the average American woman is 5’4” tall whereas the European ladies are generally taller. I think it is safe to say that the majority of dressage amateurs are “mature” ladies who benefit from having a less physical ride. So, visually the average-sized rider among us can ride a large pony of 14.2 hands and below and look proportional to our pony partner. Obviously, if you are a larger lady, a pony may not work for you from the standpoint of creating a “harmonious picture”. Let’s face it: as we age, we tend to become a bit less flexible and supple, so tasks like mounting and sitting the trot can be more challenging. Many well-bred sport ponies have comfortable gaits with good quality movement that make for excellent dressage athletes without the bone-jarring suspension of a large warmblood. Breeders have been producing stunning horses with eye-popping, powerful gaits which are breathtaking to watch but not always so comfortable to sit and manage for many riders
Secondly, consider the care and maintenance of a smaller mount. Ponies tend to live longer, have fewer health issues, have better hoof condition, eat less, poop less, cost less to purchase and keep and cause less hassles in general than their larger counterparts. It is true that some ponies don’t have the best temperaments and can be willful, but in general they can be a lower maintenance option that can bring you a lot of enjoyment. Also, handling and grooming a larger animal from the ground can be more difficult if you have a petite frame. So if you are a smaller rider, wouldn’t it make more sense to invest in an appropriate dance partner that minimizes the vet bills and maximizes the fun?
Finally, if you want to compete but always felt that ponies wouldn’t be taken seriously, think again! If you read the letter from George Williams in the USDF Connection magazine and consider this new pony division being offered to Open riders, Amateurs and Jr/YR entries, you will see that ponies for all ages is the newest trend in American dressage. While it may not work for everyone and probably won’t catch on in Europe, don’t rule out a dressage pony if you are a petite rider. Ponies are gaining traction with judges when presented in the right way with the appropriate riders. I have been pleasantly surprised to see test sheets coming back from my fellow judges, for whom I have great respect, with high scores and positive comments.
As a member of the current “R” Dressage Judges class, I can say that the newer judges coming up the ranks are open to scoring ponies well. The dressage arena is the same size for a pony or a huge fire-breathing dragon. Compare the ease of performing an 8-meter volte with bend and balance on a compact little sports car of a pony to that of producing it on a giant warmblood that you can’t even get your legs around. So, if you are in the market for a new dance partner, don’t rule out a small mount just because you worry what the judges will think or that it isn’t traditional. Consider a pony whether you are 6 or 65 years old because you just might find that you get a whole lot more enjoyment out of a more appropriate size mount. I hope to see you smiling at “X” from atop a fabulous 14.2 hand pony soon!