It never fails to amaze me how many people plump (pun definitely intended) for a Shetland as their child’s first pony. You see these poor little tots perched on the saddle like a pea on a drum with their little legs sticking out at right angles because the pony has a back like a table top. Plus, consider the fact that Shetlands, while they can be delightful, can also be stubborn and argumentative. Hardly the right ingredients for a confidence-giving first pony.
I learned to ride on a New Forest and if I were to recommend any breed for the ideal child’s pony, it would be the Forester.
Almost invariably sweet-tempered, willing and patient, the New Forest also tends to be quite narrow so perfect for short-legged people. Indeed, there’s no reason why a light adult shouldn’t ride a Forester.
Practically all Britain’s mountain and moorland breeds have something different to offer to the beginner or nervous rider. Having been made redundant in 2014, I had a lovely long break from working, and very nearly bought myself a Fell pony. Thank goodness I came to my senses, because I now find myself working full-time again so it would hardly have been practicable, but my instincts were correct.
The Fell, and its close cousin, the Dales, can easily carry an adult and has a rock-steady temperament, which makes it suitable for a nervous rider or someone who, like me, hasn’t ridden for some years. The Dales is perhaps more suited to a competent adult. Not sure I would place myself in that category…
The other large M&M breed, the Highland, is also suitable for beginners, being generally even-tempered and sweet-natured. While they are certainly kind enough for a child, like the Shetland they can be somewhat broad across the beam.
It is no surprise that the Dartmoor has one of the most successful records in mixed breed sections across the showing calendar. Willing and genuine, their small size makes them ideal for children and they can turn their hoof to almost any discipline for a ambitious child. Much the same applies to its West Country neighbour, the Exmoor, although they can have a stubborn streak.
The Welsh breeds are probably suited to more competent jockeys, although I used to ride a section A who was the kindest, sweetest pony alive. A respected M&M producer once described the section B as being like a “rubber ball”, because of its versatility. It can do practically anything you want to it do — and its charming nature means it will do it with enthusiasm. You will get enthusiasm in bucket loads from the larger Welsh breeds, the section C and section D, but they can be sharp. Likewise, the Connemara makes a superb hunting or competition pony, but its many talents are possibly wasted on a true beginner. But as a second pony for an improving rider? Perfect.