Let us discuss!
I grew up in the h/j ring, where ponies were strictly kid’s horses. I can count on one hand the number of times I saw adults on ponies, and usually it was because said pony had been N-A-U-G-H-T-Y at some point, not because the adult actually owned and showed the pony regularly. And if it was in the dreaded 14.3-15.2h range – forget it! No value in a horse that size. These days I don’t know if it’s just that the tide is turning a bit, or if it’s the fact that I’m involved in different sports, but seeing an adult on a pony or hony isn’t a rarity anymore.
While I personally am a bit big for actual ponies, I could totally see myself on something 15h-15.2h. I think it’s great that we’re seeing smaller mounts more regularly for adult riders. After all, how many times have we seen an adult amateur perched atop a giant warmblood that is quite literally way too much horse in every regard?
These days, the quality of the purpose-bred ponies and crosses is so high. Gone are the days of short-legged little demon fluffs who look as if they were made from spare parts and moved like miniature sewing machines. These days the ponies easily rival the warmbloods when it comes to quality gaits and talent.
While the dressage pony/hony breeding has really gotten quite good in this country, the jumper side of things has been slower to grow. I think a lot of people believe that a pony or small horse just couldn’t possibly have the scope and step to rival a horse, but to those people I ask – ever watched the pony jumpers in Europe? Those things can ping around 1.20m like greased lightning, and it’s not at all unheard of for them to make it to 1.30m or 1.40m. Granted, it’s probably slightly more unnerving to approach a bigger fence when said fence is taller than your mount, and some people genuinely do need larger horses. But really, do I have to do anything more than point to Kent Farrington and Creedance to prove the potential positives of a smaller mount?
There has always been a pretty strong, yet niche market for the Connemara in eventing, something they have proven time and time again to excel at. I have to admit, I myself am a big Connemara fan. Someday I’ll own a cross. Preferably buckskin. Not that I’m dreaming or anything (okay, I might be a little obsessed with WH Topgun). They are not always the best movers though, and good ones can be hard to find.
I’ve been thinking about this subject a lot since we saw the pony-sized Usandro in France a few months ago. He is mostly warmblood, and certainly looks just like a warmblood, only shrunken. He gives scope, a good length of step, rideability, and good gaits to his foals. He’s by the horse stallion Sandro Boy, who scored a 10.0 for jumping at his approvals, went on to be a World Cup winner under Marcus Ehning, and sired the Champion of the Holsteiner licensing in Germany this year. His damsire is Welcome Sympatico, who managed compete successfully through 1.55m despite being only 15h. The amount of “jump” in that pedigree is better than most horse stallions in this country. The more I’ve let it ruminate, the more I think he would cross really well with the type of mare base we have in the US and make some really super little horses that could excel at all 3 Olympic disciplines. Spoiler alert – the first three photos in this post are all Usandro offspring in Europe.
What I’ve really been stuck on, though, is how to make a stallion like this appeal to American breeders. The most obvious answer is easy: demand. Riders have to want these horses in order for anyone to produce them. A lot of people seem stuck on the magical 16h minimum requirement. I get that, but there are also plenty of people that could have a lot of success with smaller horses (or ponies), too. How do we encourage that, or get people to take a chance with (and see the value in) a more pint-sized mount? Those are the questions I keep pondering.
Over time I think that these sportponies and honies will continue to gain ground with adult riders. Competitions like the Pony Cup are definitely helping, as is the media attention that a lot of small horses get at competitions. Could a stallion like Usandro find a market here as a sire? Will American riders buy the offspring? And will the prices be enough to actually make it worthwhile to breed them, or will people see a pony and expect it to be cheap? I want to find out.