Picking a Children's Pony

One of the fondest memories I have as a very young child is hugging and brushing a pony that our neighbors had, and I had always wanted to have one of my own. Our daughter is 3 1/2 years old and we are expecting our second child, a boy, in February. I would really like to get a pony as a family Christmas present. We have had conflicting advice, mostly from horsey people who sound like they don't exactly like ponies in general. They say that ponies can be very mean, and that their personality can change after you get them. So they are generally more dangerous for kids than a nice, calm horse. We have also heard ponies called "smart" and "funny." Some have said that you can sometimes find a bomb-proof pony that you can trust with kids under any circumstances. Some have said that we would be better off with a true miniature horse than with a small pony. Some say we want a big pony rather than a small pony.

Cutting bandage
ANNE EBERHARDT

Hand-feeding treats is one thing that kids and adults love to do with pets. Unfortunately, many of the best ponies get nippy and will do whatever it takes to get the treat from you if you "treat" them too much.

We're seeking professional tips for finding and keeping a pony or miniature horse as a family pet. We like the term "bomb-proof." We don't care about whether it can be ridden or does anything special. We just want to be able to trust it with kids. We'd like your opinion, and any suggestions for books or videos that might help us.    Jill

What a great question. There are many books that address selecting ponies for kids, and I have seen some nice magazine articles over the years. Some of the regional monthly horse newspapers have a pony issue each year, and there are often articles on selecting ponies for various levels and uses. Those would be a good place to start. The focus will be mainly on suitable riding ponies, and might fall short for your specific goal of a huggable, pet-type pony.

To find a bomb-proof pony or miniature horse for young kids to have as a pet, you might do well to get help from a horse trainer or other professional who understands and celebrates this goal. I'd recommend looking for someone of grandmother age and wisdom. Old mom and grandmother horse women usually remember and often keep track of special ponies. And they can spot and evaluate potential for that kind and forgiving temperament you'll want.

You'll probably do best looking for a pony that has already seen a lot of kids and backyard life. Since you don't want to train the pony for riding or driving, you might be able to find one that has been mildly over-handled as a foal. Some people call these overly human-bonded. They typically fail at training or performance because they seem to just want to stick to humans, following them around like little lap dogs. Some are also especially playful with people. Older retired local show ponies can be a good option. Of course, older ponies might have more health problems, and so you'll want to plan how long you'll want the pony alive and well, and how you will handle illness or death with the kids.

Keeping a kind pony free of undesirable or dangerous habits like biting and kicking seems simple, but just like with kids and others we love so much, it can be hard to abide by the rules. Hand-feeding treats is one thing that kids and adults love to do with pets. Unfortunately, many of the best ponies get nippy and will do whatever it takes to get the treat from you. If you never give them grain, and only give them carrot or apple treats occasionally for specific work or good behavior (for example, tricks), they usually don't go wrong. The advice about a miniature horse as opposed to a pony is good in this regard. True miniature horses often seem less likely to slip into undesirable behavior when we don't follow the rules.

Price doesn't guarantee temperament. The usual advice is to take the animal on approval for a couple of months and see how you all get along; however, that's tough to do with kids.

Finally a comment on the term bomb-proof. That's exactly what you need for safety with such little kids. But at the same time, you'll want to teach everyone who interacts with the pet to be respectful and responsible around all animals, especially horses.


FURTHER READING

Available through ExclusivelyEquine.com, or by calling 800/582-5604:

Briggs, K. Understanding the Pony. Lexington: Eclipse Press, 2000.

Sly, D. Fun with Ponies and Horses. Irvington, NY: Hydra Publishing, 2003.

Strickland, S. Pony Power. The Horse, April 2001, 73-80. Article #3067 at www.TheHorse.com.

About the Author

Sue McDonnell, PhD, Certified AAB

Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, is a certified applied animal behaviorist and the founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also the author of numerous books and articles about horse behavior and management.

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