At the Horse of the Year show (HOYS), comments from Horse & Hound’s showing editor about adult riders on small breed M&M’s caused quite a stir in the showing world. She remarked that “long-legged riders on small ponies look like frogs” and this caused a flurry of complaints and arguments on online forums and several letters in Horse and Hound.
A showing enthusiast commented that it is “ludicrous that adults are allowed to compete in these classes, let alone professionals,” (H&H, 20th October) and this sparked a debate on an online forum with some finding the comments hurtful, mean and ridiculous. It was argued that if the children are not competent to compete in the open M&M classes, then they have the option of Lead Rein, First Ridden and Junior classes to compete in and another point raised was that M&M small breed stallions cannot be ridden by a child under 12 years old, so therefore the introduction of “M&M classes adhere[ing] to the same rules as the plaited classes and limit the age of the rider according to height,” (H&H, 20th October) would be difficult to uphold. One native pony enthusiast commented that “the writer of the letter [does not] really get natives in comparison to riding ponies – the whole point of a native is that it is built to carry weight,” and another thought that “putting age limits on small breeds will only serve to further restrict their market.” Another native enthusiast, Graham Bunny and his partner, Emma Devey (pictured below) believe that the “letters failed to suggest a rider of an appropriate size.”
Another letter in Horse and Hound suggested that adults should have “my little pony classes” and also suggests that he has “no objection to lightweight adults schooling, hacking, or hunting small ponies, but adults competing with children in the show ring looks totally unfair.” (H&H, 27th October) The idea of “my little pony classes” seems quite belittling to the adult riders who produce these ponies so well and from watching the small breeds classes at HOYS, I witnessed several children who gave extremely professional shows and are supremely confident with their ring craft and how to get the best out of their ponies. Indeed, the winner of the Welsh Section A class was won by a child, so it seems ludicrous to say that children competing against adults have an unfair advantage. I also observed how the small, adult producers looked delightful on their ponies and they don’t impede how they show off the quality of the animal. One example of pony and rider is Pumphill Buckthorn and Sarah Parker (nee Challinor) whose partnership continues with great zest and took the Supreme M&M championship after winning their M&M Working Hunter class for the second year running. After all, there are many small, adult riders who have reached their adult height and continue to ride their loved ponies, whereas children are still growing and seem to outgrow their ponies rapidly.
Furthermore, there is a comment on a forum from a rider who rode 3 ponies at HOYS in the Welsh Section A, B and C sections and she tells us that “showing of native ponies is designed to demonstrate the best examples of these breeds, according to the breed standards laid down by the breed societies and I would hope, keeping in mind its history and the roots of the animal. Nowhere in history will you find it that any of our native breeds was purely bred simply to be ridden by a child, even though in many breed types it will state that they make ideal children ponies due to their even temperaments, but this is just one facet of their purpose.” Horse and Hound also printed counter arguments and one letter is on the same wavelength as the comment above, adding that the point about “children being at school and therefore unable to ride as often as professional adults can equally be applied to adults who work and who show as amateurs against professionals.” (3rd November) Another letter raises the question of putting children on ponies that are too strong for them and says that “it is obvious that most of those we see in show pony and hunter classes are push-button animals that have been worked outside the ring by adults that are too large for them.” (H&H, 3rd November)
There are two sides to this argument but it seems that most native pony enthusiasts, and indeed, producers, will not stop showing their beautiful, well schooled, excellent breed type M&M’s.
What are your thoughts? Do you own a small breed M&M and do you compete on it?