For the past three weeks, I’ve been helping a friend look for a second pony for her daughter. It sounds like fun – the chance to go horse-shopping without actually spending money – and in some ways, it has been.
In others, it’s been a nightmare. Looking for a horse for an adult rider is difficult enough, but finding one for a friend’s ambitious 13-year-old daughter has been even worse. At times, it was reminiscent of the school shoes scenario that every parent will be familiar with. Mum wants something reliable and sensible, whilst daughter wants something pretty, that can jump: oh, and can it be palomino, please?
Unfortunately, reliable, sensible and flashy don’t often go together, unless you have endless contacts and a bottomless budget. We managed to compromise on the coat colour and after she agreed that she actually felt better on ponies that waited to be asked rather than those that said ‘I’m going,’ life became easier.
Except…there are sellers out there who either have no idea of their ponies’ temperament or stage of schooling or are simply dishonest. First, there was the one whose current owner mysteriously wasn’t there to ride it, though a young man far too old and too big for it was. When we watched what we had been assured was a paragon of virtue buck every time it was asked to canter, we realised that perhaps they had been hoping the extra weight would weigh the pony down.
Then there was the one who went beautifully all the way down the arena, reached the far end, spun and galloped back to the top as fast as his 13.2hh legs would carry him. “Oh dear,” said his owner. “He’s never done that before.”
Perhaps not, but he wasn’t going to get the chance to do it again, either – at least, not with my friend’s daughter on board. We also had the one who lived out all the time, perhaps because he was so difficult to catch and the one who only needed front shoes, possibly because when you tried to pick up his hindleg, he tried to kick you.
When we found what sounded like suitable ponies advertised, my friend rang first and if impressions were favourable, asked if I could make a follow-up call. I politely asked if I could subject the seller to the pony-buying equivalent of the Spanish Inquisition. They were, I said, quite welcome to do the same to me, because that way neither side was wasting the other’s time.
And after several false starts, we found a formidable-sounding lady with a New Forest pony for sale. I grilled her and then she grilled me with equal tenacity. We agreed to meet – and believe me, it was like negotiating a treaty.
Happily, it worked. The pony was everything she said he was: a happy, cheerful chap who wouldn’t set the world alight but had nice balanced paces and no glaring conformation faults. My friend’s daughter fell in love with him as soon as he whinnied to us when he saw us approaching his stable.
The owner insisted she groom him and tack him up, which was great. Pony and child hit it off straight away and five days and a satisfactory pre-purchase vetting report later, my friend fetched him home.
I’m so pleased we found her perfect pony, but so angry that there are sellers out there prepared to tell lies and risk the safety of a child. And guess what? These weren’t dodgy dealers, they were private sellers with children of their own.
Would they be prepared to put their own children at risk? I hope not – but though there’s no such thing as a bombproof pony, I also hope they felt guilty for being prepared to risk the safety of someone else’s child.