If you love cute and sassy over might and power, a smaller version of the elegant show hack may very well win you over, writes FRANCINE PULLMAN.
If you love the look of those magnificent show hacks as they bound around the ring adorned with blue ribbons, makeup and perfect plaits, but you are too small (or a bit too nervous) to ride something so big and energetic, a Riding Pony might be just the equine partner for you!
Over the years I’ve met quite a few beautiful Riding Ponies – all were elegantly free moving, with plenty of scope and show-stopping good looks. Interestingly, each of these ponies was owned by a rider who was once serious about hack showing and dressage. But that’s before they fell in love with a Riding Pony. Clearly, in the show ring, as in life, good things really do come in small packages!
Refined, athletic and usually even tempered, the Riding Pony is a smaller version of a full-sized show horse, and they are blessed with an eye-catching confirmation. Once Riding Ponies are on your radar, you’ll begin to notice (when competitions restart in earnest), many striking examples excelling in the show ring, either ridden or in hand, and in the dressage arena. While they are often ridden by children, make no mistake: while one of the Riding Pony’s most appealing features is their suitability for child riders and handlers, they are also strong enough to take a small adult into the winner’s circle. Add to that all the charm of pony personality and a willingness to please, and it’s hard not to be won over.
And in case you weren’t aware, Riding Pony dressage is not limited to children wanting to compete at the lower levels. Equestrian Australia dressage competitions for Riding Ponies include all levels from preliminary to advanced, with FEI levels continuing from Prix St Georges through to Grand Prix.
Out and about at an event, a well-trained Riding Pony will rise to the occasion, showing off its good looks and stepping out with a lively and free flowing stride that covers plenty of ground, yet is also pleasant to ride. Overall they are very willing performers and generally stand well for the judge, easily rivalling their larger counterparts in the hack ring.
Although a great option as a child’s mount for Pony Club and trail riding, it’s in the show ring that the Riding Pony shines. Versatile and with plenty of character, this pony thrives on companionship and consistent training.
Riding Pony origins: Rather than a genetically identifiable breed, the Riding Pony is the result of a breeding program designed to achieve a particular outcome. In other words, it’s a type of pony in which recognised breeds and selected bloodlines were combined with the object of producing the ‘ultimate’ show pony. However, this is an ongoing program of refinement, one which allows for improvements to be made as new influences come along.
While there are a number of standardised Riding Pony ‘types’ including the Czechoslovakian, American, French, and Belgian, we’ll take a closer look at three:
The British Riding Pony: It’s fair to say that the Riding Pony had its origins in the UK. Back in the day, British children rode native pony breeds for both general riding and hunting. However, by the early 1920s breeders had begun crossing hardy Welsh and Dartmoor ponies with small Arabian and Thoroughbred horses. Over the following three decades, yet more Arabian blood was introduced to further refine the ponies and to improve their stamina. The resulting Riding Pony is now shown in one of three classes: the Show Pony, which resembles a small show horse; the Show Hunter, which has more substance than the Show Pony, in that it should be capable of carrying a child across country; and the Working Hunter, the largest and most full-bodied of the three.
The German Riding Pony: Often described as miniature warmbloods, the breed is again very similar in body type to a full-sized horse, yet with a pony-like head. Ideally between 13.2 and 14.2hh, they too were developed by crossing a variety of English pony breeds with Arabians, Anglo-Arabians and Thoroughbreds, with the aim of producing competition quality children’s ponies. The breed is suited to both dressage and jumping, with gaits that are smooth and horse-like, while retaining the character of a pony and their willingness to perform.
The Australian Riding Pony: Resembling elegant show hacks, the Australian Riding Pony ranges from 12.2 to 14.2hh, and owes its heritage to the British Riding Pony. In the early 1970s, Australian breeders travelled to the UK in search of Welsh ponies to import – but what they discovered instead were British Riding Ponies. In 1973 the first British Riding Pony stallion, Aristocrat of Flawforth, by Bwlch Zephyr out of the Thoroughbred cross Welsh mare Chirk Catmint, arrived in NSW. Aristocrat soon made his presence known at the Royal Melbourne Agricultural Show where he won champion led and ridden Galloway stallion, which, at the time, was the only section in which he could be shown.
Another two stallions, both sired by Bwlch Valentino, soon followed, and with the many quality imported Welsh ponies, Thoroughbreds and Arabian derivatives which were by then in Australia, it wasn’t long before pony breeders followed Britain’s lead and began a program designed to create an outstanding Australian Riding Pony.
These breeding programs were so successful that Australian Riding Ponies regularly feature in shows and dressage events at local, state and national level, and are much sought after for both children and small adults.
Breeders later became interested in creating the ideal dressage pony and their attention turned to the German Riding Pony (GRP), which is possessed of a slightly sturdier build but still with elegant movement and striking ridden performance. When the first GRP, FS Golden Storm, was imported to Australia in 2004 he caught the eye of many breeders. He sired a number of foals but was gelded several years later.
Then in 2008, the first fully licensed GRP stallion, Don Philino WE, arrived to stand at stud in Australia. Sired by Dressman out of a part Warmblood mare by the renowned Hanoverian stallion Luxor, he gave the breeding program the lift it needed. Since then, a number of GRP stallions and mares have been imported, enhancing bloodlines and helping to generate considerable interest in pony dressage events.
General characteristics: A Riding Pony can be any solid colour, but paints are not acceptable. Overall, the look is elegant with finely chiselled yet sturdy legs, a long and slightly crested neck, and an unmistakeably ‘pony’ head with flat forehead and large dark eyes. The chest should be deep and the shoulders flat but sloping. While the back is short, it should be well-coupled with enough scope to carry a saddle. The hooves are strong and neat, the coat silky with no leg feathering. A straight and smooth, free-flowing action is coupled with a calm and trainable temperament.
Health and feeding: Like many ponies, the Riding Pony can be prone to easy weight gain, but is otherwise normally healthy. Their feeding requirements are relatively simply. They thrive on good pasture and/or hay, with some quality chaff and pony pellets when they’re in work.
Rapid weight gain can lead to laminitis, so while it’s essential to ensure your pony’s nutritional requirements are met, a low sugar diet is probably optimal. You may need to limit their intake of high value pasture (a grazing muzzle might be useful), or if hay fed, soak the hay to reduce calories before offering it in a slow feed hay net to reduce the rate of consumption.
Interested in learning more?: To find out more about Australian Riding Ponies, visit the Riding Pony Stud Book Society. They have an informative website – www.rpsbs.com.au – which includes an extensive stallion directory, or for the German Riding Pony, go to www.germanridingpony.com.au. Deveron Stud specialise in German Riding Ponies, and can be contacted on 03 5852 1871, or visit www.deversonstud.homestead.com – while Whitmere Stud, the Australian Riding Pony breeders, can be contacted on 0405 201 232 or 0414 893 843.
(Image courtesy of Whitmere Stud)