Ponies are often thought of as first mounts. There are many misconceptions, stated and unstated, about these smaller statured members of the equine world.
"Ponies are mean." Ponies are no meaner than horses *if* they are treated the same way. The problem comes with the misconception because ponies are kid sized they're born knowing everything and don't need training...and people who would never put an 8 year old on an unbroke Thoroughbred will put the same 8 year old on an unbroke pony then wonder why the pony misbehaves. Just like horses, ponies need training. With the same training ponies will act like the big horses.
Ponies *are* more susceptible to overfeeding, founder and other issues than many horses are. Another misconception is that a fat pony is good - a fat pony is unhealthy and a problem waiting to happen, just like his 16 hand counterparts. Fat is not healthy...a pony will eat less than a horse and should be fed accordingly.
Ponies don't need shoes - which depends on the use. For those riding on rocks, showing and other situations where you would shoe a big horse, ponies should be the same way. And, like their counterparts, they should be trained to stand quietly for the farrier.
Ponies can be an outstanding confidence builder for a younger rider. A well trained pony that looks out for her rider is worth the cost. If you balk at paying a reasonable cost for a trained pony take a look at what a trip to the emergency room cost and consider again if that pony is too much.
Not just children ride ponies! Older riders are increasingly turning to ponies - easier to get on, not as far to fall and ponies get where they need to go. From the POA to the Gypsy Cob to the Welsh to the "ordinary pony" they can offer an alternative to scrambling up the side of a 16 hand horse for shorter riders!
Like the larger sized horses, ponies can come in a wide variety of colors, looks and patterns. There's Appaloosa and pinto and buckskins and duns. Some hold papers in horse registries but due to size are considered ponies despite AQHA, Arabian, Morgan or other papers. Ponies have excelled not only in a wide variety of activities but as Pony Club mounts, jumpers, driving and much more.
Some organizations, such as the POA club, have a program for adults to compete in futurities, insuring that those ponies are well trained as young horses and therefore suitable all around ponies for youth. There are stallion futurities and a focus on producing *good* ponies, not just breathing hayburners.
Good ponies don't necessarily need papers - and many a beloved pony had an unknown pedigree. Many a youth has learned to ride, learned horsemanship and, with a good pony, been dumped just enough to know what *not* to do and that giving a horse respect is a wise choice. They're draped with costumes and in a few hours compete in pleasure, barrels and trail. They're patient enough to put up with mistakes and smart enough to not panic no matter the situation. They know when to disobey.
Sometimes, especially with youth, this is a good thing! One case of a pony who would ride anywhere, crossing up a hill, over railroad tracks and part way down the hill on the other side he stopped and refused to move. No amount of kicking or slapping with the reins would make him move so the young owner, in exasperation, got off and found a branch hidden in the grass wound around his back legs. Rather than move and risk falling, he bore the slaps without flinching.
Like the larger horses, ponies need proper housing, medical care, teeth and feet care and regular deworming. Limited access to grass, and eliminating founder, means protecting his feet for life. While a horse may be turned out for an afternoon you might limit a pony to an hour or so. Keep him fresh and happy to be caught - if you give him a little grain after bringing him in from the pasture he associates being caught with getting grain, not going inside. This can be just two or three cups, depending on the size of the pony, just enough that they get something. Some smaller ponies do well on just a couple handfuls of grain and good grass hay. Remember to scale back the hay - if the big horses get a 10 pound flake your pony may only need women's coats five pounds.
There are a variety of looks in ponies, from the 'exotic' look of the Exmoor to the flashy leopards of POAs or the rugged look of the Welsh. Modern Shetlands and Hackneys can sometimes look like small Saddlebreds, and are more of an adult driving pony than a child's pony, with a little more fire and flash than most children can handle. The traditional shetland is a long time favorite, with one of the biggest criticisms being they're so quickly outgrown.
Whatever type of riding or driving you want to do there's a pony available to fill the need. The Gypsy Cob is on the larger side somewhat, and offers a draft look for those who would like something to work around the farm as well as be able to ride. The smaller Morgans might be 14.2 or 14.3 - near enough to be considered a pony. For child or adult - consider the pony!
"Cold Fusion", aka 'Lexington', looks like a big horse but is small enough to be easily handled by children. A Gypsy Cob, his heavy bone and flashy coat is typical of his breed.