What equipment do I need to care for my pony?
Ponies don't need huge amounts of kit, but below is a list of the basic things you will need on a day to day basis:
- Body brush — you shouldn't use a body brush on a field-kept pony, as the fine bristles will remove the natural waterproof greases from his coat, but you will need one to brush his face, tail and legs.
- Head collar and lead rope —it's a good idea to have a spare too, just in case you lose or break the one you use normally.
- Shedding rake — if your pony has been living outside during the winter, a shedding rake will make hair removal easier. Gently rake over the body, avoiding the face and legs. The fine teeth will catch any moulting hair.
- Grooming gear — a selection of combs, brushes and a hoof pick (see 'Grooming your pony' below).
- Sponges — make sure you get two different types of sponges, one for wiping your pony's dock (under his tail) and one for his face.
- Water buckets — your pony's water should be checked throughout the day, in the summer it'll need topping up, and in winter you will need to break any ice so he can still drink the water.
- Rubber gloves and container — if you haven't got a wheelbarrow, you're going to need rubber gloves and a muck skip to be able to remove droppings from your pony's paddock and stable. Droppings should be removed twice a day during the summer.
- Shelter — if your pony is outside 24 hours a day, then he'll need to be provided with shelter from bad weather and hot sun. Trees or a thick hedge may be sufficient but in the winter you will definitely need a proper shelter and rugs. Make sure your fields are securely fenced and divided into sections to restrict your pony from over-grazing. Alternatively you can bring your pony into a stable during the night.
- Fly repellent — if your pony is living outside during the spring and summer, he will need to be regularly topped up with fly repellent to help keep him free from annoying midges. A fly rug made from fine mesh should also help prevent him from getting bitten if you notice him getting very irritated by the flies.
Grooming your pony
To groom your pony you will need:
- Hoof pick
- Rubber curry comb
- Dandy brush
- Body brush
- Sponge or wash cloth.
It's recommended that you groom your pony after he's been out riding, and especially during their moulting stage, which usually happens between March and May in the UK. His hooves in particular will need to be scraped out and freed of any dirt, followed by the rubber curry comb which loosens longer hairs and removes dirt from the coat. Use the curry comb in circular motions for best results.
Next, use the dandy brush to remove hair and muck — these have coarse bristles so they won't remove the natural oils found in the coat. Avoid using this brush on the head or inside your pony's hind legs. The body brush is a soft brush which can be used on any part of the body, but is good for de-tangling the mane and tail. It's also good to use over the lower legs and the face but make sure you use it carefully and gently, avoiding any cuts. When you've finished with your body brush, remove all the hairs from the brush using your dandy brush, so that it's clean for the next use.
Finally, finish off with a sponge or wash cloth to wipe over your pony's eyes and nose to remove any dirt — again be careful when doing this and be sure to use a different part of the sponge for each area of the face. It's also recommended that you give a quick clean under the tail too, using a different sponge.
Ponies will moult once a year, shedding their thick winter coat to reveal thinner, finer hair. This process usually happens between March and May, and can take up to seven weeks. You may notice that your pony starts to roll around occasionally to help budge those loose winter hairs.
Shoeing your pony
Ponies' hooves grow continuously, and if they aren't taken care of they can cause discomfort and severe damage to the internal structure of the feet, legs and back. Just like us, ponies need new shoes to protect their hoofs. This must be carried out by a farrier and once they are shod (fit with shoes), you pony will need new shoes every four to six weeks, if not sooner!
Most horses and ponies these days wear machine-made shoes. The farrier buys shoes in different sizes and then makes small alterations so they fit the horse they are shoeing.
A cold shoe is first held against the prepared and balanced hoof – if the correct size has been chosen it should fit very well even at this stage. The farrier will then heat the shoe in their portable forge so that they can make any slight adjustments needed. The shoe is then seared on to the hoof. This doesn't hurt the horse; it's done so the farrier can check the shoe and hoof are in contact all the way around the hoof wall. They will then make any final adjustments to the shoe after searing.
The shoe is cooled by dipping it into a bucket of water and is then nailed on. Finally, the clenches (the bit of nail sticking up through the hoof wall) are tidied up and embedded so that they hold the shoe firmly in place and don't catch the horse if he brushes one leg against another. A rasp is run around the outer wall where the horn and shoe meet to reduce the risk of the hoof cracking. A balanced diet and regular applications of hoof moisture cream can help reduce the risk of the hooves cracking.
A shoe that fits well is very important and helps to protect a pony's hooves. Hooves need regular attention, whether your pony is shod or not, and they will need to see a farrier regularly. Problems like seedy toe are most likely to be caused by irregular hoof care, and this results in the toe becoming long and causing the hoof wall to pull away from the sensitive laminae. The type of food eaten affects your pony's hoof health, so horses and ponies may need hoof supplements to support stronger hoof growth.
Only registered farriers are allowed to shoe horses in the UK. This means they are qualified to practise farriery.
Caring for your pony in winter
There are jobs that will need to be carried out regularly during the winter to keep your pony in tip-top shape.
- Make sure you clear buckets and troughs of ice on cold days.
- Always put out hay or haylage. The grass in your paddock will be less nutritionally rich, so ponies will need extra hay to top up.
- Gently squeeze the base of your pony's ear, or put your fingers under his elbow to check that he's warm. However, if your pony is rugged up, you should take his rug off and change it at least once a day. Not all ponies need rugs though, so if you have a very hairy pony that has access to a field shelter to hide away from wind and rain, he should be fine without — but always check him carefully as he could lose weight and you may need to provide him with extra hay to keep him warm.
- Provide some shelter — he'll need either a field shelter or thick hedge.
- Look after his feet. Hooves should be picked out every day, regardless of whether they're shod or not.
- Make sure your pony is seen by an equine dental technician and you stick to his worming schedule. Bad teeth or worms will make him lose body condition.
- Watch his weight — if your pony starts to lose weight, he may need extra feed, particularly when he's older, younger or in work. Speak to an experienced pony owner to work out what diet is best.
During the cold winter months, the energy that horses and ponies use to keep warm doesn't increase much. It's not until temperatures drop below -1°C that they use more energy. So when it does drop below this they need 15-20 per cent more energy for every 5°C drop in temperature. You'll have to keep in mind other factors as well though, including his age and the wind chill. Concentrate feeds like pasture mix and pony nuts are higher in energy and will help to maintain their condition.
Don't go overboard on grooming during the winter as your pony's coat will be naturally longer, coarser and more greasy to repel rain and snow. Check for any creepy crawlies as lice love long hair.
Always check up on your pony's health during the winter months, as certain conditions can be more common during this time. Here's a few to look out for:
Look out for mud fever on the backs of heels around the pasterns. It's caused by a bacterial infection and results in scabby areas with sore skin underneath. The scabs are often easy to pull off. Mud fever is pretty common amongst horses or ponies who stand in wet or muddy conditions, ranging from long grass to deep mud. Barrier creams can help horses and ponies who are prone to mud fever.
Rain scald is caused by the same bacteria as mud fever. It occurs when long periods of rain remove some of the protective oils from the coat and a pony's skin gets wet so the bacteria can multiply. Affected horses and ponies will have crusty hair along the neck, back and rump. The hair will be easy to pull away leaving a green / yellow layer of pus over the skin. Access to shelter and rugging when rain is expected will help prevent rain scald.
Thrush affects the clefts of the hoof and the centre of the frog (on the underside of the hoof). Ponies suffering from thrush will have a smelly black discharge from their frogs. They may also flinch when you pick out their hooves. They are more likely to develop thrush from standing in wet or dirty conditions so stables should be kept clean and dry.
Don't be fooled by the name — ringworm is caused by a fungal infection. It appears as a patch of hair loss which gradually gets bigger as the infection progresses. You'll often find it under areas touched by tack. Ringworm is highly contagious and can be caught by humans as well, so isolate suspected cases and treat with anti-fungal washes.
Vets tend to notice an increase in respiratory problems over the winter as horses and ponies are inside more. Watch out for coughing and snotty noises. Keep your pony in a dust-free environment by feeding soaked hay or haylage off the floor or at a low level from a feeder. Use rubber matting or dust-free bedding and keep stables well ventilated. Viruses and bacteria can also cause respiratory infections and are often contagious. Signs are similar to when a pony shows a dust-triggered allergic reaction but affected pony's will also seem to be off colour. If in doubt, speak to your vet.
Cases of colic are also more common as owners change their stabling routine. Remember to make all changes slowly and keep up-to-date with worming schedules. Colic is a painful type of tummy ache, mainly caused by dehydration from not drinking enough water while eating hay (which only contains 10 per cent water, rather than grass, which contains 80 per cent water). Give your pony fruit and vegetable treats — things like carrot, which is about 87 per cent water, and apples, which are about 80 per cent water, can be good for your pony.
Poorly fitted rugs can rub your pony's shoulders as he moves around, rubbing the hair away. Rugs should always be well-fitting and, as even the best fitting rugs can slip, they should be taken off and either changed or re-fitted twice a day to help keep your pony comfy.
Trundling through boggy ground can cause horses and ponies to sprain their legs. Tendons are particularly at risk so don't charge through mud when you're riding and get used to running your hand down your pony's legs to feel for heat spots and swelling, which could indicate that there is a problem.
Wet weather makes hooves softer, meaning it's easier for dirt to get sucked up the white line of the hoof (this is the weakest part of the hoof between the wall and sole). The trapped dirt can then cause an abscess in the hoof. This is very painful for your pony and will make him lame.
Caring for your pony in summer
The summer months can be lovely for us, and we do all enjoy a bit of summer sun on our backs – but ponies can suffer. Remember, it's not just us humans who need to apply sun lotion, ponies can get burnt too! You must apply sun lotion with a high UV protection rating at least once a day to pink heels (usually under white markings on legs), and pink noses.
Flies can be a pain for your pony, especially in the summer. Apply repellents regularly and if flies are causing big problems, use face masks and fly rugs. Regularly pick up droppings from your pony's field and this should also help to reduce the amount of flies and worms around your pony.
You should always provide areas of shade for your pony to relax under when it's very hot. If it gets really hot then consider turning out at night and stabling during the hot days.
Take care when riding on hard or stony ground, especially if your pony doesn't wear shoes. They could bruise their sole or injure their legs, leading to lameness and time off. Hooves can also dry out over the summer months so keep up with regular farriery appointments.
Wash off sweaty ponies after you've ridden, and make sure you squeeze all the water away with a sweat scraper. Any water that's left in the coat could heat up and cause sweat scald, creating sore areas.
Your pony should always have access to clean and fresh water, but it's even more important on a hot day. You will need to clean out troughs regularly. If you think your pony isn't drinking much, give him a salt block — which he will lick, encouraging him to then drink water. You can also add electrolytes (minerals) to the water to make it more appealing to your pony.
Check for gunky eyes
You may notice that your pony's eyes get a little bit gunky during the summer, so give them a clean each day with a damp sponge or cloth. You can put a fly mask on your pony during the daytime, but make sure you take it off each night to prevent it rubbing. Some masks have ear covers, which seems like a good idea however a lot of pony's tend to escape their mask. If your pony doesn't keep his mask on, apply a roll-on fly repellent around the eyes.
Pollen levels and ponies
Summer is the worst time of year for Summer Pasture Associated Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. This is similar to human asthma and is triggered by an allergic reaction to pollen. Head shaking can also affect all breeds of ponies, and while vets believe the problem is actually caused by a nerve problem, owners of head shaking ponies often say it's worse in the summer when pollen levels are high.
Grass sickness is an awful disease which usually occurs during the spring and summer months. Very few horses and ponies survive, and it happens to those that are turned out and grazing normally. It's not yet know exactly what causes grass sickness, but what we do know is that it attacks the equine nervous system which causes a suffering pony's gut to go into spasm. Scientists have said that the type of damage caused by this disease indicates the involvement of some kind of toxin.
If a horse or pony is suffering from this, he will need lots of veterinary care. An affected pony will normally show colic-like symptoms with the onset of the disease, start to lose weight rapidly, be depressed and struggle to swallow. Make sure you do thorough checks of your pony during the summer months and if you spot any of the signs, consult a vet immediately.
Equipment you'll need...
Tacking up is the phrase often used to describe the getting the equipment ready to ride your pony. There's a few different bits of equipment that you will need:
A bit is used for any type of equestrian activities and is placed in the mouth of your pony so you can communicate with him. It rests on the bars of the mouth where there are no teeth, and is held on with a bridle and reins. There are different types available, from stainless steel to rubber — and your pony may have a preference!
A bridle is what attaches to the bit, and it is very important that the fitting of this is correct. There are four parts to the bridle — the browband, the cheek pieces, the throatlash and the noseband. The browband headpiece should lie comfortably behind the ears, and the browband should lie in front of the base of the ears.
The cheek pieces should allow the bit to just wrinkle at the corners of the mouth, and the bit should stick out about a quarter of an inch at each side. A loose cheek piece will mean that the bit sits too low in your pony's mouth, and a tight cheek piece will hold the bit too high and will dig into the cheeks which will hurt.
The throatlash shouldn't be too tight around your horses jawbone, as this could prevent your pony from breathing properly when he flexes.
The noseband should sit a couple of centimetres below your pony's cheekbone on the side of his face, and is normally used to prevent your pony from opening his mouth and trying to get rid of the bit.
Reins are used to direct your pony when you ride them and are attached to the bridle. They can be made of leather, nylon and metal, and you would use them to give subtle commands such as turning, slowing down or halting. You can also use your legs and shift your body weight to signal commands, as well as voice commands.
If your going to ride your pony, you will need a saddle. It must be comfortable for both you and your pony, as any discomfort could cause back problems for him. You can choose either synthetic materials or leather. If looked after properly a leather saddle will last for years, and is the most popular choice. Synthetic materials have come a long way over the years and can now last a long time too. It is also a cheaper option.
Stirrups are used to help you stay balanced when riding. They can be made of leather, wood, metals and synthetic materials and there is also a safety stirrup available which has been designed so that if your pony or horse rears up and throws you off, your foot won't get caught in the stirrup.
Breastplates attach to the front of the saddle, and cross the pony's chest with a strap running between it's front legs. They keep the saddle in place and prevent it from sliding back or sideways. They are important to use for fast-paced sports.
Appropriate clothing for riding
Clothing for horse and pony riding doesn't have to be expensive and all the essentials shouldn't be hard to find — your nearest riding shop should have everything that you need. But first and foremost you will need to get a helmet — and don't just get the cheapest one you can find, as you will need to keep your head well protected! It is required by law that children under the age of 14 must wear a helmet, however we recommend that you wear a helmet at all times, whatever age you are whilst riding your horse. Secondhand helmets may have unseen damage, so it's best to avoid these. Make sure the helmet fits properly and is designed especially for riding — helmets made for other sports will not be suitable.
For the winter months you may wish to invest in a suitable warm jacket, and most riding jackets allow plenty of movement and don't restrict you in any way. They usually have roomy shoulders and gussets at the back so that the jacket can spread out around the saddle and not tighten and tuck under. If you will be taking your pony out of the fields you might want to purchase some clothing with high-visibility strips on it so that you remain visible to others around you.
You may find that you already own a few comfy t-shirts, shirts and jumpers, which are fine to wear when riding, providing you don't feel restricted in them. Any older garments are also suitable for when you groom and muck out stables.
Another important item of clothing is jodhpurs. Jodhpurs are a tight fitting trouser designed for riding, which usually have the seems to the outside of the leg with hard wearing material on the inside to protect your calf’s and knees from any friction whilst riding, with a patch on the seat that helps keep you on the saddle.
Chaps are something you can use but aren't a necessity. They are best used over an ankle boot and are extra protection for your legs from the knee down, also providing extra grip.
Finally, you will need some riding boots! These are also an important must-have, because they need to have a minimum of an inch on the heel and low tread. This is to ensure that you are safe in the stirrups and that your foot won't slip through. Normal walking boots with a thick tread may get caught in the stirrups if you were to fall so these are not advised. You can have ankle boots or knee length boots, whichever you find most comfortable.
Clothing for shows and competitions is a little more specific, so you will need to make sure you have the correct clothing for these before you compete.