If comments on social media are to be believed, cobs and native ponies are the new must-haves. Those of us who cottoned on to their ability, versatility and unbeatable characters are feeling rather smug – and wondering what took the rest of you so long to catch up.
Everywhere you look, adult riders are giving their 17hh warmbloods the heave-ho and turning to chunky pocket rockets. There are exceptions, of course: I don’t expect we’ll see Charlotte Dujardin trotting down a Grand Prix centre line on a Connemara, or William Fox-Pitt powering cross-country on a cob.
Then again, how many people ride to their standard and at that level? We might dream about it, but that’s as far as it goes. What most of us really want is a four-legged friend who is fun to ride, doesn’t cost a fortune to keep and can turn a hoof to most things.
When I can afford it, I have lessons with a List 1 dressage judge. When he first met my horse, he nicknamed him Supercob, a label which stuck and which he lives up to. I’m ashamed to admit that I bought him thinking he’d be safe for my husband to hack out with me on my Connemara, not realising how lucky I was that his previous owner had also underestimated him.
She sold him because she wanted a ‘proper dressage horse.’ The 16.3hh warmblood who took over his stable looked the business and frightened her to death, whilst 15hh Supercob proved that with schooling, he could twinkle his toes – OK, soup plates – to the extent that we can hold our own in Novice and Elementary dressage. And when I let my husband have a look-in, we hack past rural hazards that reduce many horses to nervous breakdowns.
Ponies are just as talented. A friend who started eventing on her 14.1hh Connemara won her first two pre-novice events and qualified for the BE100 Grassroots final at Badminton. He’s now 18 but doesn’t want to retire: instead, he’s being ridden by a featherweight ten-year-old and she regularly shows adult rivals on big horses that behind their ‘Aaah factor’ lies a killer competitive instinct.
Don’t be worried that you’ll look stupid. A deep-bodied cob or native pony takes up the longest leg and whilst you obviously have to consider the weight factor for a pony, a 14hh-plus mountain and moorland with good conformation will take most adults of average size and a good 15hh cob will be even more forgiving.
They aren’t necessarily a doddle to ride, but they are usually intelligent and brave. Don’t assume that every cob will be a saint on four legs and don’t forget the saying that you should tell a gelding, ask a mare, discuss it with a stallion – and pray when it’s a pony.
But if you’re counting the pennies and want to put the fun back into your riding, perhaps down-sizing could increase your enjoyment. Sometimes, the best things come in small packages.