If you want to learn how to ride, get a horse. If you want to learn how to fall, get a pony.
That’s the advice I’ve given countless starry-eyed parents as they attempt to fumble through their child’s newfound desire to ride a horse. This is usually brought on by a new horse movie premiering in theaters, or the discovery of Chincoteague ponies. While that may sound a little negative, it’s the truth.
And here’s the thing…I love ponies.
Not in the sense that I call tall horses ponies (although I do) and refuse to ride the tiny fluff devils that inhabit the horse world. I actually love ponies. When someone parades out a 12.0 hand pony in full tack, I get excited like a ten-year-old girl all over again.
I know, ponies are a controversial topic. We’ve all been humiliated by a pony at least once in our riding careers. They’re excellent at bringing out the worst in our abilities. That’s what I love about them. That and I can easily mount them without assistance. (Confession: I’m short.)
Don’t get me wrong, I love my long-legged Thoroughbreds too.
There’s nothing like the thrill of climbing on a mounting block and feeling like you’re flying as you attempt to span the gap between the ledge and the incredibly high stirrup of your steed. Not to mention the aesthetic appeal and athleticism that comes along with a well-built horse. There’s nothing pretty about bumping around the arena on the back of a stubby legged Shetland. Cute, yes. Dignified…well, dignity is something you have to sacrifice as an equestrian anyway.
Ponies are great at teaching us about riding. But it’s not just riding they teach us—or falling—they’re really just preparing us for the hard-knocks school of life. They’re the best teachers. These are just a few of the ways.
Yes, I mentioned this before. It’s their biggest contribution. If you’ve ever entered in a flat class on a shaggy pony that your trainer asked you to put miles on before the naïve and easy- injured students are given full use of the little devil, well, you know what I mean. You’re standing in a show line. People are saying, “aww, look at the pony!” while the horses on either side of you—at least a foot above your head—are being oohed and ahhed over for being tall dark and gorgeous….You learn humility.
There is no animal or human in existence that can out-stubborn a person. Unless it’s the person riding the pony. This perseverance and patience will pay off later in life. And later in your horse career. Ponies don’t just say “no.” They throw strings of insults and plant their little feet so hard you’ll never get them to move. Hence patience.
See #2. The first time you’re on a pony that’s seriously saying “no” and you manage to change that “no” to a “yes,” you get a feeling unlike any other you’ve ever experienced. Suddenly there’s nothing you can’t do. No obstacle too difficult. No mountain too high! Strike that. Short legs + tall mounts = tired pony. Some mountains too high. The point is, this confidence is going to carry into your personal life and definitely into your riding career. Next time you’re being faced down in an argument, picture them as a shaggy pony. It becomes easier.
Wait. Didn’t I already do this one? Yes, yes I did. Maybe I should rephrase it. Let’s say…how to eat dirt. Yeah, ponies are good at that. If you think you’re a good rider, ride a pony. If you’re getting cocky, ride a pony. If you think you’re too good for cleaning stalls, ride a pony. Their consistent ability to put you in a puddle will be the perfect remedy for an overly inflated ego. For bonus points, let your friends watch you get schooled by the fuzzy nightmare. That way if you start feeling like you’re too cool for school, they’ll be sure to remind you. It’s easier on the rump than climbing on a pony every time.
5. Unconditional love
Like I said, I love ponies. With all my heart. Because they love you with all their heart. Are they stubborn? Yes. Difficult? Yes. The most striking figure in a field? Well, no. They make you work for their respect. They make you want to earn it. And when you earn it, you have it forever. They will climb even the really, really tall mountains for you. They’ll run across the field on their stubby little legs and let you braid up their mane even though it makes them look cutesy. They’ll dig through your pockets for cookies and give you the heart of a horse twice their size in the arena. Ponies. Love. Hard. That’s a lesson we need in the world.
The world has a lot of horse people. Let’s find some pony people.