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Buying a pony - the fun and the finance

While a simple DON'T is undoubtedly the best advice you will ever get, it is every little girl's (and some bigger ones) dream to own their very own horse. Imagine the rosy picture of a loveable pony trotting up in the field to whiffle at you and stick his nose obligingly into his smart red halter before jumping his way to glory at the Pony Club Open! The reality, however, will be learning what under-the-tail wipes are for, hours of work in the icy dawn winds and a terrifying drain on your budget, which you will have hugely underestimated (probably in an attempt to persuade reluctant Dad that this is a really, really good idea which will keep little Millie out of the house for hours while the football's on.) Double, or treble, the first estimate you come up with of costs. Three years' livery for a pony is probably going to cost you as much as a a new car. Put off yet? Probably not, so -

First catch your horse: not cheap (in Sept 2004 I've just been quoted 2400 for a cob or similar -a showjumper would cost 1000s more) but this is nothing compared to its maintenance costs. There are, as you might imagine, pitfalls involved in finding a suitable pony, and here are some phrases which I've come across in private advertisements worthy of the best parliamentary spin-doctors:

  • Once caught, will come willingly (does that suggest to you long chilly chases around a field on a cold winter's morning helplessly waving a bridle? Remember these creatures were born to outrun tigers and win the Grand National. With one stride to every ten of yours the pony will keep just out of reach for ages and will still be frisky after hours of fun.)
  • Very forward going - good in open parks - bolts like the clappers at the drop of a hat
  • Bold jumper - recklessly leaps over anything in sight - the horse will probably get over ok - you may not.
  • Unspoiled - no-one's managed to catch it yet
  • Careful jumper - stops dead in front of the jump in alarm
  • And of course the ever suspicious not novice ride

If, like us, you know little about what to look for, you will probably have to rely on a reputable private dealer who will keep an ear to the ground for a suitable pony (the owner of the riding school my daughter attends recommended the dealer she buys her own ponies from for use in the school.)

Once the pony's found, you then have some decisions to make - where to keep it being the most pressing. Few of us wake in the morning to a view of our own parkland, and no-one I know has suddenly come across a stable they never noticed before in their back garden, like Jill in the excellent Ruby Ferguson books - "But where shall I keep him?" "Why, Jill, just go and look carefully in that corner of your garden - pull away that rotting vegetation over there!" "Ohhhhh!"

If, like most of us, you have no facilities, you will have to hire grazing land from a local farmer (preferably within safe cycling distance for Millie) and some sort of shelter/stable too. If Millie's going to be cycling there twice daily then she won't be able to carry the tack on her bike, so a storage room is handy. Of course there must be fresh water and electricity somewhere around too. Add to this the everyday drudgery of caring for a horse (it eats and defecates 365 days a year, yes, even on Christmas Day when someone has to stay sober to drive Millie there if cycling is out.)

This is obviously much cheaper than paying for someone else to care for the pony. Millie will have much more contact with it and will certainly get her fill of the animal-care she probably assures you she craves
Where will she be riding it, though? Round and round the field will soon lose its appeal. Are there safe roads around to get to hacking areas? How will she jump? The field may not come equipped with jumping poles or anything suitable to use - Jill, of course, was a dab hand at knocking up her own course from handy brushwood and a lick of paint

The easier, and pricier, option is to have the pony liveried at the riding stables.

  • Full livery, where the horse is cared for completely by the stable staff, is very expensive indeed, but of course offers complete peace of mind and the horse is always available for you to ride.
  • DIY livery - the horse is accommodated and fed, but day to day care, mucking out, grooming, etc, is entirely down to you. The cheapest livery option.
  • Working livery - a common arrangement where the horse is accommodated and fed as per full livery, but used in the stable's riding lessons whenever the owner chooses. You can undertake any care you wish, eg at weekends and in the school holidays, and may ride the pony if not being used or too tired. This generally works out very well as most stables don't have lessons every day and will not use yours so often that you can't ride it fairly often.

Working livery is less expensive than full livery (though still very expensive - I have just been quoted, in Sept 2004, 230 a month) but the disadvantage is that Millie may not feel the pony is entirely 'hers' and may not have her choice of riding time on the days the school is busiest. On the other hand the stables will have safe areas to ride, jumps available, and the pony will be fed, kept clean and exercised even when you are on holiday.

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updated 15-May-2005 7:43 PM