The best lead rein ponies are safe, beautiful and worth their weight in gold. Broadly speaking, there are two types: the “native” type and the “blood” type.
The native type
Epitomised by the Welsh Mountain pony, it is near to the ground and stands on short cannons with ample bone. This close-coupled pony is characterised by a slightly deep neck and a tiny head, “poppy” eyes and tiny ears.
This pony’s trot may be slightly round, showing some knee action and the general picture is an active one.
The blood type
As its name suggests, it looks like a miniature Thoroughbred, but is still full of character. The cannon bones may not be longer, and the bone, while less in quantity, is flat and full of quality.
The neck is long and slender, the action low to the ground and the general pictureis more like a minature horse.
You only have to attend two or three shows to notice that both types are on display and either is likely to stand top of the line, depending on the judge’s personal preference.
Nevertheless, both types are characterised by essential aspects of conformation. Regardless of the shape of the neck, there should be plenty of length in front of the saddle. The head should be in proportion to the body and be set on so that the pony can easily demonstrate the correct outline with a kind eye.
The wither is fairly narrow, so that the child can sit in comfort, and the shoulder sloping, to allow freedom of action. The tail is carried gaily.
The action should suit the child at its current stage of riding. Some older, more experienced jockeys can cope with a longer stride, while the beginner simply cannot.
The action should be active but not so much that the rider is bounced out of the saddle and it should be straight.
Temperament and performance
Performance is all-important. There is no place for the beautiful pony, which doesn’t look after its jockey — there are no exceptions to this rule. If the ponies do not go well, no matter how wonderful they may otherwise be, they should not stand up the line.
It is good to see a relaxed partnership between handler, rider and pony. They should be as one, confident, carefree and, above all, at peace with their surroundings.
Trotting too fast is common among amateur producers. The pace should be rhythmical and easy, the stride appropriate for the child, and the pony’s head carried correctly and still. There is nothing worse than a pony, which is unhappy in its mouth and shakes its head.
The individual show
The individual show is when all the home preparation comes to fruition. Well-trained ponies know what is expected of them. They respond not only to the voice of their handlers, but to their very movements.
Lead-rein ponies should move happily alongside their handlers, at a safe distance and at the same speed as the handler. The whole purpose of the lead-rein is to provide that extra bit of security and that is not readily afforded at a distance of 4-5m from the child.
The pony should respond to the rein if the rider is sufficiently competent to use it correctly. If a rider is not able to steer the pony, there is no harm in this, provided the pony does not take advantage. Finally, all lead-rein ponies should be able to halt without fuss, and stand quietly.
As a general rule, unless the judge requests otherwise, keep it simple and short.
The tack should be of quality leather, finely stitched, clean and, above all, correctly fitted. Some ponies suit white girths while others look better in leather, particularly if they are slightly long in the back. Safety stirrups are increasingly the norm for these classes.
Bits should be single ringed snaffles, either jointed or straight-bar, and the lead-rein should always be attached to the noseband.
Browbands come in an array of colours and styles but should be tasteful and can be linked to the turnout of the jockey and handler.