The Ugly: Mismatch

I had planned to put up the first official conformation article today, but the ‘Look Ma, No Hands!’ comment section has taken a turn in a direction that might as well be discussed now that it’s on people’s minds; that is of pairing a rider with an appropriately sized mount for purposes of safety.

We’ve all seen the petite lady rider on the big GP Dressage or jumper mount, and typically we don’t give it much thought; she is after all an adult and therefore responsible for her own decisions.  And if she’s a skilled enough rider to get over those huge fences then have it, right?  The petite Jill Henselwood comes to mind. I’ve met her and she’s one tough cookie.


We’ve also seen the big, burly guy on the little Quarter Horse cutter or roper.  We don’t usually say anything about that, either, since Quarter Horses are big muscled; they can handle it, right?  Look at where all these rider’s feet hang – well below the horse’s belly.



(I actually think the guy in the blue in this photo is the same guy in white- Jerome Schneeberger – in the first photo.  He’s one big hombre.)


(This is just one seriously cool picture! Ron Knutson in saddle, I believe.)  And look, even the guy in the background appears to be a big guy for the horse he’s on.

But when it comes to children…

Remember The Black Stallion movie?  The little boy on the big horse was 13 in 1979, the year the movie was released, so likely 11/12 when the movie was being made.  Did we even care that it was a ‘stallion’?  (Yes, my research yielded that two Arabian stallions were used, though, stunt doubles apparently did the running, fighting and swimming scenes.)  Maybe we just chalk that up to an actor doing his job, and getting paid?


Below is a video I saw quite some time ago.  I remember when it made its first rounds the vast majority thought it was;

  1. Adorable!
  2. What a really well-trained horse!
  3. That kid has mad talent!

What I thought was;

Not cool. 😦  It’s not that I don’t see the training the horse clearly possesses, or the natural ability of the child; I just can’t get past all the things that can go horribly wrong in a split second, and it feels a bit like a group of adults ‘putting a show on for their own kicks and giggles’.

Child Jumping

88 thoughts on “The Ugly: Mismatch


    That aside, I also worry about saddle fit in highly mismatched cases. I’m sure Jill has a custom saddle or two, but the average rider on a too-small or too-large horse probably doesn’t go deep into saddle fit. Is the saddle the 7-year-old rides in made for the horse or him? Most children’s saddles I see are fit for a pony’s back and not a 17hh warmblood. (Though I have definitely seen some broad backed chubster ponies.) I think saddle fit is overlooked badly enough as it is with average sized people on average sized horses.

    • You can get a child’s saddle that fits a large horse. You just have to shop and you have to be willing to pay a little more than you would for a cheap pony saddle.

      • Oh I’ve seen them! I’m just afraid that most people don’t think about it. I had a saddle on my quarter horse for years that was too narrow and she’s the typical 15.2 hh horse. Everyone in my experience has their own saddle they put on every horse they ride whether or not it actually fits because they don’t know any better.

      • I was thinking about that and you are right Maremother. Also some may not do the research to learn the differnce.

    • I’m pretty sure the saddle the child is riding in on the video I posted is an adult saddle. If you pause the video near the start, it shows there’s at least room for a 100lb sack of potatoes along with the child.

  2. Okay, I am ready to hear it. I am one of those people that will put a child on a tall horse. When looking for a horse for my daughter (she is 3 now) my husband and I considered many ponies. Unfortunately all of the ponies that we could find for sale in our area were not acceptable. Most were not adequately trained and others were terribly spoiled. We ended up getting a wonderful 20 year old horse named Shorty from a family friend. He is just over 16 hands but he has taught several kids to ride without incident. My husband rode him in the feedlot for a few months and once he was satisfied that he was as steady as they come we put my daughter on him . . . wearing a helmet . . . with my husband holding her and me holding the lead rope. I don’t know when I will feel comfortable enough for her to ride by herself but I know it will not be in the near future.

      • I’m not convinced that a 3 year old needs a horse at all. Shorty sounds like a peach, and I applaud your taking time to choose a child-friendly mount and insist on a helmet, but why not wait a few years to buy her a horse of her own?

      • Mouche, she certainly does not need a horse but horses are a part of our lifestyle. It is not possible to keep her away from them so instead of letting her interact (pet, brush, sit on) with a ranch horse who is only around for its ability to take my husband out and doctor calves we have given her the option to do these things with a much more trustworthy mount.

      • Sounds to me like if you really cared that much about it you would have shopped further and paid for something suitable to the task. I see an internet full of suitable child’s mounts and I see them at shows really doing the job. Your saying “our area” tells me you have not shopped far enough. Over 16 hands is far enough for anyone to fall, let alone a three year old child. Sure sounds like a copout to me. Have you considered that Shorty will be either old and needing retirement, or dead, by the time your kid is even close to being the size that is suitable for that size of horse? Yeah, that’s a nice experience for a kid to have…try to grow into a horse and grow close to it and then be unable to use it, or worse, have it dead before they even get there.

        And I’m with the people saying a three year old has no business on a horse anyway. This sounds like either parental gratification or a parent who needs to learn to use the word “no” and stick with it. I’m sure the three year old already knows the word “no”. If you must insist on this, do some real shopping and find a mini or a small pony who is a real child’s mount, for everyone’s sake. My trainer has a mini that many children have been taught to ride and/or drive with so I am just not buying that argument. They are out there for people willing to make the effort to find them…AND keep the child and mount schooled by someone up to the task so they *don’t* become spoiled. Any horse can become spoiled by a rider who is overfaced by them. (Hmmm…maybe a better job for those petite women who are running around on 17HH horses themselves? What a thought!)

    • When looking for a pony for our then two year old things that came high on the list were trustworthiness and suitability for use. Things that came NOWHERE were the animal, whatever size it was, being ridden off the lead rein- therefore we settled on a 36″ Shetland, who was perfect on the lead- which was where the child stayed for another two years+- and was just a little disapproving off the lead- she walked calmly to anything under which she could fit and her rider could not and then, having made sure the rider was wrapped firmly round the (usually) fence rail, she wriggled under. No harm ever came of it but we got the message- she saw her work as being done once the child could actually ride, she had obviously been driven crazy by small children at some time and, forgiving as she was, being ridden off the lead was not in her remit.
      Can you see a 16 hand animal being safe under these circumstances and anyway, who in their right mind would even consider a 16 hand animal for a three year old? If you cannot find a suitable height animal wait until the kid is a bit bigger- at least that way you can be sure she will grow up! How could you hold a child on a horse that big- how could you catch a child falling form a horse that big- the mind BOGGLES!! At that age a child wants pony rides- I defy you not to be able to find a pony that can give pony rides!

  3. I can see where the safety is concerned, but I really dont think size matters. Its more on the training and the ability for the horse to be controlled and ridden properly by its rider. A 13 hh pony could do just as much damage as a 16hh warmblood IMO. Safety comes from education, along with a safe pairing based on level of training/skill and proper equipment.

    • “A 13hh pony could do just as much damage as a 16hh warmblood.” It could happen, but it’s far less likely. The 16h horse weighs more than the 13h pony. That type of weight difference landing on a child can be the difference between a broken bone and crushed bones and organs. The 16h horse has the ability to run much faster than the 13h pony. That difference in speed can be the difference between being catapulted at 10mph vs 30mph. Just ask anyone who’s experienced that, witnessed crash testing, doctors that have treated accident victims etc.. The more speed, the higher degree of potential injury. Just the falling distance straight down from 13h vs 16h can significantly increase the injury.

      • Yes, and though I have had an almost 18HH horse, broke him to ride and schooled him to jump, I still find that horses 16HH and over are outside of my comfort zone. (Yes, I did also take a fall off him and got back on.) I raised this horse from a yearling and did my responsibility by him, schooled him and sold him to someone who wanted a horse that large (he is now a gentleman’s field hunter) took my step outside my comfort zone and now have gone back into under 16HH, and I’m still saying that 16HH is far enough for an adult to fall. I can’t even imagine being three and falling that far. Hell, I don’t want to be the age I am now and fall that far!

  4. A small child on a large horse has to ride the way a paraplegic drives a car: with special controls installed for everything because the legs cannot work. The main difference being that it is a *child* – and often a very young one – who (completely aside from being physically overwhelmed) cannot possibly be experienced enough to deal with unpredictable situations. Lead them around – fine; but don’t send them out there to ride independently.

      • In my opinion, a child should not ride independently until she has good balance, is strong enough to handle the horse, and is mature enough to follow directions

      • (I was being facetious: of course what Country Rayne said is a good minimum of capability. It IS capability and not age that counts.)

      • I agree with Country Rayne, but I add that 7-8 years old is usally the age in normal child development when most children can reach those benchmarks.

    • I think a small child on a large horse being compared to a paraplegic is an apt comparison since the recipe for just such a disaster to occur is so overwhelmingly there.

  5. I’m half and half on this. I personally really relate to the height of Jill up there- I’m five foot two and I often ride huge horses. I horse I’m currently riding regularly is 16.3, 17 hands and I’m a midget up on him. While I can ride him effectively I don’t exactly “fit” him well enough, in my opinion, to ride him as effectively as someone whose legs would reach father down his barrel with the equal amount of skill/ability. So, sure. This would be even more dramatic is I was younger and didn’t have the strength to deal with an problem.

    I do feel most comfortable on a horse about 15.2 or there abouts, because that’s where my leg usually sits quite correctly on the horse. Yet, I haven’t been on a horse smaller than 16.1 in over a year. The first horse I rode as a 4’7″ eleven year old was a 17.2 hand Percheron. She was bombproof, but I had no helmet, I was bareback and I trotted her around every couple months or so. Without incident. Did I mention she was a three year old? I think it all depends on the horse itself. I much rather see a little girl up on a huge, steady Eddy than a tiny, green pony. Yes there is a loss that exists there but I think their are too many factors out there to scream “wrong” at every situation. I’ve seen some ponies I wouldn’t put a kid near, let alone on their backs.

    As far as Stallions go- keep kids off them. I don’t care how sweet they are. The judgement of a child is much lower than that of a teenager or adult.

  6. I think *safety* has gone abit overboard. None of us on a horse or otherwise are wrapped in bubblewrap. Life is for living. Take precautions, but don’t get overwelmed with it. I seen nothing wrong of the video of the child jumping (heck he had a helmet!). Also, Quarter Horses are (usually) very stout, no problem carrying a heavy duty cowboy.

    • I agree that we’re getting too paranoid about life in general. Accidents will happen regardless of how well we bubblewrap ourselves and I don’t want others deciding what I can and can not do. That’s my decision and mine alone to make. This little boy could be the next Reed Kessler in a future Olympics for his country. He is obviously talented and confident in what he’s doing. If we decide who is big enough to ride statuesque horses, we would never have seen the likes of Margie Engle. She’s been broken time and time again but still gets on those huge horses driven by something that nobody has the right to take from her. Live and let live, use common sense and helmet the children. I also firmly believe that all kids should start riding on ponies, close to the ground, with all the attitude necessary to teach the kids humility.

      • Based on a seminar for equestrian professionals and business owners I attended years ago: in my country (Canada) there is a legal concept expressed as taking all “reasonable care and precaution” . Meaning that we can and will be held responsible for anything caused by us NOT taking what is generally held to be *reasonable* measures to ensure safety. The key word here being “reasonable”. Horses are recognised to be by nature unpredictable. That adds a factor we cannot predict or be expected to prevent. Accidents will happen and should be just exactly that: unforeseeable accidents. We are supposed to avoid increasing the inherent risks by taking care in advance of everything we CAN *reasonably* predict. Over-horsing a rider (in any way) is among the more basic, reasonable factors or conditions we can be/are expected to make efforts to avoid.

        • I would be willing to bet that neither Reed Kessler nor Margie Engle was ever so mismatched with her mount when a child. No one can learn to do anything more that stay on when perched on a horse so big that his/her legs don’t even make contact with the horse. Once a small rider such as Margie has developed the skills on an appropriatly sized horse she can apply them to any size mount. IMO anyone with serious hopes of reaching that level wouldn’t be wasting time with a potentially dangerous activity to make a YouTube sensation.

          • Thing is, horse activities are ALL dangerous – for children and adults. It’s not a hobby to be taken lightly for its physical, emotional and financial ramifications. Even perfectly matches horses and riders regularly get injured or killed. It’s going to happen. My point is that I don’t want YOU dictating what the correct horse/rider match is in my life, or anyone else for that matter. Riding horses is an inherent risk. The taller the horse, the faster the ride, the higher the jump, the more danger to the rider and sometimes, the horse. Be careful of the mentality as the next generation may state that NO child under the age of 18 can ride a horse because they aren’t legally old enough to consent. This is the direction equine sports is heading and it scares the shit out of me. Margie has been broken countless times, she gets back on. Christopher Reeves lost it all. We take the risks because we love the thrill of riding and kids also love the thrill. I would absolutely love to hear about Margie’s start with horses. I’ll bet she rode a few frogs, she earned her way into the GP world, it wasn’t bought for her.

          • I like to be told what I can and can not do even less than you. However, the reality is that many people DO need to be told simply because they lack common sense and critical thinking skills. Frankly, I don’t care to tell them to protect them from themselves (I say embrace Darwinism), but when children are involved then, yes, they apparently DO need to be told.

            It does not matter what you or I or Margie did as children. They used to play hockey without helmets too, but we know better now. We know how serious concussions are to our future health. When we know better, we’re suppose to do better.

            If an adult wants to take the risk, have at it, but when you endanger a child (or other innocents, elderly, animals), even your own, you need to be told you’re being an idiot and made to stop.

            The group of adults in the video I posted have all lost their bleeping minds. They’re showing off, nothing more. They aren’t teaching that child to be a better rider. They *think* they’ve done due diligence by putting the child on an obviously well-trained horse, but anyone with half a brain can see all the things that can go wrong in a split second. They are in charge of that child and doing a really poor job at looking after his welfare.

            They can all clap and pat themselves on the back that ended well, but had something gone wrong I guarantee that several who praise that video would be hopping on the ‘they had no business putting that small child on that big horse’ bandwagon…because that’s what people do. It’s all fun and games until someone pokes their eye out, isn’t it? And it’s all about ‘it’s *my* right’ until something tragic happens.

            Walknuk explained it best in her ‘reasonable care and precaution’ post.

  7. Merc, I am just glad you started a blog!!!! I wanted to mention that I brought it up and so I want to say THANK YOU FOR BLOGGING!! The horse world will be a MUCH smarter place thanks to you!! And you can use Dazys pictures for a conformation thing if you want 😉

  8. That kid on the horse jumping, eek. I see a kid jumping jumps at least 30cm too high for him. ONE jump he did ok, the others he just got left behind and chucked forward. He had an ok seat in canter but because his legs aren’t long enough to use effectively, all I was focusing on was those legs flapping around which is a big no-no at my riding school. We teach kids from lesson one, get the damn legs on and keep them there or you WILL fall off. It might not be today, it might not be next week, but it WILL happen and it will bloody hurt because the legs will finally clamp on when the kids are sliding off and they end up under the horse’s feet. Yes I’m guilty of putting small kids on large horses (large for the kid anyway) BUT they are on lead and learning how to trot, OR they are riding a late teen school pony that is the same height or smaller that their own pony, OR they are damn good riders and can completely handle anything the horse throws at them (if the horse so chooses). That kid however, would be on nothing larger than 12.2 if he came here. No real trot to speak of and hauling it to a walk from canter. But hey, at least he patted the horse after.

    • I do not think this child should even be on a 12.2hh- I see a classic case of “proud parent” here and couple that with “bad parent du jour” and this is what we get on YouTube, and some moron whose child has sat on a pony a couple of times is going to try to mimic it (OK so that is not the posters fault but, monkey see…..) If there are not enough really decent ponies in the US then get some- we are knee deep in the flaming things- bring a boat, they will probably be free by the time you get here!!

      • That is exactly my point…like a said, the OP did not look far enough. We *do* have them here on this side of the pond if someone cares to look, and if not, hey, maybe they’ll come over if you can recommend one so they don’t have to research! 😉

      • I am absolutely certain that you do- I have seen a few for myself. This horse shown with tiny child is in Europe- pretty sure it’s England, so we have our fair share of “stupid” and there is no excuse whatsoever for the child not doing this on a 10-11hand, older, safe, pony. It just would not look quite so good on You Tube- me, I’d still be impressed if I saw a child this age jumping a pony….

  9. When I was a kid my parents had the same thought: smaller= safer. So I got a little Shetland pony that nearly killed me on several occasions. My mother was a little over the top on safety precautions and I was, of course, always made to wear a helmet. Thunderation, as we called him, liked to roll with a rider on his back. I got really good at bailing out. So, when I was eight I insisted on getting a big horse of my own. My grandparents got me a 16h quarter horse. Did I mention he was also three? Sweetest horse ever. Carried my inexperienced rear all over the country side for years and years. Never got hurt. Never had any incidents. He also became my show horse in high school and we got a couple of aqha points. Now he’s happily retired and living the good life. He still belongs to me, but is living with a family who has a little girl with cerebral palsy. They are best buddies and he gets all the treats and loving a six year old girl can give an old horse. She rides him on lead line, of course, and he is still a big boy. So I think it entirely depends on the horse and the circumstances. I have a two year old and I would put her on my old quarter horse a hundred years before I would put her on my Shetland.

    • You had ONE bad experience with ONE bad pony and you risk the life of your child? Way to go….
      I learned to ride on a £$”^^%$£ of a Shetland and absolute child f an unmarried mother of a pony. Did it put me off? Well, I am still here so probably not. Did it injure me? No, never. It took my heart horse, unintentionally, to very nearly put me in an iron lung, and the same horse put paid to my riding forever, again, totally unintentionally. Shetlands are NOT the work of the devil, you just found a bad one, that is all, if your parents had looked a little further you would be on here singing the praises of the breed! There is just NO way I would ever put my child on a big horse so we just kept looking until we found the right, perfect, pony. Child still needed a milk crate to get on, on her own, but she was minute and the pony was 11 hands and an angel!

      • Um, I said I WOULD, not that I HAD. And, in fact, used those two SPECIFIC horses as an example. My two year old has never as much as touched a horse, let alone ridden one. I happen to know the extent of injuries that one can incur on a horse and do not feel that is necessary for my daughter to ride horses right now. In our instance, at least, we are way more interested in Sesame Street than horses at the moment. Next year we will start ballet lessons, as I think that is a good way for a child to start to learn muscle control and build up strength. Also how to follow directions. THEN when she is five we will look for a good lesson facility that has an appropriate mount for a child her age. IF she seems to enjoy it and learns how to properly care for and ride a horse we will look for the perfect horse for her. I would never endanger my child by putting her on a horse (or any motorized vehicle with her daddy) until she is good and ready and prepared for it. I have nothing against the Shetland breed. My parents were not horse people and I should probably be glad they didn’t get me something bigger with the same problems.

  10. leadline is an entirely different situation, IMO. Not that horses can’t jack around on a lead, but one would hope that one wouldn’t be putting a small child up on a wired horse, even on the lead.
    There are certainly some ”packer” horses out there, and they’re worth their weight in gold, from a safety standpoint. Ideally, I want to see a rider that fits their mount but the reality when I was a kid was that there weren’t very many good ponies around…most were evil little shits that were completely unsuitable for children and beginners. There are FAR more good ponies around these days. I think the pony phenomenon is a geographical thing….In the UK there are fabulous ponies! But historically that’s not the case here.
    I’m 5’4″ not tall…lol. I like bigger horses, solid builds. (I’m a solid build lol), but there is no question that my leg etc is more effective on a mid-sized equine, or if taller, a narrower build…even though they’re not my pref.

  11. What I see that drives me nuts is really tall girl’s on small Newfoundland Ponies.We have a local barn that does this at shows and they looked ridiculous.These are 13hh and under ponies and they need a smaller rider if they really want to showcase the breed. I am a tall woman and had a 14:2 arab that I ended up selling because I just felt too big for him.

  12. Ponies… So do you think the reason so many of them are little shits is because of how they were broke? I mean, how do you even break a mini or small Shetland? They’ve probably mostly been ridden by small children without much experience too. Sounds like a recipe for disaster. I mean, an adult can’t put much time on them under saddle, can they? I understand how you cart train a pony, but not to ride. Any clues?

    • We have a 41.5 inch Shetland that I use in my riding school. He is supposed to be an overgrown Mini. I bought him at 2 yrs of age, untrained, as a pet for my then 3-yr-old daughter. Over the years he became a wonderful riding pony by way of being a leadline mount and then via being ridden (by small children) *correctly* under constant instruction and supervision. Responds to seat aids, is light in the hand, the whole nine yards. So he was trained by remote control, if you will. Mind you: he does tend to canter the trotting poles if allowed to when he is ridden in the same lesson as the larger animals…

    • emAll the ones I do are started under long rein and trained up to passage in hand.

      None of my staff weigh more than 9stone 7 lbs and one is about 4ft 10ins and about 6stone 7 wet through.

      I also teach children to ride and sponsor some young riders and they ride and help school my young ponies.

      It was easier when my daughters were young, but I do also have 4 horse mad grandchildren and am not ashamed to use them.

      I also think the world’s gone madly risk averse. Of course children – and adults should have good lessons and on appropriate horses. For me that means on mounts the right size as well as with appropriate level of training and disposition for rider experience.

      But there’s plenty of children that are confident and have good balance and can manage perfectly well. Indeed often better than a lot of adults who don’t know what they don’t know.

      I myself had a Connemara pony stallion when I was 9. My eldest daughter had a New Forest pony stallion when she was 8. My youngest daughter had an Arab stallion when she was 14.

      All were impecibly behaved and competed with absolutely no problems….. I can’t necessarily say that about my daughters 🙂 and I’ve seen plenty of geldings and mares pratting about with a rider that lacked the ability to bring it under control.

      It’s about the training and experience not gender nor age – for horse AND rider.

      • Oh, now it makes sense. Hoo4hearted is not from the US. We simply could not find a decent pony with in a 500 mile radius.

        • I’ve not a clue what that’s supposed to mean or why it’s relevant at all.

          I’m one of those who believe nothing really worth having comes easy though. And to keep it on topic, the last ponies I purchased came 385 miles from where I live.

      • Hoohearted4, it simply means that you don’t understand that there is a lack of quality ponies where I live. I also wanted a horse that she could use when she is bigger and she wants to help her dad. I can’t hardly see a pony sorting cows safely.

      • That’s not because I’m in the UK. I’ve travelled. Incidentally I know a few very good producers of good ponies in the USA

        Seems it’s because I haven’t got/had a clue where you are though. I didn’t know you were in a backwater or is it the outback.

        So you might need to go further or try harder. But I don’t buy it means you have to get one that’s 16 hands for a 3 year old child.

      • Country Rayne, we do have decent ponies here in the US and shippers are very easy to research if you are not willing to drive the distance. Hell, I’ve shipped horses from Virginia, Colorado, Minnesota and AB, Canada for myself. They’re actually cheaper in a lot of cases than using your own fuel right now.

  13. I think the reason some ponies are difficult is not because of how they were “broke” but because they never were! I think far too many people expect small ponies just to be quiet, automatically! Newsflash- AmShets are a LOT Hackney and that is a whole different thing to Shetlands, who were never bred to be ridden, and can be difficult but are normally more than a little too clever for their own good, and, if treated decently, act decently.
    I bred Arabs. I have had one, in my life, ONE, purebred mare I would put a child (by which I mean under ten and able to ride) on. It all depends on the breed- which is why, I think, you can get away with over horsing a child on a QH or an old TB.
    But it is still over horsing…….
    I used to train kids ponies- I am tiny- I never wanted to ride anything over 14.2hh. I could do it, I just did not want to.
    The ponies I trained were trained exactly the same way any other horse would be trained. The last mare I did was 36″ and was a well rounded riding pony, on and off the lead.

  14. I DO think size is important, especially for kids. While I am a shade under 5′ tall and ride a 16.1 h TB, I am also an adult with plenty of experience/judgement. That kiddy on the jumper IS very impressive but not for his riding ability. He is on a saint of a horse who could – and did – handle that course on his own. The boy’s legs where nowhere near where they needed to be to steady or bend his mount or adjust his stride (in fact they weren’t even on the horse), his arms and body too short to give and shorten as needed. He stayed up there with great confidence and (mostly) stayed out of the way but really he was a passenger. How much better that should be mounted on good pony where he could learn to use his aids and be the RIDER he has the potential to be.
    Safety is also a real factor and several people have commented well on the dangers. I’d like to also point out, a child’s body is differently proportioned than an adult’s – larger head and shorter legs make for top-heavy and not as stable. Short legs on a big horse don’t come down far enough for a secure seat (that goes for all us shorties). Its a long way down and there is nothing really safe about horses but that doesn’t mean we can’t use common sense.

  15. I met a woman at a show just recently who had put her just-barely-2 daughter on her own mini in the show ring. Absolutely adorable. Really. The pony had been trained by the parent, who WALKED over it (straddling the saddle, but with no weight on it). The little kid showed lead line. Helmet on, saddle fit appropriately, etc. I couldn’t think of anything that the parent had really done wrong here (except that the pony was pregnant in the show ring), but WHY? Who is this for? The little girl loved the pony ride, but she was so little she was still speaking in 2 word sentences, when she wasn’t having a tantrum because the ride was over. Shouldn’t a toddler be working on making her own legs walk properly, not a horse’s? What do you guys think?

    • Young bones are plastic: meaning they respond to stresses easily. So riding, as all other athletic efforts and pursuits, should be subject to common sense and moderation when undertaken by youngsters. IOW: don’t overdo anything.

      And of course it is “for” the adults! Dressing up the kiddies for special occasions and playing “Barbie horses” with the real thing – it is all the same thing, right? Unless we get all “Toddlers in Tiaras” over it (there’s that moderation in all things again!) there is little harm in it.

    • I’ve been to lots of hunter/jumper shows where MOST of the younger kids appeared to be ‘passengers’. And some of the middle aged ladies too! There is something to be said for those fabulous horses and ponies that pack these folks around, but it makes me wonder which is easier to train, the pony or the rider?

  16. I’ve no problem with very young children riding. And I wasn’t aware riding and walking were mutually exclusive.

    I now need to think about which I’m going to give up.

    Incidentally I also started competing when very young and was out hunting when I was just 5 years old.

  17. Having children on pony stallions is all fine and good whilst the stallion is sane and the child is closely supervised. Unfortunately these two things rarely happen and, even when they do, someone who does not have those attributes is always waiting to jump forward and shout “she did it why can’t my child do it?” There is a reason most shows in the UK have a “kids and entires” rule and I hope they always do. The memory of what a loose Shetland stallion could have done in a lead rein ring, to say nothing of the returning marathon drive, still chills me after 30 years. A father who obviously saw the potential that I did quite literally rugby tackled him and just hung on til someone got his halter back on. Not the pony’s fault- he was just doing what comes naturally to any stallion….

    • I’d say emphatically that it’s essential that any pony or horse for a child should be sane. I’d also say that children should always be supervised.

      And that it makes no difference whatsoever if it’s a stallion or a gelding or a mare… if it’s going to be mad and untrained it will have the potential for chaos.

      A loose shetland in a lead rein class or among a returning marathon drive is a potential for a disaster no matter whether it’s got testicles or not! Indeed I’d say a returning marathon drive when there’s a lead rein class is bad planning and potential risk!

      As for:
      “someone who does not have those attributes is always waiting to jump forward and shout “she did it why can’t my child do it?”

      Well what’s wrong with saying “because your child is out of control and your pony isn’t sane!”

      “fair” doesn’t mean everyone gets the same. It means everyone should be subject to the same considerations.

      Parents need to man up and tell their children what they can and can’t and should and shouldn’t do.

      It’s irrational and unfair to have a rule to take into account the lowest common denominator.

      I also wanted to ensure I corrected something that might be misleading about the UK and children’s entries. I mentioned earlier that I have experience of this subject and I sponsor children who compete and that it’s included on pony stallions. I’m well aware that lower level shows have their own rules as and what they see fit. Some restrict stallions altogether and some don’t.

      But at open shows children can compete on pony stallions from 12 years of age. 14 years for larger ponies and horses. Junior whips are often not restricted at all.

      Pony club rules are that stallions may be ridden providing there’s written permission obtained from their District Commissioner and the stallion must wear identifying discs on their bridles.

  18. I don’t know…I think big men on little quarter horses and tiny women on huge galoots look equally stupid…the men look like they are overpowering an animal that has to work waaayyy too hard just so they can get to look like cowboys they’re not and the women look like they are seeking an extension of a penis they don’t even have.

  19. I go away for the weekend and I miss a lot of good discussion! I wish there were “like” buttons on this site because I’d like to agree with a lot of what’s been said. Little kids learning to ride is a topic near and dear to my heart, I spent all of my teenage and then university years working as a riding instructor and summer camp counsellor; teaching little ones to ride is something I know very well. Matching a child with an appropriate partner is of the utmost importance in having a succesful outcome.

    This isn’t purely about size – I’d rather put a child on a well-mannered 15 hand horse than a bratty 12 hand pony – but size is certainly an important factor, especially with the smaller/younger children. One of the most significant factors in the seriousness of injuries is the vertical distance of a fall. (Incidentally, this is part of why bike helmets are not appropriate for horse-back riding: most horses are taller than bicycles so the verticial distance to fall is much more serious).

    One of the constant recurring issues that I saw as a riding instructor was parents who wanted their children to do more than I throught was safe. I did not accept children younger than 7 years old for riding lessons at all, and I have turned away 7-8 year olds that I did not feel were mature enough to ride. I am not saying that kids younger than that cannot have anything to do with horses, but younger than that, they need to be one-on-one with an adult and that wasn’t the kind of program that I had. I regularly had parents trying to tell me that their 5 or 6 year old was different; so mature for her age, couldn’t I make an exception. No, I did not. I would tell them that at that age I wouldn’t really be able to teach their child to ride therefore it wasn’t appropriate for me to take their money for riding lessons.

    I quite firmly believe that children cannot really “ride” until 8-9 years of age at a minimum, and rare is the child who is really riding at that age. They can learn to balance on a horse beautifully, hold a correct position, and go through the motions of riding. But they are passengers. Then can give the cues to a trained horse and the horse responds because it’s a good horse. The ability to control, correct, and influence the horse is minimal. The ability to react to any problem or misbehaviour is minimal. This is a little bit about physical size/strength, but also about mental development. Kids who are big/tall/strong for their ages still aren’t ready for the judgment calls and decision-making involved in truly riding.

    That’s basically what I see in the video of the small child on the grey horse. This child is doing better than most of that size, for sure; but he’s still a passenger. The child is going through the motions on a well-trained horse, being taken along for the ride, and it’s more or less working out okay because nothing has gone wrong in that minute of footage. If something goes wrong, that child is not going to be able to fix it. And since I believe with riding, it is never a matter of “if” something goes wrong, but “when”, I’d rather a small child like that be on a small horse or pony and over small jumps, so that the consequences will be less severe (less vertical distance, less speed). Maybe the kid is the next Olympic athlete… but if he’s that talented, he’ll progress like crazy when he’s a little taller and stronger. He doesn’t need to start this young.

    • You are absolutely spot on with this, I agree with just about everything you have said! And the age? Yes, I would go for that, too. Children really do stop being passengers and start riding at around 8-9 years old, and, irrespective of the amount of riding they do and how well they do it, they are rarely anything more than a passenger til then, which is why it is so important to have a good, solid, PONY under them at this age. That is just about the only way they can learn to ride. If their legs do not reach beyond the saddle flaps it is not possible for them to be active riders. They can learn to sit right, they can learn to hold the reins and what to do with them, but they do not start learning to think for themselves and make considered decisions based on the knowledge they have gleaned until around age nine.

    • YES.

      I taught riding lessons on and off through high school and college and there is a huge difference between teaching a 5-year-old and a 9-year-old. I would tell parents time and again that they can spend $35 a week for three years and it would probably equal 6 months worth of learning if they waited until the child could mentally and physically grasp it better. Of course if you have your own land and horses and want to include your child from an earlier age, there is little harm if you are knowledgeable and responsible. (And there are no lesson fees!)

      I had so many “pony ride” lessons in which it would take weeks to get the child to hold the reins. Even when they did, I don’t think they would ever figure out the “why.” They really never got past “passenger” before inevitably getting bored and moving on to soccer or ballet. Because they were passengers it was safer to be on dead broke ponies or small horses. Obviously a dead broke tall horse would be better than a crazy pony, but I believe it is best to put tiny bones and brains closer to the ground whenever possible. I have fallen off both horses and ponies through no fault of the animal and it is much more enjoyable to have a shorter fall!

      When I have kids, I plan on a nice, stout oldish Quarter Horse around 14hh. Nothing against ponies, but we tend to give forever homes and you can ride a small horse a lot longer than a tiny pony without looking silly! I’d also like to be able to school him/her from time to time without killing his/her back. (But now that I say that we will find an adorable tiny tiny pony and get stuck with lawn art when our kids turn 12.)

      • lol – I confess I have been pressured into giving ‘pony ride’ lessons to tiny tots a time or two. I always explain to the parents up front that it may not last for long (the interest, if there is one, may pass quickly) and that I would far prefer to see little Boopsie wait until she is both physically and mentally ready to ride than have her turned off riding for life because it was boring or frustrating (or even scary) to her at the age of 4 or 5.

        • I used to get a ride/be led around on my sister’s pony after her lesson when I was 4/5 years old – it let me have 5-10 minutes one-on-one time but not enough to let me get bored or scared. I pestered until I was allowed to start ‘proper’ lessons at about 6 I think.

    • Fortunately most of the top British riders, their parents and instructors didn’t agree.

      When a young child has lessons it’s the opportunity to engage them. To allow them to develop balance, confidence and instill basic knowledge whilst having fun on a horse

      No good children’s riding instructor will be overly pushy nor wreck the fun and destroy confidence by not effectively supervising them or by letting them get ahead of themselves.

      Neither do they have expectations of them being a superstar rider. It’s about basic introduction and development.

      It’s not coincidence that nearly every top rider had very early fun with ponies.

      • Let me clarify. Nothing against early “fun with ponies” if it can be done in a safe manner. For very young children to have safe fun with horses/ponies, they need one-on-one adult supervision AND a very safe, size-appropriate pony. I could not offer that in the program that I had. It was not financially feasible to teach individual lessons. I could only offer group lessons, 4-6 kids. Four ponies and four 3-year-olds is too much for one instructor to supervise safely. Therefore, I accepted only kids mature enough to follow directions and basically control a packer horse/pony on their own, which I put at 7-8 years old.

        If a kid has a scenario where they can have that individualized attention and an appropriate mount – most likely, parents with land who can buy a pony and work with kids themselves, or riding instructors whose are able to offer individual lessons at a price people are willing to pay – great! Have all the fun with ponies you want!

        But I truely don’t think it’s neccessary or even all that beneficial for a child’s development as a rider. The kid isn’t going to really ride until 8-9 no matter what age they start being around horses. The kid who starts “riding” at 5 and the kid who starts at 8, are going to be in pretty much the same place by age 10 (assuming everything else is equal).

        Or to use the example being posted… I don’t think that small child on the grey horse is any more likely to become a future Olympian because he’s jumping so big at such a young age. He’s a passenger, he’s not truely processing and learning what is required to jump big fences, he’s just along for the ride. He couldn’t do a class that required the finalists to switch horses. I’ll put money down that when he’s a teenager, if he’s still riding, he’s not any further ahead than any other equally-talented teenagers who were jumping small ponies over little jumps that that age. (Meanwhile, he’s risking serious injury as well as getting turned off riding from fear/intimidation). Reed Kessler, as has been mentioned, has accomplished a lot for her young age, but she wasn’t competing over big fences until she was a teen. A young teen to be sure, but there’s a world of difference between 13 and 7.

        • I agree entirely, as I said quite clearly, kids on ponies before around age 8-9 years old are passengers. I do not remember anyone saying there was any reason being a passenger was a bad thing, or that it should be discouraged.
          Rules have to be aimed at the lowest denominator, it is the only way to make sure people and children do not get hurt. The lead rein class, BTW was nowhere near the returning marathon,and I cannot see that a driving marathon is any danger to a lead rein class, why would it be? The common denominator here was the loose pony stallion, who was a lot more potentially dangerous than a loose gelding- quite obviously -and for very obvious reasons! Just how quickly could you get a child off an in season (or not in season for that matter) lead rein mare???? The same, and far more dangerous potential, is true of the harness animals.

        • I’d say 4 novices at any age in a shared lesson with just one tutor is unsafe and just taking customers for a ride.

          • Here’s how I did it: start with one pony and all 4-5 kids work with the one pony, taking turns learning how to groom, lead, tack up. Kids take turns on the pony, being shown how to hold the reins, stop, steer. Then we go to two kids sharing a pony, helping each other groom, tack up, and taking turns riding. So I only have two ponies to keep track of and I’m never far from either pony. I keep the kids who aren’t on the pony involved by asking questions and making observations (“Look at how nicely Stacey has her heels down, make sure you do that when it’s your turn!” or “Now if Stacey wants to make Smoky halt, what does she do?”). I don’t move to each novice having their own horse/pony until everyone can stop/steer/ have basic control at walk. How long that takes depends on the individuals involved, but I set my minimum age at 7 because younger than that, I don’t feel kids ever become solid enough to be in four/five to one ratio with an instructor. I used this approach for years and it made for a safe, enjoyable beginner program.

  20. Excellent post, Chestnut Mare.

    I definitely agree that small children riding off- lead should be on ponies. For the same reasons already stated – reducing the chance of serious injury.

    Comments on this thread have focused on children. I would also like to address the very large men on the smaller Quarter Horses. I personally think a close to 300 lb man on a 14.3 h QH doing reining, roping, etc is abusive. This is hard work and hard on the horses’ feet and legs. I’d love to see a poll of how many of these horses end up with serious lameness issues by the time they’re 12 years old. I personally only know 2 families with large men riding in this manner, and both of them have ‘retired’ 10 year old horses who are now lead-line only or pasture ornaments.

    • I don’t think that size is the determiner of the weight of the rider, not completely. I see your point, but, if the only difference between the 14.3hh and the 16.shh is the length of it’s legs (and this happens a lot, especially in show horses) then the 14.3hh would actually stay sound longer…

      • I think an important factor in the breakdown of western performance horses has to be the early age they are started. A good, solid 15 hand QH can probably manage one of those hefty guys (although I think it looks pretty silly myself) but unfortunately those little horses are still babies, competing at 2 and 3 years old. If its really necessary to back them so young (and I would like to see a ban on classes under saddle for horses under three) then the rider needs to be jockey sized. A horse was never intended by nature to carry weight at all, so patience in waiting for hardening bones and strengthening tendons is absolutely essential – to say nothing of the mental maturity. In those disciplines where this is adhered to, the horses excel well into their teens and still retire sound to lower levels where they carry on useful lives under saddle.

        • Exactly – certainly in England, showing classes etc all state that all ridden animals must be at least 4 years old which means they don’t have to be started until they are 3. Still too young in my opinion but better than 2.

        • Yes starting horses too young and working them too hard while still growing is a huge problem in many disciplines (if not, all). Sad to see.

  21. Please note I’ve added the ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ option to comments for those who have nothing to say, but would like to express their like or dislike of comments made by others.

    I’ve also increased the ‘depth’ of comments from three levels to five levels.

    Thank you, again, to all who have joined me here and for your participation.

    • Another option choice is, if people feel the ‘thumbs down’ creates a too negative atmosphere, I can change the ratings to a star system; 1 to 5 scale. I’m open to what the majority would like to see in this regard. Of course, I can also turn the feature back off. Makes no difference to me, whatever most would like to see.

      Adding: Remember you can contact me at: if you’d like to make your opinion known privately, have suggestions, article topics, articles, etc…

  22. Actually I wuld like to see the star system as there are posts where I agree partially and some I disgree with entirely so the ablity to grade my agreement so to speak, like a lot of photographer’s sites might be fun.


  23. Mercedes, you’ve definitely inherited the mantle of the “blog where people like to argue!” Gracious. This is an interesting topic because the original Fugly, Cathy, used to say she’d rather put a kid on a well-trained horse than a bratty pony any day. I am about 50% in agreement and about 50% can’t-get-past-sheer-vertical-distance-factor. I guess it really , truly depends on the equine and the rider.

    I myself was on a leadline Shetland at age 2 (no helmet), and then started H/J lessons at age 5, the youngest student that barn had ever allowed. I do not remember my very early days there, so they may well have kept me on ponies only (with a helmet at all times, I might add, for what late-60s helmets were worth). But I have plenty of photographic evidence that I rode some very LARGE horses at a very young age there as well – like a 17hh Belgian cross at about age 9. I remember double-wrapped stirrup leathers being my lot for a long time. Was this the safest thing ever? Nope, definitely not. But I also rode to the barn and back and everywhere else unbelted in a station wagon, rode my bike around with no helmet and probably did a bunch of other stuff that I should not have survived if something had gone wrong. In fact, every time this topic comes up people my age in the horse world talk about all the idiotic things they did with horses as kids that they shouldn’t have survived!

    Again, I think the horse vs. pony thing is a judgement call. In general, yes, I would certainly PREFER children to be mounted on ponies. But I’m not going to trash someone who did their homework and found a safe and sane larger animal for their kid and didn’t let them off by themselves until good balance and control had been achieved.

    (By the way, I remember that mother’s story before about the 3-year-old barrel racer daughter… my over-riding thought is still “SPOILED.” The KID freaking decided when and who she rode? NO. NONONONONO. That is one accident that didn’t need to happen. I’m a parent, my heart breaks for the parents, it truly does, but honestly – common sense, people).

    • I’m okay with people arguing, discussing, debating…whatever. I’ve certainly be party to that over the years. It makes things at the very least interesting and entertaining. Hopefully, though, people will be able to get past the verbal dance/assault/diarrhea/whateveritmaybe – good or bad and learn from each other. Even if it’s just what not to do.

      I agree with Cathy’s stance, other than I’d rather a kid be on a well-trained pony than a well-trained horse. There are times in life when compromise is the wisest course. Not sure the safety of an innocent is one of those times, though.

    • Lost my Marbles – I think it’s important for topics like this, to be specific when we use terms like “lchildren”. To me on the horse/pony issue, it matters exactly how young/small of a child we’re talking about it, because a 3-year-old, a 9-year-old and a 12-year-old are all “children” but they’re very different. If we are talking about an average-sized 9-year-old, then I think it’s totally fine for them to ride a horse, even a tall horse if it’s a calm packer type.

      It’s with the very small children, and by this I mean 3-5 year olds, where I really worry about the impact of extra vertical distance on such a tiny body. Those are the kids that I think need to be kept lower to the ground. If your options for a 3-year-old are a bratty pony versus a calm horse, then you need to pick “none of the above” and keep looking.

      So no, I’m not going to trash anybody who puts their 9-year-old on a safe, sane, 16- horse either, but a 3-year-old is an entirely different story. I can’t come up with any hard-and-fast rule (“You must be X tall to ride this horse”) but common sense has to prevail .

      • Well, I can. If the child’s legs do not come clear of the saddle flap then the child cannot “ride” that horse properly- in exactly the same way as you can’t drive a big truck if you cannot reach the pedals. You can sit on it, and you can stay on and steer, and, thank goodness, apply the brakes, but you cannot ride it.

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