It is very exciting to see the popularity of ponies increasing among adults and children across disciplines, but specifically in the FEI ones such as Eventing and Dressage. Some notable ponies of late include Theodore O’Connor, Hideaways’sErin Go Bragh, and North Forks Cardi. Ponies may be shorter in stature, but they are no less in heart and mind than a big horse. With modern pony breeders focusing on increasing performance traits, more ponies are in the competition limelight. Though they can hold their own amongst the ‘big kids’, ponies do come with a few adjustments to care and nutrition.
Most of us have seen the proverbial fat pony. Then it’s no surprise that one of the most common concerns among pony owners is their pony’s weight. Most ponies are considered by their owners to be easy keepers, meaning they gain weight just by looking at their feed (or so it seems!) which makes sense when you consider the origination of many of the pony breeds.
Most breeds were developed in harsh conditions, the Welsh, Connemara, and Dartmoor to name a few, and are recognized for their hardiness and ability to exist on a relatively low plane of nutrition. Modern ponies are metabolically efficient and adjustments need to be made as they should not be fed as their full-sized counterparts.
Special care should be taken when selecting the appropriate feed for your pony. Due to high incidence of insulin resistance and other metabolic disorders among ponies, feeds which provide large amounts of starch and sugar per meal should be avoided. It is important to note that ponies don’t generally require a different feed than their larger counterparts, rather they simply require less of that feed.
For low activity ponies, a ration balancer fortified with vitamins, minerals and amino acids along with a high quality grass forage are ideal. Daily turnout for these ponies is also advised, though be cautious not to allow excessive grazing on lush pasture. Exposure should be limited either a dry lot or use of a grazing muzzle if lush pasture rich in fructans and soluble sugars is all that is available.
For a pony in work, a feed that provides energy from high levels of soluble fiber and fat, fortified with vitamins, minerals and amino acids is ideal. Active ponies in regular work or strenuous exercise should consume forage at a rate of about one pound per 100 pounds of body weight, per day. For a 700 pound pony, that would be approximately seven pounds of hay per day. Good quality grass hay is ideal roughage for ponies.
As with horses, it is important to monitor the body condition and weight. A general guideline to follow for the body condition score for a pony is 5.0-5.5. Their smaller size can be deceiving when it comes to dishing up feed, therefore it is very important to weigh feed and follow the recommended feeding directions.
By keeping a keen eye on your feeding and management program, your pony can live a healthy, productive life in trim shape, and can excel in whichever discipline you choose – whether it’s in a dressage arena, or just a competition to see who’s got the prettiest pasture ornament!