It’s the clichéd request of every stereotypical over-privileged child that has been jaded by holidays or birthdays filled with mediocre toys like Playstations, Hoverboards, and iPods. But, please hear me out: I am about to make a very convincing case for buying a kid that pony.
I am not necessarily talking about the version of buying a pony that considers whether the pony was top 10 in the model and hack at Pony Finals and a stake winner at Devon. I am talking in the old school version of buying a pony where a show record is largely irrelevant as long as that pony is serviceable, cleans up ok, and does its job (most of the time). I am not necessarily talking about the “high six figures, serious inquiries only,” but perhaps the recently outgrown packer at the barn that can take a kid from Short Stirrup to Childrens’ and maybe even get him or her started in The Division (of course with no expectation that said pony can get the steps, or any ribbons).
Ownership of a pony encourages kids to take ownership of many other aspects of their young worlds, and develop life skills that will serve them well in the real world: So many life lessons can be learned from ponies, like:
– How to get back up after (a lot of) falls;
– Persistence can pay off, like (maybe) getting a lead change after the 98th ask;
– Sometimes that apparent barrier can be broken through after all, just like the brick wall that was the “out” of an in-and-out;
– Time management (because, you know, horse shows always run on time and adhere to a tight schedule). Joking aside, riding is a sport that requires time for preparation as well as execution, and preparation means taking responsibility for and care of another living being (that happens to be incredibly needy); and
– Determination, drive, and grit, because Lord knows nothing else is going to get a pony over 8 jumps in a row when that pony is convinced he’s done and owed a meal after 1.
In all seriousness, riding – and in particular, riding ponies – requires focus, strength, grace, determination, and dedication. You get out of it what you put in and owning a pony means a kid will be putting in a lot of hours (yes, sometimes it may seem like too many) at the barn. As much as my own parents often complained about the early mornings, late nights, long weekends, and overall time commitment riding required, they are to this day appreciative of all of the life skills I gained in the saddle and at the barn. And, not that I was a trouble-maker, but lessons and horse shows early weekend mornings certainly kept me away from any trouble that would have otherwise been available.
Riding is more than a hobby, it is every bit a sport, and a challenging one. It forces a rider to use body and mind to communicate and negotiate with a strong and often inflexible teammate to accomplish a goal. Few sports require as much strength and few athletes are as tough as riders. Despite the athletic challenge of riding, it is a lifetime sport. It might not be the sport that gets your kid a full ride to the college of his or her dreams, but it is one that most colleges offer, and that your kid will enjoy long after moving out of the dorms.
Perhaps one of the greatest aspects of our sport is there is no such thing as “everybody wins.” I am one of those parents that disagrees with ‘no keeping score’ and ‘everyone gets a prize.” Ponies always “keep score” and with limited exception, horse shows do not hand out “participation awards” (unless you count your bill as an “award,” because everyone gets one of those). Even at the most junior levels, riders are judged and ranked. Sure, every Devon lead-liner gets a lollipop, but only one is awarded the coveted Devon blue. Self-esteem killer? Not with proper guidance and management of expectations. Incentive? Absolutely.
Finally, riding instructors are among the toughest and strongest-willed out there but can also be your kid’s greatest role model and cheerleader. They do not coddle their students – quite the opposite. Riding instructors are people to whom your kid will (should) feel accountable, as they may someday have to be with an employer.
Ponies are not cheap, neither are riding or horse shows. But the lessons and memories gleaned through pony-ownership are invaluable and everlasting. So, next time you hear “Please buy me a pony,” consider it a far more sound investment in your kid and your kid’s future than anything the Apple Store or Amazon have to offer.