Children often dream at one point in their life of having a horse or pony. If you have the means and time to make this dream a reality, consider that some ponies and horses make better children’s mounts than others. For a small child, a pony breed works well because their size isn’t as intimidating. And, in most cases, if they fall or get thrown off, shorter horses are closer to the ground.
There is no absolute best breed for a child or a beginner. Although, there are some breeds that are predictably more consistent in temperament. Ultimately, it comes down to the individual horse's personality. Pick a horse that is docile, attentive, and sure-footed.
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Shetland ponies are a popular choice for children because of their diminutive size, durability, and they are relatively common. They also come in many beautiful colors and have thick manes and tails that can be fun to groom.
A well-behaved Shetland pony will still need full-time adult care and supervision, but they can be an extremely versatile animal with a fun personality. The Shetland was developed to be a hardy draft animal. Their pint-size stature masks the fact that this breed is very strong. A Shetland may get bored and decide to buck off a rider just to add some interest to their day. Others are strong-willed, too, and may try to outwit a young rider by ignoring commands.
Height: 7 hands (28 inches) to 11.5 hands (46 inches)
Weight: 400 to 450 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Compact body; broad head; thick neck; short legs; lush mane and tail
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Welsh ponies of all sizes can make good mounts for children. One could go from child to adulthood riding small horses like a Welsh pony or slightly larger Welsh cob. They are hardy and athletic, as well as smart and versatile. You can train them to ride with Western or English saddles.
Welsh ponies are categorized into four different sizes: Type A, B, C, and D. Type A is the smallest (not exceeding 12.2 hands) and Type D is the largest (exceeding 13.2 hands). The Welsh Pony & Cob Society of America sponsors an active reward program for children and hosts many shows for Welsh ponies.
Height: Between 11 hands (44 inches) and 16 hands (64 inches)
Weight: 400 to 1,200 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Small heads with large eyes; sloped shoulders; short backs; strong hindquarters; straight, short forelegs; high-set tail
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Pony of the Americas
The pony of the Americas has the distinction of being a North American breed developed specifically for young riders. It is a very common children's pony in the U.S. This breed was developed in the 1950s, making it a relatively young breed, especially when compared to the Shetland and Welsh ponies from the U.K. The first pony was the result of a cross between an Arabian and Appaloosa mare with a Shetland stallion. This breeding resulted in a small colt with a flashy coat pattern. It has the durability and athleticism of all three breeds combined. The Pony of the Americas Club has become one of the equine industry's largest youth-oriented breed registries.
Height: Between 11.2 hands (46 inches) and 14 hands (56 inches)
Weight: 450 to 950 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Slightly dished face with a wide forehead; fairly fine neck in proportion to the body; muscular shoulder and hindquarters; deep chest; Appaloosa-like coat pattern
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Minis are fun to handle and drive. Due to their small size, they are not suitable for riding by anyone over 70 pounds. Horse enthusiasts may get a mini for their children to love, learn to care for, and ride for years before they are ready for a big horse. As the child outgrows riding it, the miniature can pull a cart or small wagon driven by children or adults. They are often shown in competitions similar to agility courses for dogs.
Height: 30 to 38 inches
Weight: 150 to 350 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Lengthy and angled shoulders; long and flexible neck; well-formed forearms; wide-set eyes; large nostrils; and medium-sized, pointed earsContinue to 5 of 8 below.
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Although it is not a pony, the American quarter horse is an extremely popular breed in the United States that is versatile with an easy temperament. Quarter horses make great family horses and child mounts. They are typically not too big, averaging about 5 feet in height. Many pony breeds are crossed with quarter horses. The American Quarter Horse Youth Association has development programs, competitions, and scholarship programs for children.
Height: From 14 hands (57 inches) to 15 hands (60 inches)
Weight: Between 950 and 1,200 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Medium-boned, finely chiseled head, wide foreheads, and flat profile
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Appaloosas are another full-sized horse breed that can make a great horse for children, especially those that have a strong quarter horse lineage. Children love the beautiful coat patterns and the colorful history of these horses. They are often chosen for children's mounts because of their level-headed temperament. The Appaloosa Youth Association has many programs for kids including showing, judging competitions, speech, art contests, exchange, and scholarship programs.
Height: Between 14.2 hands (57 inches) and 15 hands (60 inches)
Weight: 950 to 1,200 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Colorful coat patterns with mottled skin; white sclera; striped hooves
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Paint horses are another full-sized horse breed that has a strong mix of American quarter horse in their pedigrees. They stand out with their distinctive patterned coats. Like the quarter horse, they can be the ideal all-around horse with a calm temperament. Beyond their beauty, they are relaxed, highly social horses with natural intelligence that makes them easy and rewarding to train. Like other breed-related horse associations, the American Paint Horse Association sponsors a youth program with many activities for children.
Height: Between 14.2 hands (57 inches) and 15.2 hands (61 inches)
Weight: 950 to 1,200 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Muscular with broad chests; strong hindquarters; distinctive coat patterns, no two are precisely the same
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Grade ponies are not a breed, but they are a type of horse that can make a great children's pony. The term "grade" in horse circles means the same as "mutt" in the dog world. A grade equine is a horse or pony without papers or known pedigree. Mixed pedigree ponies can make great children’s mounts.
As most know with dogs, a pedigree does not guarantee a temperament or ownership experience. A trustworthy grade pony with a fun personality can be worth more than an unreliable pedigreed mount.
Breeds to Avoid
Arabians, saddlebreds, thoroughbreds, and warmblood horses are high-energy horses. They have all been bred to be active, alert, and sensitive to every little move of the rider. Generally, these horses are not recommended for young or beginning riders. Of course, there are exceptions, but it is best to choose a horse that is known to have an gentler temperament.
It is also recommended that you keep young or new riders off of young horses that have not been broken in. Introduce new riders to horses that are well-trained, familiar with riders of varying levels and sizes, and accustomed to having children in the saddle.