Sarah Ladd has had a lifelong dream: to share her ponies, equipment and knowledge with youth to ultimately grow the ranks of Canadian drivers. With a little help from her Provincial/Territorial Sport Organization, a qualified coach, a handful of enthusiastic volunteers and support from her local Greenhawk store, her dream was fulfilled with the creation of Ponies & Pals in Middleboro, NS.

The innovative program introduces youth to horsemanship and carriage driving following the Long-Term Equestrian Development (LTED) model and EC Learn to Drive program and by pairing participants with their own mentor. A LTED grant from the Nova Scotia Equestrian Federation (NSEF) enabled Sarah to enlist EC Licensed Coach and NCCP certified Driving Instructor, Gillian Allan, to run the program and secure Wallace River Equestrian Centre as its home base.

With all the elements of a safe and effective program in place, Sarah readied herself to open the doors and bring out the ponies for Ponies & Pals’ first season of operation in 2020. Read on to learn more!

Equestrian Canada: Tell us a little bit about Ponies & Pals.

Sara Ladd: Presently, Ponies & Pals consists of two levels, with a long-term goal to add levels as participants progress.

Level I consists of introducing youth to safe grooming practices, haltering, leading and tying their equine. Groundwork (such as leading their pony through and around obstacles), parts of the harness, harnessing and unharnessing and ground driving are also components of Level I.

Level II builds upon lessons learned in Level I and introduces youth to actual driving using a clinic format. Youth and mentors are encouraged to participate in activities outside the parameters of Ponies & Pals such as local shows and/or pleasure driving.

The number one lesson taught in all levels is how to be safe around equines. Helmets, gloves and proper footwear must be worn at all times.

The aim is to make this program available for all youth and mentors, regardless of economic background. A nominal registration fee is charged ($30/participant) that is refunded upon successful completion of the program.

EC: Why was it important for you to include mentorship as a key aspect of Ponies & Pals?

SL: The whole point of the program is to 1) provide youth who would ordinarily not have access to ponies and equipment an opportunity to work with a mentor, whose goal is to share their mutual love of the sport, their equine and equipment in a safe learning environment and 2) provide the “how to” skills to adults who wish to be mentors.

Mentors are required to complete Safe Sport training. It enables them to safely continue in the sport with their youth mentees with the support of a recognized coach (Gillan). To our surprise, there is no other program in existence that we are aware of that follows this format. 

EC Licensed Coach and EC/NCCP certified Driving Instructor, Gillian Allan, shows Brooklyn Boyd proper rein handling. Photo Credit: Sarah Ladd

EC: Why was it important for you to create a program aligned with LTED and the Learn to Ride/Drive program?

SL: Our goal is to provide a solid, safe equestrian foundation for our youth and work within a format that our mentors are familiar with. By following the LTED framework and the Learn to Ride/Drive program established by EC, Ponies & Pals creates a strong foundation that will build the sport from the grassroots.

Horsemanship is too often skipped over in the enthusiasm to ride/drive; our licensed and certified coach, Gillian, sees the need to teach good horsemanship through equitation science. She makes it possible to follow the Learn to Ride/Drive program in a safe environment, with the addition of mentors to have a one-on-one teaching mode and access to equines and equipment.

EC: How will the Ponies & Pals program translate into lifelong participation in driving for your participants?

SL: It has been established that introducing youth to a given sport in their early years sets them up for future success in that sport. By introducing our youth to carriage driving in their early years (6 to 12) they are given a foundation to safely participate in this sport for the now and in the future.

The children have access to an equine, harness and cart through their mentor. They establish a bond with their mentor that can carry them into regular learning sessions outside of the Ponies & Pals program. Each youth progresses at their own pace. This is not a competitive program but participants may choose to enter competitive youth driving classes in the future or enjoy recreational driving with their mentor.

EC: What was the feedback from participants from the first session?

SL: All 12 participants (five youth; five mentors; two support persons) enthusiastically embraced the program. Our five youth participants are already signed up for Level II, which will build on the introduction to carriage driving laid out in Level I.

EC: Have the youth participants stayed in touch with their mentors since the conclusion of the program?

SL: Two of the five youth/mentor teams who live in close proximity to each other have continued their work after the completion of the six-week pilot program. The demands of school, work and weather combined with the need to travel significant distances for some made continued lessons difficult.

Ponies & Pals participant, Ellen Forbes, and her mentor, Elizabeth Braid, take a moment to admire pony, Shadow. Photo Credit: Maurice Mandale

EC: What’s next for Ponies & Pals?

SL: Very soon into the start of Ponies & Pals, we were approached by other parents and youth wanting to be in on the next program. Established drivers also put their names forward to become mentors.

Since our philosophy embraces making our program as stress-free (and stress relieving) as possible, the decision to return to Ponies & Pals at the end of the 2021 school year was made. With the help of a second LTED grant from NSEF, we have our 2021 dates set for a May start, which will take us through to the return to school in September!

To learn more about Ponies & Pals, email Sarah at

This story originally appeared on and is republished here with permission.

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Feature image: The Ponies & Pals program out of Middleboro, NS, has successfully aligned with the Long-Term Equestrian Development model and Equestrian Canada (EC) Learn to Ride/Drive program to offer participants like Kenzie Yorke—pictured with mentor, Sue Karrel, and pony, Mystery Man—a safe and developmentally appropriate introduction to horsemanship and driving. Photo Credit: Maurice Mandale