Why I Probably Won't Buy My Kid a Show Pony
We've all seen the ad: "Finished show pony, walks/trots/canters, jumps 2', always in the ribbons, $22,000." This pony knows his stuff; he's a worker bee. He will cart your kid around the arena and over the jumps with his ears pricked and a little pony swagger in his step. He's a winner with a "Look at me!" attitude. His adorable-ness is evidenced by the astounding number of blue ribbons hanging in the room of his current owner. So what's wrong with this pony? Well, nothing, except that he won't necessarily teach your kid how to ride, and your kid may very well ruin him.
If your child has been riding for a while and has a solid skill set, like a lower leg that stays in place and quiet hands, then this pony may be truly perfect for you. But if your child's enthusiasm isn't backed up by some ability, then you may be wasting your money. Sure, your kid may carry home some blue ribbons and get a boost in confidence, but in the end if your kid can only ride perfect, finished horses with no quirks, then you have a problem on your hands. There are very few "perfect" horses.
I want my children to learn how to ride, not just to sit on a horse. I will encourage my kid to get on naughty, spooky, pushy, strong, bull-headed, obstinate horses. I don't want her to get hurt, so I wouldn't put her on crazy, dangerous horses, but I will absolutely put her on ponies with attitude. She'll learn how to ride through the occasional buck or sidestep or run-out or refusal. She will learn to be the boss. She'll build a skill set that will allow her to ride imperfect horses. When something goes wrong, and it's WHEN, not IF, I want my child to have enough balance and strength to stick her bottom in the saddle when her pony tries his best to send her flying.
I also don't want my kid to ruin a perfect horse. I know a gorgeous pony who won consistently in the hunter ring with his pretty movement and ability over fences. He was purchased for an amount that would make you blush by a family whose daughter was scared of jumping. She was a nervous wreck and would pull him up at the last second. Her hesitation and panic quickly produced a hesitant, panicky pony who would canter beautifully to the base of a jump and then stop dead in his tracks. The pony, in his limited pony logic, figured that if his rider was so afraid then there must be something of which to be afraid. The perfect show pony was ruined by a little girl who wasn't ready to ride him over fences. The family tried to sell him, but who wants a pony who will catapault you over a jump on your own? No one, that's who. The family ended up giving him away. I tell this story to illustrate the fact that a perfect pony does not make a perfect rider. There's no sense in buying an expensive, capable horse for a child who can't ride him.
I encourage parents to spend a substantial amount of money on lessons before dropping thousands on a pony. If you're not into horses and you're baffled by your child's enthusiasm for equines, I would urge you even more strongly to wait. Find a good trainer and let your child ride a variety of lesson horses before you start pony shopping. By riding multiple mounts, you or your trainer will get a good grasp of your child's skill level and when you start looking at potential partners, you'll have a better idea of what will be a good fit. If your child is exceptionally talented, you may be able to buy a less expensive pony and let your child and trainer work with him. Even if you take out a second mortgage to pay for the "perfect" show pony, you'll know your kid will be qualified to ride her new partner.
When I was a kid, horses were just about the only thing I ever thought about. I would have committed murder in cold blood to own a pony. As an adult I'm hoping and praying that one of my children gets bitten by the horse bug. If either one of them shows the slightest bit of interest, I will happily cough up the cash for lessons, tack, breeches, and boots. When they've ridden a few ornery ponies and attained a decent lower leg and fairly quiet hands, I will happily drive all over the Southeast to look at ponies for sale. I'll probably skip right over the ad that says "finished show pony" and call the people whose advertisement says this: "Talented pony, pretty mover. Needs a little work."