While dogs, cats, and other household pets may be more popular, we Brits still have a deep passion for horses and ponies. There are around 1.3 million regular riders and 446,000 horse and pony-owning households in the UK, according to the BETA's National Equestrian Survey 2015, showing that we have a lot of love for all things equestrian in this country.
Ponies, in particular, are among the most loveable pets around. While their horsey bigger brothers and sisters might have gotten the elegant supermodel looks, ponies certainly score higher on the cuteness scale. However, if you are thinking of getting one of these adorable and (relatively) pocket-sized pets for the first time, it's important to know that they need the same care and attention as their siblings if you want to really bond with them and become best buds.
With this in mind, let's take a closer look at our top three tips for establishing an unbreakable bond with your pony. Read on to find out more.
Get to know their body language
Despite not having words or hands to communicate with, your pony can be very expressive through their body language. By learning to read the signs, you can gain a new level of understanding with your pony and use it to deepen your bond.
Your pony can use many parts of their body to tell you how they feel: from how they hold their head to how they move their feet. They can also use their voice, believe it or not, and you can learn a lot from the noises they make. As you begin to familiarise yourself with your pony's mannerisms, you can take appropriate action to address their mood and needs.
To begin with, have a read of the Horse Channel's guide on how to speak horse, which has a lot of useful observations about how your pony might be communicating. Once you've got an understanding of the basics, you can then graduate to some heavier reading, such as the definitive The Body Language of Horses by Tom Ainslie, and you will be a real-life pony whisperer in no time.
Adjust your own body language
We've already covered how important it is to be able to recognise what your pony wants through body language, but you may not have realised that they are trying to do exactly the same thing in return. While ponies understand basic vocal instructions, they also pick up an incredible amount through your own gestures — often in ways you would not imagine.
For example, a pony can pick up on a rider's nervousness and interpret it as submissiveness. Aim to carry yourself like royalty around your pony — a straight back and neck paired with lots of eye contact when speaking to them will go a long way towards establishing yourself as the command-giver. Otherwise, you risk creating a little monster who thinks they can get away with anything!
In our guide to pony feeding we've covered what to feed your pony to keep them happy and healthy, but feeding time also needs to be done in the right way to establish the right relationship. If you find that your pony nuzzles you backwards before feeding, they are trying to get you to move back and accept their dominance – a trait carried over from their herd mentality. Instead, make them take a step back and only allow them to feed when they've done so. Appearing dominant might not sound like the fast-track to a deep mutual bond at first, but defining the boundaries early on will give you a firm foundation to build on later.
Groom your pony every day
When you take the time to groom your horse, you are not only taking care of their appearance and hygiene, but you are also taking care of them emotionally too. Brushing your new pony is very soothing and can help them to trust you from the early days of your time together. At the start, take care to brush them all over to get them used to your touch and take note of any sensitive areas, such as the eyes or stomach, that they aren’t comfortable with.
People often enjoy speaking to their ponies while they are grooming them and, though it may seem like a one-way conversation, it's important to know they are actually listening. Speaking softly to your pony can help them feel at ease, and it will get them used to your voice fairly quickly too. You can talk to them about anything really — some people even say they prefer speaking to their equine friend over an actual therapist!
You can find a checklist of essential grooming equipment in our care guide. Investing in equipment from an equine specialist like Millbry Hill will ensure you have the best gear possible to look after your pony. Your pony will appreciate the soft bristles of a luxury brush as you rub them down or their clean and soft coat when you bathe them.
Follow these three pieces of advice to begin establishing an important bond with your pony. With a bit of constructive attitude adjustment, as well as some TLC, you will soon be the best of friends.