Managing Buying Expectations for Eager Pony Parents

Photo © Lauren Mauldin


ISO: Unicorn.
Large pony. NO spook, NO vices, 100% Bombproof and kid safe
MUST pass PPE. Budget $3000

I see a lot of ads like this. The addition of social media has been both helpful and dangerous to the pony shopping market. On one hand, it makes available ponies so much more accessible. The downside is that it enables well-intentioned, but not horse savvy, parents to view the process of pony shopping with some unrealistic expectations. So I direct this, not to my fellow ammy riders or those already accustomed to buying and selling horses, but to those parents, and the trainers of those parents, who will be looking for a first pony in the near future.

There are a lot of stipulations you could add to pony shopping. For example, I wouldn’t say that kids should never ride green ponies. In the right situation with the right kid and the right trainer, I actually think a green pony is an amazing learning opportunity and a great way to really grow as a rider. But the mom who thinks “my kid has had lessons once a week for 2 years, so she is ready for a 4 year old pony,” is likely in for a rude awakening if they expect to be showing in the near future. 

Additionally, when it comes to doling out advice whether it’s me or a seasoned trainer, it’s best to stick to the discipline you’re comfortable with. I am very uneducated about shopping for an eventing or dressage pony, let alone a barrel horse, etc. Hunters are my frame of reference. 

With all of that in mind, if you are totally new to pony shopping I highly recommend you have a trainer help you navigate the process. It is also imperative that trainers and parents have a very frank conversation at the onset of the buying process about expectations, commissions, what they hope to purchase, how long this pony is intended to last for the child, and the available budget to shop. I think often trainers do not want to have this conversation, because they don’t want to tell a parent that what they want to buy is unreasonable. They don’t want to rock the boat and scare off a client, so they feed the information in bits and pieces. 

Whether it’s sticker shock or not, this process has to be a dialog with both parties. It has to be transparent and honest. If a parent believes that it is reasonable to purchase a large pony who can take their 6 year old child from walk trot all the way to the large pony division, is young enough that they can “grow up together,” will never ever spook or do anything naughty, has perfectly clean x-rays, is completely kid safe, and costs less than $5000… they will quickly become frustrated when the trainer is unable to find said unicorn. And understandably so! The parent has no idea that the above request is completely unreasonable (on almost any budget). 

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

The dangerous scenario that can arise from those kind of search is the parent seeing a sale ad on facebook for a young pony who is “bombproof and ridden by kids” and either feels resentful towards the trainer for not finding this diamond in the rough, or runs out and buys this bargain pony without recognizing that it is off behind, or that the kid who the pony is safe for is actually a slick riding kiddo—not a beginner. It’s a recipe for disaster.

Fortunately, the above scenario disaster is preventable! So, let’s talk about how we can bridge this gap between horse-selling-shorthand and the new pony parent. 

If you are going to put an ISO ad out there or look through sale ads online, trainer and parent should go through what’s to be included together. Often more information is better than too little, in this situation. Phrases like “Kid Safe” or “does best in a program” are open to a wide range of interpretations. What is the intended job for the pony? Is this for trail riding around the farm or to horse show? Local shows or rated shows? Is this a crossrail pony or for the division? 

All of those questions will dictate if the proposed budget is a realistic expectation, or if it needs adjusting. With our theoretical $5000 budget, you can absolutely find a sane trail pony that will tolerate a tiny tot learning to steer. If it’s a crossrail pony you’re looking for, that is a reasonable lease budget for a beginner safe show pony. But if it’s a division pony you’re looking for, you are going to have to adjust either your budget or your expectation of what you can find in that price range. There is definitely a wide range of options in every budget, but it is important to know what things you might have to concede on, on the front end (lease versus purchase, for example).

When shopping, frame pony qualifications/selling points as a range of suitability, instead of in absolutes. Phrases like “ZERO vices,” “NEVER spooks,” and the like are likely to be misleading to a new pony parent. Every pony will spook in the right circumstances. Every single one. It’s better to gauge temperament and reactivity, because if a parent expects the pony to “never” spook, they feel lied to when it happens.

Even the term “green” can have a wide range of definitions even among riders and trainers within the same barn. It’s generic and could mean that a pony is green broke (had some initial rides only) or could also apply to a pony that has been showing for 5 years but hasn’t broken his green year by doing the green pony division at a rated show. That is potentially a world of difference in two ponies that are both correctly described as “green.” Frankly, any horse or pony described as green cannot also be said to have zero spook.

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

“MUST pass PPE” opens up to another gray area. First I do not know any vets who will say a horse or pony either “passes” or “fails.” It is a range of suitability for the intended purpose. Again, being very honest about expectations with your trainer is very important here. What you can accept in the vet exam depends on if you’re planning to sell the pony in a year, keep it forever, or anything in-between. A pony suitable through crossrails can have more issues on the exam than a pony who is expected to jump 3’. Talk to your trainer about what things that could come up would be acceptable, and what is a deal breaker. The addition of shoes, a supplement, or possibly an injection, might be ok, or might not, but it’s always better to know up front.

Assuming that everything has worked out and you’ve found the perfect pony, what “program” is the pony currently in and do you have the ability to replicate that program in your own barn. Even the most even tempered pony, when in a consistent professional program, can turn into a nutcase under new circumstances. Can the pony go 5 days in a row without being ridden? If the pony is used to being turned out for 12 hours a day and your barn has limited turnout, expect a change in demeanor. Is the pony being ridden by a trainer 4 days a week, and now being ridden only by your 6 year old just learning to canter? There are a lot of variables that might not occur to a new horse owner.

At the end of the day, most trainers want happy clients. Most sellers want their sale ponies to end up in homes that are the best match possible. Most sellers are honest and transparent about what they are representing. Most buyers have the best of intentions. But one bad pony shopping experience can turn away a pony-crazy-kid’s parents forever. 

I think inviting conversations with all parties and being clear in our expectations when buying or selling will go a long way in making sure everyone can have a realistic and positive pony shopping experience. The more positive the experience, the more likely they are to continue participating in our sport. The longer they stay in the horse realm, the more riders we prepare to be the next generation of horsemen. It benefits all of us.

Howdy, Lauren Mauldin

About the Author: Ponymomammy juggles her roles of mother (two human, two ponies, and three doggos), wife, and perpetual amateur in Camden, SC. When not shuttling kids, or riding, she can be found feebly attempting to clean or cook, usually in dirty breeches from an earlier hack. Both she and her daughter enjoy showing on both the local, and A rated, show circuits.
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