Your Kingdom for a horse? - Owning a pony

If you and your children spend half your waking hours at the local riding school it might be time to start thinking about ownership. Jenny Mark-Bell speaks to Simone Edwards of East Sussex Pony Club about the joys and realities of buying a pony.

Simone Edwards loved ponies as a child but, growing up in a town, didn’t have her own until many years later. Simone became involved with the Pony Club ten years ago when her daughters Emer and Tara got their own ponies. She is now a committee member and website manager for the East Sussex branch. Unlike some Pony Club parents, she wasn’t born in the saddle, so finds it easier to be objective about the costs and commitments of buying your first pony. “You can’t leave horses in a field for a week – you need to check on them twice a day, come heatwave or blizzard,” she said.

Simone’s daughters took to riding “like ducks to water” and it wasn’t long before she was taking her eldest twice a week. “If you’re thinking about buying, my advice would be to make sure your child is really into riding, not just the idea of having a pony. In terms of ability, they should be off the lead rein – we spent 18 months at riding school. Eventually my daughter wanted to ride every day so we started thinking about ownership, but there is no need to rush into it. There are plenty of opportunities for children to ride, and it’s important to make sure your children love horses as much as you do: you don’t want to live through your child!”

Ask an experienced owner

When Simone and her husband started thinking about ownership, they spoke to as many people as they could. “It is all about asking other people about their experiences. We drew up a list of what it was realistically going to cost on a weekly basis. You have to make choices - we don’t go on holiday anymore, and we have chosen not to do things we did before we got our ponies. I would say it’s essential for the whole family to be on board, or it’s not fair on anyone.”

When choosing a mount, don’t be ruled by your heart. If your children belong to a good riding school they will have ridden a variety of ponies, but it’s still advisable to take along a knowledgeable (and impartial) person. “I would be prepared to go along with anyone and have one of my girls hop on the pony. You should be able to get references from instructors, judges or Pony Club officials – don’t be afraid to ask! Getting them vetted can be expensive, but it’s essential, as it may be that the pony has some kind of problem that the seller isn’t aware of. Don’t feel pressured because the seller says they have ten other people coming to look at the pony that day: let them come. If he’s the right one, he’s the right one.”

The Edwards family stable their four ponies at home at Downash, near Hailsham, but initially their first two were kept at livery at a riding school near their old home in Surrey: “I would definitely recommend it” says Simone. “The kids always have someone to ride out with, and you learn all the time: if someone else’s pony gets kicked, you know how to cope if it happens to one of yours.” Even if you have a property with its own stabling, Simone recommends offering free livery to a more experienced owner in return for help and advice.

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Try before you buy

There are many alternatives if you are not sure your child is ready for ownership. Simone has loaned out one of her daughter’s first ponies to a friend and likes the fact that she knows where he is and how he’s getting on. She says that if you have a pony on loan you avoid the initial outlay but still have to meet the day-to-day costs.

 To protect your position, it’s vital to have a loan agreement, and the British Horse Society website has documents available to download . It’s advisable to set out exactly what you will allow your animal to be used for.

Many local riding schools offer ponies for loan in school holidays, giving young children a taste of the responsibility of caring for their favourite pony. Some, like Three Greys Riding School at Pyecombe, offer stable management days during school holidays to teach young riders the basics of grooming, tacking up and theory.

A learning process

Parents may worry that hobbies as time-consuming as riding and horse ownership will have a negative impact on their child’s academic development, but Simone is grateful that her eldest daughter is getting fresh air every day after slogging through piles of revision. “She is doing her GCSEs at the moment and every day is a balancing act for us, but I have always made horses a choice for my kids – I’m not going to make them ride.”

Correctly balanced with schoolwork, says Simone, the Pony Club teaches as much as it entertains. “My kids meet people from all walks of life, and they’re constantly interacting with people,” she says. “Of course, owning a pony also teaches them responsibility and caring with countless little achievements along the way, so it’s great for their self esteem. Pony Club encourages team-building and empathy through competition, so you often find that friendships made there last a lifetime.”

About the pony club

The Pony Club is an international youth organisation and charity for young people who love ponies and riding. Membership is open to anyone from the age of 3 to 25, regardless of whether they own a pony.

Members further their equine education by achieving badges for different levels of horse care and passing graded tests. After achieving level A, equivalent to stages 1-4 of the British Horse Society exams, students can train to be an instructor.

Pony Club camp is extremely popular and available for younger children (non-residential) with residential camp available for older children and young adults, but sharing knowledge and the principles of good sportsmanship are also catered for in the range of publications available through the Pony Club website www.pcuk.org.

Membership costs �50 (�22 for a member without own pony) and includes insurance cover. Visit the website to download a membership form.

The Master Saddler

Sue and Richard Paine run Dragonfly Saddlery in Hassocks. With 25 years experience apiece they have seen a lot of first ponies. “We get a lot of first horses, as well,” says Sue. “Sometimes circumstances don’t allow a horse-mad youngster to have a pony, so they wait until they grow up!” Sue and Richard do home visits, taking along 20-25 saddles which will be measured against the specifications of both rider and mount. “It’s like buying shoes” says Sue. “You can buy them on the internet but it’s always better to go to the shop and try them on.” If one of the saddles is a good fit Sue and Richard will just do some minor tweaking. If there are any special requirements they can have a saddle made to order in two weeks.“If you are offered the opportunity to buy your pony with his own tack, do some hard negotiating,” says Sue, “But if you are using a saddler, make sure they are a member of the Society of Master Saddlers – there is a list on the Society’s website – and visit two or three to see who you like best.” Dragonfly Saddlery, The Old Goods ShedStation Goods Yard, Off Keymer RoadHassocks, West Sussex, BN6 8JA Tel: 0800 374878   Email: sales@dragonflysaddlery.co.uSue and Richard Paine run Dragonfly Saddlery in Hassocks. With 25 years experience apiece they have seen a lot of first ponies. “We get a lot of first horses, as well,” says Sue. “Sometimes circumstances don’t allow a horse-mad youngster to have a pony, so they wait until they grow up!” Sue and Richard do home visits, taking along 20-25 saddles which will be measured against the specifications of both rider and mount. “It’s like buying shoes” says Sue. “You can buy them on the internet but it’s always better to go to the shop and try them on.” If one of the saddles is a good fit Sue and Richard will just do some minor tweaking. If there are any special requirements they can have a saddle made to order in two weeks.“If you are offered the opportunity to buy your pony with his own tack, do some hard negotiating,” says Sue, “But if you are using a saddler, make sure they are a member of the Society of Master Saddlers – there is a list on the Society’s website – and visit two or three to see who you like best.” 

Dragonfly Saddlery, The Old Goods ShedStation Goods Yard, Off Keymer RoadHassocks, West Sussex, BN6 8JA Tel: 0800 374878   Email: sales@dragonflysaddlery.co.uk

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