When a tiny rider’s legs barely skirt the saddle flaps or a bigger rider is stuck at school, keeping pint-sized ponies in peak condition can be a challenge. Horse & Hound rounds up the obvious — and not so obvious — secrets to fitness success
1. Lungeing and long-reining
International dressage rider Lara Edwards has produced several small ponies for her brother’s children from scratch. As Lara’s 5ft 7in, she keeps ridden work to a minimum.
“I’d sit on them three to four times a week, but only for 10 minutes,” she says. “I’d mainly work them off the ground — lungeing and long-reining round the tracks.”
The parents in the lead-rein showing brigade become experts on how to produce their ponies from the ground.
Emma Mott has a four-year-old daughter, Holley, who competes an 11.2hh, Blanche Mulberry. Emma admits that she’s on a learning curve in training the seven-year-old. While Holley does ride him, “playing games in the arena or walking in fields”, much of Mulberry’s work is riderless.
“During the week, I lunge him with a roller and side-reins or bungee,” Emma says.
“I also ride and lead off my horses one day a week. And I’m lucky enough to have a large arena where I Ioose-school Mulberry — it’s great for him to let off steam. It’s also useful for teaching him to jump and find his own stride. Variety is such an important part in training a pony. We need them to respect their job to carry the most precious cargo and this is only gained by their trust in us.”
2. Locate a competent child or lightweight adult
Some ponies, of course, are big enough to be ridden — and produced — by a competent child or lightweight adult.
Lara Edwards started the pony stallion Cyden Oosting Amigo and went on to compete him at the dressage nationals.
“He’s 14.1hh, but luckily quite chunky,” says Lara. “Clare Hole also rode him for me, but she’s now 6ft 1in and said she feels a bit silly on him. He’s currently on loan to the teenager Natasha Powell-Richards, who’s only 5ft 4in.”
3. Incorporate exercising your pony into your own fitness regime
Jenny Gallamore’s section A, Littletown Lola, is “the greediest pony in the world”. As Jenny’s daughters are just three and six, and Jenny is currently injured, Lola’s varied workload includes going out jogging with Jenny’s triathlete husband, Mark. Lola’s runs are even mapped on the Strava running app.
“He got some funny looks at first, but the dog walkers are used to him now,” says Jenny. “Being a lead-rein pony, she’s happy to stick to my husband’s side in a headcollar and lead rope. We were shocked how fit she was — my husband is fit, but he was exhausted while she hardly sweated up.”
4. Get your hands on a (large) dolly
Redwings use a dolly, Felicity, to prepare their small ponies — 8hh-10hh — for being ridden by a child.
“Felicity is used to mimic the weight of a child and familiarise small ponies with having an object on their hack and above their eyeline,” says operations manager Rachel Angell.
“For the smaller ponies, we believe it would be unsafe and detrimental to their health and welfare to complete all their ridden training with adults.
“Felicity does everything a normal rider would do — walk, trot, canter and jump — and she also enjoys going out on a hack.”
Felicity, however, is due to retire, to make way for an Ardall unit — a breaking/ training device.
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5. And finally… Think outside the box
Worcestershire-based carriage driver Marilyn Hardman’s Shetland ponies, whom she leads at a trot from her mobility scooter.
“I usually drive them, but to give them a change of scene and because I think it’s unfair to expect them to pull the carriage up and down the steep hills, I lead them,” she says.
“Other people long-rein, but I can’t walk far or fast and my mobility scooter goes 8mph.”