Kids who take riding lessons will very quickly begin to dream of a horse or pony of their own. If this is something that you can and want to commit to, you should make sure that you know the best way to buy a horse for your kids.
Generally, when you’re buying a horse for your kids, you’ll be looking at smaller breeds that are in the right proportion for your children. Especially for beginners, a smaller size horse or pony will be more manageable and less intimidating.
Also, when your kids fall off, which they eventually will because it’s part and parcel of riding, they won’t fall from such a high horse.
Looking at different breeds that are good for children is a good place to start thinking about a horse or pony of your own.
Keep in mind that horses are all individuals and more important than what breed your end up getting, finding the right horse for you and your child is the most important thing of all.
You should not rush into a purchase, even if your kid is whining that they don’t want to wait. Take the time to find the right horse that is calm, docile, attentive, sure-footed and familiar with beginner riders.
#1 Shetland pony
Shetlands are popular for children because of their size – though keep in mind that they can come in a variety of different sizes, especially if crossed with another breed.
These little fuzzballs are durable, gritty horses that are fun and a little stubborn (read: notoriously stubborn). They’re also quite strong and children can keep riding a Shetland for surprisingly long.
Even after your child gets too tall to ride a Shetland, they can easily be trained to pull a small cart or be trained as trotters. There’s a vibrant scene of Shetland enthusiasts for both riding and driving.
For its size, the Shetland is among the strongest of all horse and pony breeds – having pulled as much as twice it’s own weight on occasion. Many Shetlands can carry as much as 59 kg (130 pounds).
With a Shetland it’s best to have adult supervision around all the time, as they may decide to ignore instructions from handlers or riders who aren’t decisive.
Shetlands tend to be easy keepers and you really have to watch out to not overfeed them on treats or sugary grass because they will quickly pile on the pounds.
Shetlands are also known for their longevity and I’ve known many that have easily made it well into their 30s, so this is a horse that can be a lot of fun to have around even after retirement.
- Height: 70 cm (28 in) to 107 cm (42 in)
- Characteristics: Short legs, very fluffy winter coat, compact body lush mane and tail, very strong, intelligent (mischievous)
- Origin: Shetland Islands, Scotland
#2 Welsh pony and Welsh cob
The Welsh Pony or slightly larger Welsh Cob make great horses for children. An all-round breed that is hardy with good stamina and a gentle nature, this pony is suited for just about any kind of activity you can think of.
The breed itself is categorised into four sections, all with their own characteristics – but any one of these will make a great first pony.
Because Welsh ponies and cobs have such a mixed heritage, they come in a variety of colours and patterns.
Welsh mountain pony (section A)
This is the smallest of the four and is ideal for young children or physically small children. They’ve inherited their elegant face that narrows towards the muzzle from their Arabian ancestry.
Welsh pony (section B)
A little taller than the Welsh mountain pony these are great riding ponies what are eager to please. They have more Thoroughbred in them than Welsh mountain pony and this makes them good jumpers.
Welsh pony of cob type (section C)
As stated in the name, this is much more cob-like than the first two sections. They’re the most popular of all Welsh ponies and are loved for their even temperaments as well as their strength. The cob type can make a good jumper as well as a great driving pony.
Welsh cob (section D)
The Welsh cob is ideal for small adults as well as children and can be the perfect choice for you if you want a pony both you and your children can ride. Good-natured and hardy, this pony is as good hunting as it is driving.
- Height: varies by section, but approximately 122 cm (48 in) to 137 cm (54 in)
- Characteristics: Sure-footed, intelligent, hardy, good stamina and soundness
- Origin: Wales
#3 Connemara pony
The Connemara pony is a popular breed both in its own right as well as for crossing with other breeds to make the offspring more hardy.
They come from the harsh environment in the Connemara region of western Ireland but have had a lot of other breeds added to their bloodlines.
Connemara ponies are considered great sport horses and excel in jumping, showing as well as dressage.
This pony is sure-footed and has a lot of stamina – this makes it popular for endurance riding.
The Connemara is popular with both children and adults and any Irishman will be quick to tell you this is the best first horse you can buy for a child.
- Height: 128 cm (50 in) to 148 cm (58 in)
- Characteristics: large pony of sport horse type, refined features, good bone, hardy, intelligent, good temperament
- Origin: Connemara, Ireland
#4 Pony of the Americas
A cross between an Arabian-Appaloosa mare and a Shetland stallion, this horse is sometimes called the little Appaloosa.
The pony of the Americas is a hardy breed that is incredibly durable and very athletic. It was created specifically with the young rider in mind.
Mostly used for Western riding, this horse is equally capable in the English style.
Because of its bone structure, the POA as it’s commonly known in the US, is considered a horse rather than a pony.
- Height: 117 cm (46 in) to 142 cm (56 in)
- Characteristics: flashy coat pattern, muscular build, small size, good for riding
- Origin: North America
Also known as Avelignese (Italy), these beautiful blondies are originally from the Alpine region and are about as sure-footed as they come.
They are still used as packhorses in rough territory and employed most often in high Alpine terrain, with slopes up to 40% and steps of up to 40 cm (16 in) high.
They’re sturdy and strong ponies, well suited to both driving, packing and riding. The breed has served in many wars due to its versatility.
They’re popular dressage horses for children but still tall enough to be ridden by adults as well.
Popular on long trails, the Haflinger is also great for therapy work and vaulting.
- Height: 137 cm (54 in) to 152 cm (60 in)
- Characteristics: chestnut coat with blonde mane and tail, sturdy and strong with good endurance, very sure-footed
- Origin: Austria, Italy
#6 Fjord horse
The Fjord horse with its distinctive mane colouring comes from the western mountainous region in Norway.
This is another breed that is hardy and sure-footed – an excellent trail horse.
They have a strong build and can be used for heavy work like plowing fields or pulling timber, yet they’re agile enough to make good riding and driving horses.
Today, the Fjord is a favourite in Norwegian riding schools and is even popular as a therapy horse, due to its mild temperament.
Though the Fjord is small in size, it is strong and can easily carry an adult rider.
Fjords are popular, especially in Norway, and are used in everything from tourist transport to competitions. They’re also used as sport horses and considered very good driving horses – especially for combined driving.
- Height: 135 cm (53 in) to 150 cm (59 in)
- Characteristics: mild and even temperament, strong while still agile, calm and cooperative, sure-footed, versatile
- Origin: Norway
#7 Grade ponies
“Grade” is for horses what “mutt” is for dogs. A grade horse or pony is simply an animal without a known pedigree.
Pedigree is never an airtight guarantee for a quality pony, a wonderful grade pony with a fun personality may turn out to be the perfect thing for your kids.
Sometimes you can see what’s gone into the pony and often you can’t be sure. If you’re not too worried about the breed (getting a show horse is a different question) you shouldn’t exclude grade ponies from your search.
Breeds you should avoid
Any breed (or individual) that tends to be high-energy isn’t a good match for a first-time young horse owner.
Breeds such as Arabians, saddlebreds, thoroughbreds and warmbloods have been bred to be active, alert and sensitive to every little move of the rider (not a good match for any beginner) and rarely make good horses for children.
Large, heavy breeds such as drafts and coldblood mixes, can be daunting to handle for an adult and will only make good horses for children with a lot of help.
This isn’t, of course, always true and you should prioritise temperament, experience and personality over breed.
What’s a good age for a first pony?
A pony in the range of 10 to 18 generally makes a good first pony. You don’t want a pony that’s too young and still in need of a lot of training.
You also don’t want a pony that’s too old to be ridden – though many ponies have proven rideable or useable for light activities into their 30s (though they won’t be able to compete anymore).
By getting a mature pony you’ll ensure that your child will have time to grow with the pony and can take time to form a strong bond. The pony will also grow along with your child and you won’t have to worry about the time and/or expense of training the pony further or sending him off to be trained.
When is it the right time to buy your child a pony?
There is no right age for a child to have a pony, it’s more a question of interest, commitment and experience. Also, a child will always need help and support with the pony, so it’s as much your responsibility as it is your child’s.
If your child has been taking riding lessons for a while, consult with the riding instructor about how your child has developed as a rider.
Read more about buying a horse for your child:
- How to buy a horse for your child (the right way)
- How to buy a family horse that everyone will enjoy
- The realities of owning a horse: the good, the ugly and the dirty truth
- All you need to know about buying a horse for the first time
- How much money does it cost to buy a horse? + 4 ways to buy one
- How much does a horse cost to keep?
What to look for when buying a pony
After you’ve acquainted yourself with different kinds of breeds and determined what kind of pony is suitable for you and your child, you can start searching for that special first pony.
If you don’t know anything about horses, don’t hesitate to ask someone with experience to help you through the process.
The wrong match will quickly rob your child of the joy of owning a horse and eat away at their motivation to stay involved.
The best advice I can give you is to wait for the right pony because the right pony will be worth its weight in gold.
Good luck with your search!