Finding the Perfect Pony!
By Emma Fogler, Across Town Farm
As a trainer, I often sit and talk with parents who are in the stage of their child’s riding career where they realize that despite their best efforts, the horse bug just doesn’t seem to be going away! What do they do? What does this mean? Most importantly, and most commonly asked, what is this going to cost?
Finding the perfect pony is an art, but truthfully, it requires more luck than skill, connections in the horse industry or even money. To me, the most important part of finding that perfect first pony is knowing the qualities that your child’s partner must possess. These elusive “unicorns,” are hoarded by trainers who recognize the value in their honesty, reliability and the halo that hangs between their ears.
As the horse crazy child of two wonderful parents who know nothing about horses, I know firsthand how to deal with parents who want to be supportive but are terrified about making a large investment in a world about which they know nothing. I cannot stress the importance of how imperative it is for parents to work with a trainer that they trust, who knows their child and is dedicated to working within whatever budget is set to find an appropriate mount. Parents should never be made to feel inadequate because they can't spend a certain dollar amount. Perfect ponies come in every shape, size, color and price range. While it sometimes takes creative strategies, a good trainer can normally make things happen to find the right mount.
In the horse world, it seems that most ponies end up on a “naughty” or “nice” list. The ones on the nice list are coveted and seem to have a lineup of children waiting for them, sometimes before the children are even born! I spend a lot of time waiting at the horse shows where I inevitably end up sitting by the pony ring and watching. It's during this time where I make mental notes of the ponies that I love and see consistently going around, often with a different rider year after year, and never missing a beat. When I am fortunate enough to acquire one of these unicorns, I try to pass them down from rider to rider within the barn because once you lose them, they are hard to get back!
The perfect pony may not look like what you pictured. Every child dreams of their very own Breyer horse standing in a stall, but sometimes the real unicorn isn't the shiny one with all the chrome. Just remember, pretty is as pretty does!
Do your research. Even for a parent who may not be a knowledgeable horse person, the internet has made it quite easy to find information. Even as a trainer, I always search for a horse's USEF record online and do Google searches to see if I can locate any additional pictures or video before I schedule to go see a horse. I can often find red flags such as lengthy gaps in a record that may indicate injury, old videos that show misbehavior or information that does not match with what is being advertised by the seller. Sometimes these factors don't matter so it is important to stay open minded and to do your due diligence with a trial (if available) and veterinary examination.
Don't be afraid of a little age. Ponies are like a fine wine; they get better with time! I often hear stories of bad behavior and mischievous antics from trainers who had ponies in their younger years, who now sit and marvel at their sainthood status as they reach their teens and twenties. I have heard other trainers explain veterinary maintenance to their clients as changing the oil on their car and this is so true. We can't expect these animals to come out every day and take their riders around the ring without us taking care of them like athletes. This may require joint injections, special medication or shoeing to ensure that they are comfortable, among other possible maintenance. If you have one of the unicorns that is barefoot, requires nothing and lives on air, you're one of the lucky ones! However, don't shy away from the one that needs a little extra care. The safety and confidence of your child is worth it!
Finally, don't rush it. Finding the perfect mount takes time. I often see children in tears when their dreams are crushed as their perfect pony proceeds to not behave while on trial or doesn't vet to their parent or trainer's satisfaction. I truly believe that the right pony ends up with the right child if all involved in the search are patient. Never feel pushed into buying something that you just don't feel right about or that isn't the right fit because you're afraid you won't find something else. Of course, there is always a learning curve and becoming a team takes time but trust your trainer and your own instinct to know when you've found “the one,” because it will be one that you and your child will never forget!