Your Kingdom for a horse? - Owning a pony
PUBLISHED: 14:54 28 December 2010 | UPDATED: 16:58 20 February 2013
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, didnt 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 wasnt born in the saddle, so finds it easier to be objective about the costs and commitments of buying your first pony. You cant leave horses in a field for a week you need to check on them twice a day, come heatwave or blizzard, she said.
Simones daughters took to riding like ducks to water and it wasnt long before she was taking her eldest twice a week. If youre 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 its important to make sure your children love horses as much as you do: you dont 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 dont go on holiday anymore, and we have chosen not to do things we did before we got our ponies. I would say its essential for the whole family to be on board, or its not fair on anyone.
When choosing a mount, dont be ruled by your heart. If your children belong to a good riding school they will have ridden a variety of ponies, but its 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 dont be afraid to ask! Getting them vetted can be expensive, but its essential, as it may be that the pony has some kind of problem that the seller isnt aware of. Dont feel pressured because the seller says they have ten other people coming to look at the pony that day: let them come. If hes the right one, hes 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 elses 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.
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 daughters first ponies to a friend and likes the fact that she knows where he is and how hes 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, its vital to have a loan agreement, and the British Horse Society website has documents available to download . Its 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 childs 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 Im 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 theyre 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 its 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.
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