Whether you take part in mounted games to be competitive or just for fun, finding the right pony is crucial. Training is important, but starting with the right pony can make a big difference. Chrissie Mayes explains what you should be looking for
Temperament is the number one consideration of any mounted games pony. Even if he possesses every single other characteristic, without the necessary attitude it is unlikely he will ever fully match his potential.
As a sport, mounted games is fast and intense, and he must be able to adapt to any situation or to any strange equipment. Coping with adrenaline is essential and some ponies react in a way that limits their competitive ability, such as napping on the line, or refusing to stop.
No pony must exceed 152cm with shoes, and there is no minimum height. According to the Mounted Games Association of Great Britain (MGAGB) rules “the size, weight and experience of a rider must correspond with the size, build and experience of the pony”. Ponies are monitored closely to ensure the rider is a suitable size.
Ponies cannot compete under the age of four, but there is no maximum age as long as the pony is still fit and healthy. You can also introduce older ponies to the sport successfully. An older pony is often easier to train, as he has already experienced many aspects of life. However, younger ponies have the bonus of possessing relatively few pre-conceptions or learnt behaviours.
Any breed can be a games pony — however, certain breeds are favoured by top competitive riders, including Arabs, Welsh ponies, quarter horses, British riding ponies, Connemara ponies, and throughbred crosses. Cross breeds also excel, as they bring a range of different skills to the arena. However, the variety of ponies is probably more diverse than seen in any other discipline.
A good games pony has to be agile. Being able to bend, turn on a sixpence, stop and start quickly are essential skills. Because of this they need to be highly balanced and well-schooled. When trying a pony that has never been exposed to games before, use some schooling exercises that will demonstrate how agile he is.
Because of the speed of the races, a great games pony has to be very obedient. Being able to understand the rider’s commands quickly is crucial to success and to safety. Much of this can be trained, but some ponies are naturally more obedient than others.
7. Will to win
A will to win goes hand-in-hand with a pony’s enjoyment of the sport. Ponies naturally love to race, but some are definitely more forward than others!
8. Ability to learn
With so many skills involved in mounted games, plus a variety of races, a games pony that is keen to learn will always progress better. As with some of the other characteristics, this is in-built in some ponies. Bold and curious ponies are usually quick to learn, but don’t rule out those that seem less approachable. Ponies learn at different speeds, but some will grasp the concept of games quicker than expected.
You can teach a pony accuracy and consistency, but you can’t teach it to have speed. A great games pony is fast — but also has excellent brakes!
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The partnership between the rider and pony has to be strong. The rider asks a lot of the pony, and without trust it is impossible to achieve greatness. The rider also has to trust the pony — when travelling at speed you need to know your horse is going to do what you ask of it — otherwise accidents may happen.