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Only Useless Adults Ride Ponies.
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Only Useless Adults Ride Ponies.

Horse and Hound recently ran a special edition dedicated to ponies and asking why more adults are now riding ponies. My question is why adults who choose to ride ponies seem to find themselves at the end of some very patronising attitudes. Has anyone else encountered this?

I realise that being so baby-faced is part of my problem. Being small, blonde and female undoubtedly doesn't help. When I was teaching, parents used to look distinctly concerned at the idea that I was responsible for their kids. At 18, I looked about 14. In my twenties, people used to come to the yard and ask for 'whoever's in charge'. When I cheerily said 'Yes, that's me.' they used to actually look past me and ask 'Are you covering for the day? When is the usual boss back?' I won't see my twenties again and people are still taken aback to discover I'm in charge. At our last work meeting the new girl thought I was on work placement. Horses are not my job any more. These days at work, people stop doubting my competence very quickly, especially when they gain some familiarity. Ironically, when it comes to horses, the opposite seems to be true. Perceptions of my ability seem to deteriorate as I get older.

Here's the thing. I've always had a passion for Connemara ponies. Being petite but strong, I've always had the luxury of being able to ride whatever I like. When I was young, I was often asked to school small ponies. Needless to say, it was valuable experience. I'll never make the Super League but I developed a decent capacity to hold on for dear life and achieve a good level of schooling. I held my own and rarely felt patronised.

By contrast, in spite of considerably more experience in later years I've felt almost constantly undermined. There seems to be an automatic and unshakeable assumption that I must be inexperienced or incompetent if I choose to keep a 14.1hh pony. It's compounded by the fact that my wee mare is so civil and reliable. Now, I might be able to forgive this misconception if it weren't for the fact that nobody seems to revise their opinion when they get to know me. I don't feel the need to recite my CV but obviously information comes out as you get to know people. It doesn't seem to click with people that since I've had Molly from a foal, the fact that she's so cooperative and well schooled might be because I put the work in. Do they think she was born that way?

The owner of my current livery yard repeatedly tells me 'she's a child's pony'. She jumps 1.10m and doesn't have to be asked twice when she gets an opportunity to let rip, so I don't see why she can't be a fun ride for an adult too. Others have ridden her and then proceeded to tell me, with some surprise and as if I don't already know, that she is actually very sensitive and well schooled. Just because she's bombproof doesn't mean she's a plod! One girl went as far as to tell me how to ask Molly to leg yield. Seriously, who do they think taught her in the first place? Someone else told me they didn't think my younger sister should ride her because 'her mouth is very soft'. I pointed out that my sister learned to ride on Molly and that is probably why she is now so light and sensitive in her hands. They didn't have an answer for that.

Why do we always seem to automatically assume that riders of boisterous, spirited or 'difficult' horses are more competent?  Evidently some horses are genuinely a handful and require skilled riding but we rarely seem to consider the possibility that such behaviour is the result of poor handling, bad riding or lack of schooling. I firmly believe that simply being able to stay on doesn't make a person an effective rider. I've seen some atrocious riders sit through that their own bad riding has provoked. On the other hand, we assume that well behaved ponies are just plods and their riders inexperienced or ineffective. Just because it's sensible doesn't make it boring and it certainly doesn't reflect badly on the adult rider, in spite of the condescension I frequently experience. When we see well behaved children, we don't assume they have no personalities. When we see a spoiled brat throw a tantrum in public, we don't admire the parenting skills as the parents eventually persuade, bribe, cajole or physically coerce the child into getting off the supermarket floor. Why, then do so many of us take the opposite attitude to horses and their riders?

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  1. PonyGirl
    PonyGirl
    I love your post. It made a very good point while being a fun read. I'm looking forward to more from you.
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    1. Jane
      I haven't been on the site long but I have read and voted on your posts. The one about the ideal weight ratio of rider to horse particularly caught my attention, I was equally irritated about the limitations of the research. So I'm one of your followers now :-) Thank you for the comment, if you thought this was a fun read have a look at the others. You have to see the funny side when you work with horses and I especially like to write about the memories that made me laugh!
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      1. PonyGirl
        PonyGirl
        Thanks, Jane. I did read your other posts and thoroughly enjoyed them and voted. You're really a good writer. I haven't been writing anything lately, since I work 12-14 hours a day during racing season. Writing is still a challenge for me, and it takes me forever to get a piece out. I've been trying to think of subjects to write on once the meet is over though. I'm also following you now, so I'm sure I'll be seeing more of your delightful posts soon.
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  2. spirithorserider
    spirithorserider
    Oh, sweetie, I am so with you on this one. I do not understand this thinking -- that riding a pony (a good pony even more) is somehow less than riding a horse that might or might not be well-behaved. A woman I knew years ago had a pony. My friend was not terribly small, in her early 30s, but she was slight and under 5'5". She had a less than 14 HH middle-aged grey pony that was absolutely bombproof, but had plenty of go. My friend's very first dressage show was a Cool August Nights show in Los Angeles -- quite a big dressage show and she not only won her class, but got high point her first time out. I have lost touch with her, but I hope she kept that wonderful pony forever. That boy gave my friend supreme confidence to move on and become an even more accomplished rider. I now live in Northwest Montana where the working cowboy spirit is still alive (though I myself prefer to ride dressage). There are lots and lots of small working horses up here that would be classified as ponies as they are 14.2 and under, even though their breeding says otherwise. I don't think anyone up here thinks any less of anyone for the size of their horse, though my pinto draft cross mare is 16.3 (who I raised from a foal) and she gets more than her fair share of surprised looks at her size and sometimes looks of pure envy from the 6-foot-plus foot riders who might like something to fit them better. Also, ponies can be some of the toughest critters to ride and train because they are so very smart. I think people who train ponies well are a rare breed. And people discounting your abilities and knowledge because of appearances? I'm quite familiar with that one. For one thing, you can't really figure someone one knows or doesn't know anything beacuse of age. You don't know their experience. To assume something makes an "ass" out of "u" and "me." Also, something I Iearned over the years is that the best horseman often don't look like they're doing a thing, and yet the horses get beautifully trained. I've actually had people say I couldn't have done any training on my horses because, well, I didn't do anything. I had one person actually say to my face my horse just "came trained" even though I raised her and did all of her training, except her very first few rides. My husband has noticed it over the years and gets very bent out of shape because of people making assumptions, but I've learned to ignore people. The best revenge is to just keep riding well and making happy, well-trained, confident horses.
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    1. Jane
      Apparently we have very similar thinking, I agree about the best revenge- I love it when my mare shows up the horses around her. I have generally learned to let the attitudes go over my head but now and again something happens that makes me frustrated, you probably get that too! I also fully agree about ponies being so very smart, that's what my other 2 posts on this site are about in fact. Ponies have an edge that horses don't have, something that's very hard to put your finger on but it's there. I've actually had people criticise my mare from head to foot and then try to buy her from me for buttons. As if I don't realise that she is very obviously well bred and well made. I've also turned down a lot of money for her on other occasions, she's with me for life. She's not one in a million she's simply one of a kind and we'd never part with her. When you look like you're doing nothing but turning out good horses, it can wind up people who are achieving little. So other people can say what they like, it wouldn't be the first time I thought someone was just jealous.
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      1. spirithorserider
        spirithorserider
        Let them be jealous. Let your knowledge and abilities make them uncomfortable. Let them underestimate you because at some point they're going to find out just what you know and what you can do, and they will have one of those "Aha!" moments and maybe be just a little embarassed at how they've discounted you. Just do what the new meme says "Keep Calm and Ride On." Keep up the good work.
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        1. Jane
          I love watching the 'Aha!' moments, revenge can be sweet lol. Thanks for the encouragement though, it's always good to know that there are others on the same page even if they don't happen to be near you.
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  3. jst4horses
    Good post. The most important part is the assumptions people make, and their willingness to correct you. I recently had a stable move. I had some men bring in several truck loads of tack, etc, which had gotten water soaked and muddy, and had also cleaned a storage room of two classrooms filled with academic school books, art items, a sewing class, and cooking class to go to the new program where we would have a classroom big enough to house all the classes for high risk youth and veterans and their families. A woman came up to help with the move since I am very disabled and the program director was in hospital with emergency cancer surgery on her spinal column. She brought another woman with her. That woman asked to use the bathroom in my son's house where I live. She was kind enough to write a huge ugly email about the "hoarding" in my son's house. I am now not allowed to bring anyone in, and he gave me a few days to clean all that tack and sort all that school material and get it out of his house. I had been hit by two kids racing and broke my back, and one hip, both knees and both upper legs were still in physical therapy and old injuries from a truck accident on the freeway and six months of radiation from my own cancer treatment had harmed one of the hips and my intestines. I was not even supposed to live through those intestine damages. This woman's suppositions and email harmed our program and infuriated my son, who has been helping support this program for some years since we do not charge the youth or the veterans anything at all. There was a major global minister this week who was discussing the need by many "religious" persons to always correct everyone else..........there are a lot of non-religious persons who appear to enjoy this hobby as well.
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    1. Jane
      That's atrocious behaviour. Assumptions are a dangerous game for all concerned and it annoys me when people fail to show any sort of consideration for the way their attitudes/ behaviour affect others. My Daddy used to say 'if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all'. So many people not only make assumptions but then make judgements based on them. It's so frustrating and it took me a long time to learn that their criticism says more about them than it does about me. Keep going with the good work you're doing, at the end of the day that's what is important and that's what people will remember. It's amazing that you are still doing so much when you have been through so much although I think it's those who have had difficulties in life who are ultimately more compassionate.
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