Pony Selection, Training and Condition Ponies or small horses used for pony rides should be at least 4 1/2 years old, and must be trained, desensitized, and seasoned so that they are accustomed to crowd, ring and ride conditions.
Never use stallions, mares when in season, or those that have bad habits or vices such as jumping and shying at sharp noises or movements, are head-strong when led, biting, kicking, running away, rearing up, balking, pulling back when tied, stumbling or lying down.
Granted, all horses (ponies) will take these actions at some time, but they should have no history of these problems being habitual and they should be well trained so as not to exhibit such behavior.
One of the greatest problems of training ponies is that they are often too small for a proficient adult to mount and train, so much training must be done from the ground and with a small rider participating in some of the training.
Nonetheless, ponies used for rides should be as “bomb proof” as it is possible for a pony to be.
Ponies should always appear and be healthy, well groomed, well fed, well treated, and not over-worked.
Also, be mindful that the more high profile your operation becomes, the greater the chance it will be scrutinized by animal welfare and animal rights organizations. by Linda Liestman Equipment In relation to safety and public image, your equipment is the next most important consideration after having suitable ponies.
You, your staff, your equipment, and your ponies should look well groomed and be attractive, setting forth a public image that says, “We care, and we want our customers to have a safe and enjoyable experience.” Many operators provide uniform clothing of the same type and color so those staff members can be easily identified.
Your equipment can be plain or fancy, but for commercial use your equipment must be of high quality, properly assembled, and maintained in excellent condition at all times.
This means frequently checking equipment prior to and during use to avoid equipment failure.
Many operators develop a checklist and procedure for this. “Must Have” safety equipment includes the following: • Portable Fencing: Pony rides should always be given inside of a small fenced enclosure, usually of a dimen- BETTER BUSINESS sion that is from around 40 feet across up to one-half acre in size.
Low and / or flimsy fencing is not suitable for this.
The confinement fencing is intended to provide a solid, sturdy control barrier that will deter adults and children from just running up to the ponies, and also to provide a strong “mental” and physical barrier to contain the ponies.
If a pony should escape from a handler’s grip, they will be closely contained and more easily caught.
The fencing should be strong enough that if a person tries to stand on it, it will not be damaged or collapse.
Likewise, if a pony pushes up against the fence, there should also be no danger of it collapsing.
The fencing should be between three feet eight inches to five feet in height.
The enclosure should have clearly marked entry and exit points, with a gate that closes and secures or latches shut and can be controlled easily by your staff.
At this time, the most suitable fencing is four, five, or six rung horizontal welded pipe fencing, or gate panels, that can be bolted together.
Panels should be heavy enough to be free-standing when it cannot be staked down, such as when set up on pavement. (I have also seen metal panels with vertical bars that are suitable.) When purchasing the panels, be sure to choose a length that can be easily handled by two people.
Once erected, the fence should be free from sharp points or projections, and all staking ropes, stakes or other semi-hazardous but necessary features should all be clearly marked with orange tape or ribbon, flags, or signs that warn people about their existence. (See Illustration 1) • Footing Material: You should always evaluate the footing, drainage, and cleanliness conditions.
Setting up on a paved lot can pose different problems than setting up on a sand or clay lot, or on a picture-perfect lawn you don’t want to damage.
The addition of wood shavings and other added footing materials may be considered, so long as you can remove the material completely when done.
Ponies can sometimes be shod in ways that keep them from sliding on certain surfaces. • Saddles and Other Tack: Saddles and all other tack should be in excellent condition.
Pony ride tack, ie, saddles, lead lines, and halters or cavessons should have fittings (snaps, rings, metal parts) that are made preferably of durable brass or steel, not of white metal (also sometimes called “pot metal”).
White metal breaks more easily and cannot be repaired.
All tack should be cleaned and / or oiled frequently and should be checked daily for wear, breakage, loose stitching, and other repair needs.
Do not use equipment that is in need of repair.
If equipment is in need of repair, be sure it is marked and tagged as such, and that it is removed immediately so it cannot be used by mistake.
Cinches, halters, and lead lines made of woven nylon or cotton webbing should be checked for breakage, tears, and frays and should probably be replaced every year or when they fade in color.
Saddles should be strongly constructed and preferably made of good quality leather.
Over the past 20 years I have been amazed to see cheap saddles constructed out of low grade plastics, fabric, and even of cardboard materials.
Ponies and horses are very strong and powerful, and they need to be handled and ridden with equipment that is strong and durable.
This becomes doubly important when horses are a business.
Saddles should be of a size that fits the pony who will wear it, and it should be properly fitted and padded so that long wear on a pony’s back will not cause them pain or irritation.
This is far from a pure science, as there are many saddle-fitting variables.
But, you still should consider the shape of the pony’s barrel, back, and withers when selecting a saddle.
A saddle can fit a pony differently if the pony loses or gains weight, and will depend to some degree on the thickness and type of saddle blankets placed under the saddle.
Lowering of the head and stretching of the neck while standing or walking, and sometimes hunching of the back can be early signs that a saddle may be hurting or pinching the pony.
Hand and finger pressure to the pony’s back can help assess if a saddle is causing soreness.
Try different blankets or apply foam pieces under the saddle either in the front or the back to see if you can ease saddle-fitting problems for your ponies.
Saddle girth / cinch width should be from 3 1/2 to 7 inches in width, as wider cinches can help to stabilize saddles.
Many children will be riding with tennis shoes, in lieu of boots, and a phenomenon these days is that children seem to develop larger feet earlier in life.
Because of this, you may need to replace the stirrups that are on the saddles when you acquire them.
Stirrups need to be wide enough that a foot cannot become caught in the stirrup, but not so wide that a foot can go all the way through. “Train” the stirrup leathers so those stirrups will twist outward to better accommodate a foot pointing forward.
Some do this by wetting the stirrup leathers, and while the saddle is on a rack will twist the stirrups backward and Illustration 1 The most suitable portable fencing appears to be four, five or six rung horizontal welded fencing, or gate panels, that can be bolted together.
Gate panels can be purchased at farm stores, and from other commercial suppliers, and some metal workers.
This photo example is of one panel, provided courtesy of John Lyons Round Pens™.
More information about this product can be found on-line at: www.johnlyons.com or by calling 970-285-9797 ext. 110. BETTER BUSINESS insert a broom handle through both stirrups.
Over time with repeated applications, this works quite well.
There is no perfect rule concerning safest possible stirrups.
Official safety testing of stirrups has not been done. “Breakaway” stirrups, though expensive, can be considered.
One type of breakaway stirrup will actually unhinge if a rider falls off and the angle of the stirrup will trip the hinge mechanism.
Also, well-designed hooded stirrups (with tapaderros) can be considered.
The latter can potentially keep a nonbooted foot from slipping all the way through and becoming caught in the stirrup.
However, the design is important or these could potentially cause more harm than good.
If the stirrup hood or tapaderro does not flare forward enough, the child’s toes may only be able to rest on the stirrup base and this provides little security.
For best security, the foot should move forward enough so that the ball of the foot can rest on the stirrup base.
The tapaderro must also allow enough room so that a thickly soled, wide tennis shoe toe cannot wedge tightly into the tapaderro opening and become caught.
Another potential design problem is that the area from the stirrup base to the base of the tapaderro should be closed so that a toe pointing downward cannot become caught between the stirrup and bottom of the tapaderro.
The saddles should also fit the children as well as possible.
Sometimes a child cannot insert his feet into the stirrups when the stirrups are adjusted closest for the child’s leg length or if the child’s foot is too large for the stirrup.
Under such circumstances, it is perhaps safer to leave the child’s feet out of the stirrups and have a staff “spotter” walk alongside the pony to watch and assist them, if necessary.
Don’t be tempted to add a second set of stirrups that dangle down from the top of the saddle and / or are attached to the saddle horn for smaller children to use. (Yes, they are out there!) These stirrups are simply not stable enough, nor would they place the legs adequately under the child’s body.
And also do not be tempted to insert a child’s foot into the leather loop that holds the stirrup onto the fender, so that the foot would rest on the top of the stirrup.
This is simply too dangerous a practice; yet, I know of it being done. (See Illustration 2) It is my opinion that western saddles are best because children can hold onto the horn for security.
In addition, western saddles do not roll to the side as easily as “English saddles” will, and stirrups do not swing forward as easily.
Rough side out, or suede leather seats are also advised if one can find them.
Also, I caution against attaching extra straps or loops to the saddle for a child to hold onto – anything extra that could wind around and “hang up” a little hand. It is highly questionable if a child going on a fiveminute ride should be able to hold reins that are actually attached to a curb bit in a pony’s mouth.
The staff handler, not the child rider, should be in complete control of the pony.
If you choose to have the pony wear a bridle with bit and reins, snaffle bits should be considered because a sharp direct pull on a snaffle by a child will usually cause little or no reaction from the pony.
Such reins should be “closed” or tied together.
Side reins, while often used for lunge lessons and vaulting with older youth and adults, may also be considered as they keep a pony from dropping his head and neck and bending too much.
However, side reins are not often used for hand-led pony rides.
If side reins are used, it is important that a pony is well trained to them in advance, and the potential for a child to get caught in a side rein must also be factored into an emergency plan.
I would not lead a pony with reins and bit.
Ponies are best led with either a cavesson, or with a strong halter having brass or steel fittings with an obedience chain over the nose as described later in this article under the heading “Leading The Pony.” Not many people are aware of this method, but it is worth considering.
Most pony handlers depend upon the training of the pony and simple halter and lead line for leading security and safety, but I would want more control available. • Protective Headgear: When riders fall from a horse, laws of physics allow that a certain percentage will land on their heads.
It can happen oftener with chil- Illustration 2 It is the author’s opinion that western saddles are best for pony rides.
The saddle horn will provide a primary means of security for the child. BETTER BUSINESS dren because their heads are large in proportion to their bodies.
You want to avoid having a child fall, of course.
But, if it happens, you will want to mitigate the potential for head injury.
A properly fitted and secured riding helmet is the best remedy.
SEI CERTIFIED ASTM STANDARD F ll63 EQUESTRIAN HELMETS (hereafter referred to as SEI ASTM Eq.
Helmet) have been in existence since 1989.
This standard of helmet has proven to reduce the potential of the wearer to incur head injuries and even death if they have a blow to the head.
Today, these helmets are reasonably priced, they fit well, and are available in sizes, fittings, and color patterns for children.
Pony ride operators should not provide a ride for any child rider without having the child wear a properly secured and fitted SEI ASTM Eq.Helmet. (An exception may apply to riders with certain types disabilities.
Refer to section of this article on disabled riders.) When buying helmets be sure the SEI ASTM F 1163 labeling is inside the helmet and look for the manufacture date there also.
Do not use bicycle, fashion style equestrian helmets, or other helmets, as they do not provide the same protection as a SEI ASTM Eq.Helmet.
This means, of course, that the pony ride operator will need to provide, maintain, fit and secure the helmets on the children’s heads, preferably with the assistance of the attending parent or guardian.
The operator needs to purchase newly made helmets, because helmets must be replaced when five years old, that is, five years past the manufacture date as stated on the label inside the helmet.
A helmet should be replaced earlier if it has received a sharp blow or if it shows any damage or wear to any part.
Helmets should be kept clean, and they may be disinfected and cleaned only according to care instructions that come with the helmet.
Some disinfectants can quickly break down plastics and damage the integrity of the helmet.
Some parents may be concerned about head lice.
Some operators place coffee filters or some similar material on the child’s head first and then the helmet over it.
Cleaning the helmets, checking them after each use, and offering a protective cover should usually put a parent’s mind at rest.
I always think though that head lice are curable, a head injury may not be.
Vehicle Rides, the Pony Ride business is one of the highest risk horse business activities that exists.
At $800 to $1,500 per year, buying liability insurance may seem like a fairly substantial initial outlay for a small business.
However, if something went wrong and a child was injured, the investment could seem very small by comparison to the expense of defending you and possibly paying a settlement in a legal challenge.
Just be sure that your insurance agent understands exactly what you are doing, and that your liability policy specifically states that it insures pony rides, in addition to reading any equine related exclusion the policy contains.
Keep in mind that your general liability policy will not cover bodily injury incurred by you the operator, your employees, volunteers, or family members.
If you compensate your helpers in any way, they are considered to be employees, and therefore your state will likely require you to carry worker compensation insurance.
To not provide this coverage may be a serious violation of employee labor laws, and the state can potentially force you to pay for all the employee’s medical and disability expenses, in addition to assessing you with fines and legal problems.
Also, if you use volunteers who are not immediate family members, the volunteers should also be covered by worker compensation.
Family member helpers should at least be insured under a good major medical plan, but usually may also be covered by worker compensation.
If you purchase a worker compensation policy, you the operator usually may also declare to be covered under the policy at the time it is put in force.
When working with horses, the employee injury exposure is high enough that you should not consider going bare of this coverage. Providing The Ride Preferably with the assistance of the parent, guardian, or child care provider, a riding helmet should be fitted and secured to a child’s head prior to them entering the ring and getting near a pony.
A maximum rider’s weight for small ponies is 100 pounds, and for larger ponies, 125 pounds.
The pony should be appropriate for the size of the rider [and stirrups adjusted] so that the rider’s legs will be under the rider’s body and the feet to reach at least half-way down the pony’s sides.
Some operators enforce maximum and minimum height measurements.
Read more about (I have also seen metal panels with vertical bars that are suitable: