The old saying “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is never truer than in the show ring. Knowing how to make the most of a pony’s strengths while disguising its weaknesses is one of the many reasons that the professional producer often stands above the less informed amateur.

Improving a neck

A short neck can be disguised by pulling the mane shorter than normal. (If you are showing a native check the breed society’s rules before doing this.) Use a larger number of plaits and keep them small to make a short neck look longer and thiner.

If the pony has a long neck and lacks topline, the native mane should be left longer and back-combed at the roots to create a false topline. Use fewer and thicker plaits on this pony to create the same effect.

Always use an odd number of plaits up the neck, with one in the forelock. Always plait with thread that is the same colour as the mane. Rubber bands can be used to secure the end of the plait if necessary but they should not be visible.

Place the saddle slightly further back on a pony with a long back and ensure your rider sits up well while in the ring. This will create the optical illusion of better conformation.

If the pony is short coupled, do not make the mistake of an oversize rider or saddle or go to the other extreme of a postage stamp saddle and rider making the pony look like a mini shire. A slightly smaller than normal saddle with an ideal sized rider will create the illusion of “space”.

Pony and rider combinations

To create the perfect picture of rider and pony, care should be taken that the rider is not too long from waist to head which looks “top heavy”, nor too long legged, which makes the pony look small and short legged. The judges eye will be drawn to the rider rather than the pony if the rider is too big or small.

It is vital that owners should not put pressure on riders regarding their weight, as this may lead to eating disorders, especially with older children. However, the plumper child rider will look better on a stockier pony and a very lean rider on a more elegant one. A larger rider will appear smaller if wearing a dark jacket, while a slender jockey will look better in a lighter cloth.

Top tack tips

A pony with a long head should hear a wider noseband than normal. If it fits well and lays flat this will make the head look shorter. A plain head with a broadbrow can be minimised be using a broad headband which is brightly coloured or fancy stitched depending on your class.

Reins should be shortered to around four inches beyond walk length for a neater overall appearance.

Straight cut saddles can improve a pony’s conformation, but they are more difficult to ride on than a general purpose saddle. Riders need to practise riding in show tack at home if they are going to get the best out of the pony in the ring.

If a pony has three white socks and pale hair on the fourth leg, a false sock can be made with calk to balance its appearance. Some producers also chalk the opposite diagonal of a pony that only has one sock.

A pulled or thinned tail will make weak hind quarters appear larger. Quarter marks should be used carefully to ensure they enhance rather than detrack from the pony’s conformation.

Leaving a pony unshod or using light aluminium shoes can enhance an average mover.

An overweight pony will not be able to move as freely as a pony of the correct weight. In hand ponies can carry more weight than those shown under saddle.