Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dressage and sport ponies are here!

As a tall person I always envied the smaller riders who could sit on a horses of all different sizes -- including ponies -- without looking silly. With all of the soundness issues and the higher prices associated with big horses, why would anyone buy a horse that is larger than they need? It's true that warmbloods, who tend to be large, have big gaits. If you think ponies can't have big gaits, take a look at this video:

The popularity of ponies
Sport ponies are growing in popularity -- this trend is established in Europe and relatively new in the U.S. What brought this about? Some insights (synthesized from info in the resource list below), are here...
  • Some very popular ponies, like dressage legend Seldom Seen from years back, set the stage for this trend. Teddy O'Connor brought ponies to the forefront of eventing -- a tough sport by any standard -- and raised awareness of pony power.
  • Lendon Gray, a long-time pony admirer and founder of dressage4kids, has promoted ponies in sport. Through her efforts (and I lot of other folks I'm sure), an All-Pony Dressage Show was be held in Saugerties, New York this year.
  • American riders are getting smarter. Instead of buying a "big warmblood" for competition, we look at what animals are best suited to our physique and abilities. Dressage is a sport made up of (mostly) female amateur riders, many of whom are less than 5 6" tall. Few amateurs who cannot devote hours in the saddle and at the gym to develop the powerful seat needed to control a larger warmblood. Ponies are more controllable/maneuverable, their gaits are more rideable, and they're closer to the ground!
  • Riding big warmbloods with giant gaits isn't just a matter of talent. A small rider on an enormous horse will have trouble sitting the gaits and influencing the animal because smaller riders don't have as much absorption in the angles of the knees and hips and elbows as a longer person (Practical Horseman, Jan 2003).
  • Dressage judges are more open-minded than people give them credit for -- whether a pony or a non-traditional breed, they do reward a well-matched horse and rider pair. The USDF programs train judges to focus on quality of movement with reference to the individual animal's size and build.
  • Major organizations like the USEF and USDF have embraced the "small is beautiful" trend in equine partners. There are awards programs, pony-specific classes, tests, and competitions, and even a handbook for competitors on ponies.

Some pony types and terms
The term sport pony is rather general, but one definition is a pony is 14.2 hands or less in height with the conformation, movement, rideability and type to excel in the Olympic equestrian disciplines of dressage, jumping, eventing and combined driving.

The term riding pony is used to refer to as show ponies, generally, but many regions/countries use the term to refer to breeds they have developed. The British Riding Pony was the first riding pony breed, and now there are other breeds as well (e.g, German riding pony, Poney Francais de Selle, Australian riding pony).

German Riding Pony: This is a breed that emerged in the sixties by crossing welsh ponies with thoroughbred, arabian, and anglo-arab horses.They are 13.2 to 14.2 and exhibit refinement of a horse. GRPs can be registered in several German registries and two American registries. GRP stallions are licensed and approved with several American and German sport pony registries.

These breeds can also be accepted into pony registries, such as...

Weser-Ems: a German registry for ponies in the Oldenburg region of Germany. Weser-Ems works together with the German Oldenburg Verband (GOV) and will inspect and brand ponies at GOV inspections throughout the US.

Hannover Ponies: a German registry for ponies in the Hannover region of German. They have no affiliated with the American Hanoverian Association and have only one inspection site in the U.S.

RPSI, the U.S. branch of the RPS, inspects horses and ponies at the same inspection.

American Sport ony registries: American groups that have developed “sport pony registries” in the tradition of GRP’s include the International Sporthorse Registries and the American Sport Pony Registry. All registries have somewhat different qualifications and procedures, and many stallions are approved/licensed with more then one registry.

Some more videos

Pony Stallion Der Kleine Prints

Dressage ponies in competition


Dressage ponies are competitive! Sandra Cooke. Practical Horseman. Jan 2003, vol. 31 (1), 105. This is an excellent summary of the advantages and challenges of competing a dressage pony.

Dressage pony power! Sandra Cooke. Practical Horseman. Dec 2002, vol. 30 (12), 74.

Sport Pony Magazine

Pony Stallions from

In praise of dressage ponies from Equisearch

Small packages: Great expectations (2005 Cornelia Endres FEI Pony Clinic, includes overview of the dressage pony trend)

USEF Dressage Pony Handbook

German Riding Pony Breeders Association (page describing German and American Registries)

Longview Farm articles
The Riding Pony
Sport ponies from a trainer's perspective
Sport ponies defined from the Equine Journal

American Sport Pony Registry Newsletters

Sportponies Unlimited Web site

What is a sport pony? By Barb Young and Tangwyllt Welsh Ponies

Purification of the pony sport from

About the German riding pony from Through Connection

Introducing the American Sport Pony from the American Warmblood Registry

USDF Ponies and pony classes


  1. I have a thing for Ponies, I live very near "Cardie" he was in Dressage Today recently and we see him at the shows all year. Very NICE. I think being 5ft I could pull off the Pony thing nicely!!


    Copy and paste and meet Cardi-

  3. I <3 Ponies. I used to prefer big horses until my instructor put me on a pony. I was sold and said "I want a pony too!". I'm 5'8" but am slight and not very muscular. When I bought my boy he was around 14.3hh, just a hair too tall to be a "pony" and he's grown an inch or two since. He's gets called things like "Ferrari" and "Miata". I'm used to looking up at the other riders now.

    Smaller horses feel more maneuverable. And they don't eat-up the length of the ring as quickly.

  4. I love ponies! Seldom Scene was my hero horse, and I love what Lendon did with making ponies more visable in dressage. I had a friend who, maybe a decade ago, showed in ABIG finals outside of Houston in, I think, 3rd Level, on a pure bred Arabian (sire was Khemosabi). He won his class against other warm bloods! He was under 15hh. I am just 5'5", so I do well on small horses. Can I say this was my favorite post of yours? Thanks for sharing.

  5. Wow! Those are some big moving ponies.

  6. Favorite post! :) I'm only 5'0, and I DO ride the big guys, so it's refreshing to occasionally get on a pony. They're so little and maneuverable, and their bucks are the cutest thing ever.

  7. I've been riding dressage ponies for the last 10 years, it's been an amazing run so far and we're only getting started.

    I'm proud to say I'm the co-director for National Dressage Pony Cup. The only event of its kind in the US that specifically promotes ponies through the levels.

    This year we're looking forward to adding in-hand, materiale, and maybe an evening freestyle performance.

    2009 we're in KY so please stop on by!

  8. Bailey Cook here in NC is competing a GRP stallion now - he's gorgeous!

  9. Trainers and riders from Germany believe that any horse or pony is capable of doing dressage.


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