I was recently asked what I would look for if I was purchasing a trained driving pony for a beginner driver. She also has kids that want to do 4-H so being able to be handled by kids is important to her. She suggested that this would be a good blog post so here it is!! Thank you Emily!!
First off people’s opinions about what a solid, bomb proof pony is can be wildly different. One person would consider a well trained show ring pony to be bomb proof and safe, while another would only consider a pony that has been out in the world, driven in parades, been driven on the road, in mixed company (driven with other ponies and carts and with big horses) and driven out alone – by both adults and children as bomb proof.
So my first question would be where do you want to drive this pony? Do you have any driving experience at all? Do you have riding experience or big horse experience? If the answer is “I only want to show.” Then regardless of the other answers, a show pony that has been driven at shows for several years and placed well in it’s classes is probably going to be work fine. IF you are always driving in an enclosed area. I have found, in my personal experience, that horses trained for the show ring do awesome in the arena. They shine there. They will trot around and around and around tirelessly and be steady Eddies. BUT if you take them outside of the ring, on trails, roads or even in wide open fields, they seem to have a little trouble. Some have a lot of trouble. I am not sharing this to in anyway put down ANY show ring trainers. They put a lot of time and energy into their ponies and totally rock what they do. I am just sharing my experience so someone completely new to driving and horses doesn’t go out and buy a world champion driving pony and expect it to transition to the trail without any issues. Can they be trail drive? Absolutely! They will just take some time and a bit of re-training to be confident on the trails. If you are not familiar with training horses then this may not be the bomb proof pony you are looking for. It’s absolutely in the eye of the beholder here.
If you want to trail drive, road drive, enter a few parades and participate in the show ring at the local level then I would hold out for an aged gelding or mare that has been driving for YEARS and has seen it all. One that has been in parades (and they have video to prove it) one that can hit the trails with others or alone (and they have video to prove it) and one that can confidently handle traffic (and they have video to prove it). Especially if you are going to entrust your children with it. And this part is the biggie – Go drive this pony BEFORE you buy it. Or if you can’t drive it have a trusted friend go take a test drive.
My kids grew up with me training minis, ponies, donkeys and horses to drive. They did NOT ride in the vehicle with the training ponies until we had hit the road many times and they had many miles under their driving saddle. When I knew how they would react to many different things we encountered while on the road (cars, trucks, trucks pulling rattling trailers, tractors, tractors pulling implements, dogs running out barking, horses running the fence line, people riding bikes, people walking, kids running out in the road to see the pony, BALLOONS!!! motorcycles and four wheelers, campers and RVs, the list goes on and on…) then and only then could my kids get in the cart. I had other ponies at home that I would drive with my kids, ones that I had trained and put through the wringer, so to speak, and knew that even if they spooked I had a pretty good chance of keeping things in hand.
And this leads me to my next thought, things will happen. The pony will, someday, get spooked. How they handle that and how you react is what will keep you both safe and the rubber on the road. Starting with a confident bomb proof driving pony will help you build your confidence for when things do go askew while you are out and about. Don’t sit there just waiting for all the bad things to happen, but it’s a good idea to have a plan for what you will do if something does go wrong. This guy is the BOMB when it comes to online classes. I’ve heard he is awesome in person as well and I hope that someday I get to participate in one of his clinics… Andy Marcoux from Coachman’s Delight. Here is a list of his online classes: https://www.coachmansdelight.com/onlineclass/. I highly suggest taking a look and signing up for one or two. And here I am going to ask that you do as I say and not as I do… Please have your kids wear helmets when driving.
So many wonderful memories can be made behind a well broke driving pony. It’s so worth it to take the time and find one that you click with and can build your confidence in the cart. If at all possible work with a trainer local to you that knows about driving horses as well. You may get lucky and they will have a pony you can learn with while you shop!
Please, if you know of really good trainers and/or ponies for sale (from all over the country!) leave a note in the comments! Let’s do some networking here to help others step into the cart and start enjoying their journey.