H&H’s guide to showing a small breed mountain and moorland pony

  • If you’re planning to show a small breed mountain and moorland (M&M) pony in the ring this season, you need to know how to create the best possible picture and present your pony to the very highest standard.

    Read H&H’s guide to M&M small breeds classes, including tips to ensure you make an instant impact and help you avoid any pitfalls:

    Breeds and origins

    M&M ponies form a group of several breeds native to the British Isles. Many of these breeds are derived from semi-feral ponies kept on moorland or heathland, and some of them still live in this way, as well as many now being kept as fully domesticated animals for riding and driving purposes.

    The small breeds include:

    • Shetland ponies come from the Shetland Isles off the northern tip of Scotland
    • Exmoor ponies hail from Exmoor in Somerset
    • Dartmoor ponies derive from Dartmoor in Devon
    • Welsh mountain ponies come from Wales

    Class options

    M&M ponies are divided into two categories, small and large. The ridden small breed ponies must be four-years-old and over and registered in the approved pure breed society stud books of Dartmoor, Exmoor, Shetland, and Welsh sections A or B. Riders can be any age.

    Three societies govern the championship classes, including qualifiers for Horse of the Year show (HOYS), Royal International Horse Show (RIHS) and the M&M supreme ridden championship, to be held at the Liverpool International Horse Show for the first time in 2021/2022.

    Riders in native pony classes will be expected to perform an individual show. Riders can be any age, apart from in mini and junior classes where relevant age restrictions apply.

    “Native ponies should be shown with the riders wearing tweed jackets and short jodhpur boots,” says native pony producer and judge Sam Roberts, whose many accolades include the BSPS Heritage supreme championship at Olympia.

    “Make sure your pony has correctly fitted tack and always check breed standards for advice on trimming and showing your native.

    “If the breed allows trimming be careful not to detract from their native characteristics.”


    Breed societies all produce their own rules for the native breeds, so make sure you are aware of them and follow them.

    Tack should be made of plain leather and should be workmanlike and suit the pony. Only use brown or black tack and only use a plain browband. No boots or bandages are permitted. Choose a discreet numnah that matches the pony and saddle and is barely visible.

    Choose a snaffle bridles for novice classes and a double bridle or pelham for open classes.

    Saddle wise, a straight cut or working hunter saddle is preferred as they show more of the shoulder and movement. These types are preferable to general-purpose saddles.

    Most importantly, natives are to be shown in natural state and manes, tails and feathers are pulled or trimmed in some breeds. Ensure you check with the breed society’s specifications.

    Correct way of going

    “Each native breed is unique and different to each other, but we like to see them all going in a way in which they’re happy, relaxed and covering the ground with ease,” explains Sam.

    “Each breed has its own characteristics and conformation but every pony differs and this will affect the way the pony goes.”

    “If you’re riding a Dartmoor pony it’s unlikely to have the same length of stride as a Welsh section B. Be aware of this and do not push your pony out of his natural rhythm.

    “An Exmoor pony won’t be moving the same way as a Welsh section A either, so don’t expect him to keep up in trot — it’s not a race.

    “All of the other breeds maybe taller than a Shetland pony so they will not be expected to keep up in all the paces. However, they are speedy so never underestimate them — especially in gallop!”

    Sam stresses that judges want to see native ponies working actively and covering the ground freely — but don’t push them out of their natural rhythm.

    “Remember we are showing natives and shouldn’t be cantering like a hack,” she advises.

    “I like to see them working and looking alert. Native ponies should have a soft outline, working through from behind and over their top line.”

    The walk

    “Make sure your pony is walking out smartly, with a good length of stride and is tracking up,” says Sam.

    The trot

    “The trot should be even and regular with good elevation. The pony needs to carry itself and move around the ring without tension or resistance from the rider. The paces should be free-moving and easy on the eye,” adds Sam.

    The canter

    The canter should be balanced and covering ground in a free and open manner, and always remain in a three-beat.

    “The gallop should be a smooth transition where the pony lengthens its stride and stretches over the ground,” explains Sam. “Make sure you gallop all the way along the long side, not just a short burst from the corner.”

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    On the day preparation

    • Allow plenty of time when you arrive at the show to check where your ring is.
    • If you’re riding a stallion make sure you have a stallion disc on the bridle at all times.
    • Use chalk block for touching up white socks.
    • Use condition spray for making manes and tails tangle free.

    Pitfalls to avoid

    • Badly fitted tack and over bitted ponies.
    • Do not use hoof varnish — only hoof oil, which allows the feet to be of natural colour.
    • No make-up or hair dying is allowed.
    • No false hairpieces.
    • Quarter markers are not correct for native ponies.
    • It is considered rude to overtake in front of the judge, as you block his/her view of another competitor. Find a space by riding deep corners or overtaking when behind the judge.

    Where to compete

    There are usually native classes — large and small — at all shows. Depending on the level, the classes may be split. Sometimes each of the breeds gets their own class, or common divisions include; Welsh section As and Bs, and Dartmoor, Exmoor and Shetland.

    At some shows, there may be mixed native classes, or separate large and small classes. Junior classes (aged 18 and under for large breeds) are also becoming increasingly popular. Mini classes also allow small breeds, up to a maximum heigh of 12.2hh.

    The biggest accolades an open native can win under saddle are the Royal International (RIHS) M&M championship, or the M&M ridden pony of the year final held at Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) in October. Finally, there is the BSPS Supreme Heritage M&M championship, formerly held at Olympia and now to be hosted by the Liverpool International Horse Show.

    In 2019, Highland stallion Highland Chief Of Talisker (Amber Thorpe) landed the RIHS title, while at HOYS it was Welsh section A mare Nantfforchog Blue Romance (Frankie Currell) who reigned in the M&M championship.

    The highest placed small breed in the 2019 BSPS M&M supreme championship was Welsh section B Colby Silver Sprite (Sam Roberts).

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