Ponies are particularly crafty. Obviously, horses can be difficult and unpredictable too, but ponies just seem to have that edge of subtle deviousness that most horses don't have. It's not that they are more intelligent, just that their smaller size apparently comes with a gene that also carries an impish aspect. Of course, there are a few in which the gene stays dormant.
However, it can generally be observed in all its glory in the average riding school. Riding school ponies are a breed apart. They may have the reputation of being boring plods, but if you want to see a higher than normal concentration of equine quirks, head for your local riding school. School ponies quickly learn every way to take advantage of their inexperienced riders. Their avoidance tactics are phenomenal. That's not to say they are all horrible, most of us will have fond memories of the riding school ponies that started us off. Most of them are fairly patient and tolerant, otherwise they wouldn't be school ponies. Perhaps the reason many of their tactics aren't always evident to riders is because the staff, in full knowledge of the favourite strategies of the four legged employees, pair them up with riders least likely to provoke said strategies.
Let's be honest though, you can remember some pretty mischievous tricks and you're smiling thinking about it. They pick up every trick in the book, from evasive tactics to escape artist expertise that make Houdini look like a birthday party magician. They are con artists whose strategic manoeuvring would do the secret service proud. The most bombproof, seemingly cooperative pony has hidden veins of deception and stubbornness that surface when you least expect it. Like the school sweetheart we had who took a dislike to a particular farrier for no discernible reason and sat down like a dog to avoid getting his hind feet trimmed. Another one lay down and played dead when the clippers were turned on. And yes, he did always lie on the same side. Short of resisting to a cattle prod, nothing was going to shift him. The only thing guaranteed to get him up (other than turning off the clippers) was to try to turn him over. Then he stood up and immediately lay down again. The exasperation he inspired is unimaginable.
We had one cob that knocked down every tiny cross pole and kicked every pole on the ground. It wasn't for lack of ability. Every time he was turned out he cleared the six bar gate at the top of the gallops to be with the sheep on the other side. The same sheep that he spooked at if you led him past them, although he didn't look twice if he had a rider on board. In the end we gave up and just put him straight in there. On the other hand, he was the most pleasant, reliable character with small children and was completely voice activated when it came to groundwork. You could perch toddlers on him knowing that he would baby-step around the arena and follow every command from whoever stood in the middle. Kids could catch, lead and load him like a puppy. There was just no point whatsoever in pointing him at a pole. Any pole. Not even a single one on the ground. He would deliberately kick it with every foot as he walked over it and then proceed to pick his way down a seemingly impassable stony bank with all the dexterity of a mountain goat to get out of the 'starvation paddock' in the summer.
Evidently there are some issues that can be resolved with schooling and a bit of firm discipline. Others, however, will never be eliminated. The bottom line is the old dealers' adage that every horse (or pony) is good for something. It's a matter of making the most of their strengths and accepting their foibles in the knowledge that none of us are perfect. Not to mention retaining some calm and humility in the face of the obvious fact that you have just been outwitted by a four-legged midget and there's nothing you can do about it. Ponies definitely have something that horses (with some exceptions) lack. Personally, I think it's a sense of humour.