Welsh Mountain Ponies are one of the most versatile equines of any equine breed. We believe this is because they were developed naturally in the rough terrain and climate of the hills and mountains of Wales. As the Welsh pony breeders began developing the breed in more modern times, the goal was to maintain the mountain look and hardiness. They were not bred with a specific purpose in mind, as with so many other equine breeds, but were developed to be an all-purpose pony that could be used in any discipline. Temperament, soundness, and athleticism, with pony characteristics were the goals.
The following is a list of ways we use our Welsh Mountain Ponies. It is not all inclusive as our ponies continually show us that they are up for anything.
A popular discipline to find a Welsh Mountain Pony is the hunter ring. So we will start there.
Hunters over fences are judged on performance and soundness. Judges are looking for great jumping style, quality of both looks and movement, as well as willingness, manners, and suitability of horse and rider. Hunters on the flat are judged both directions at the walk, trot, canter, and sometimes the hand gallop. Movement, manners, and quality are judged at all gaits. Hunter classes were originally designed to test the qualities necessary in a field hunter: excellent manners, efficient and comfortable gaits, and a good, safe jumping style.
The biggest difference between hunters and jumpers is the way they are judged. In the jumper divisions, judging is entirely objective, based on faults incurred for refusals, runouts, rails down, falls, and seconds over the optimum time. In the jumper round, the fastest clean round always wins--regardless of style. Jumper classes are the "spills-and-thrills" side of show jumping.
Fox hunting began as an activity involving tracking of the fox, by trained foxhounds, and a group of followers on horseback who were led by a master of hounds. The sport has changed over the years as there is not an imperative to control the fox population. Fox hunting has become a sport to challenge hunter ponies over natural jumps (hedges, fences, stream embankments) while following the pack of hounds. The hounds will pursue a fox but rarely do hunt clubs eliminate the fox. The activity is more about the skill and fast thinking required of a horse/rider team than an actual hunt. Welsh Mountain Ponies are the most often used pony for fox hunting as they are brave to the jump, but also take care of the smallest of riders.
The western style of riding encompasses many different sub-categories. Naturally a western style saddle is utilized along with a shanked type bit (in most cases). Riding is one handed with the exception of a young pony, ridden western style, with the use of a snaffle, bosal, or hackamore type bridle. The western style of riding emphasizes smooth, relaxed gaits, flexed at the poll, working off of light contact and controlled by the reins touching the neck (neck reining) and leg cues. The terms jog and lope are used in contrast to trot and canter, to indicate a different body frame, lower to the ground, easy to sit. Western style riding has its roots in the cowboy/ranching way of life, where a rider may spend long hours in the saddle. An easy going, relaxed style was important, as well as the ability to leap into short bursts of speed and maneuverability needed when working cattle. Some of the sub-categories for western style riding include: western pleasure and equitation, cutting, reining, sorting, team penning, and more recently the development of western dressage.
A discipline closely associated with western style riding in the United States is gymkhana, also sometimes called “games”. Gymkhana is an equestrian event consisting of speed pattern racing and timed games for riders on horses and ponies. These events often emphasize children's participation and may be organized by a recognized Pony Club or a 4-H club. The most common type of gymkhana is barrel racing followed closely by pole bending. But the variations are practically endless. Gymkhana is great fun for riders as well as spectators, and the ponies seem to enjoy it too.
Dressage requires the pony and rider to combine the strength and agility of gymnastics with the elegance and beauty of ballet. The result is truly the best blend of sport and art. The highlight of a dressage competition is the Musical Freestyle in which the rider creates and choreographs to music an original ride of compulsory figures and movements. Welsh Mountain Ponies are rapidly gaining popularity as mounts for the child and adult equestrian for dressage.
Saddle seat is a style of riding within the category of English riding that is designed to show off the high trotting action of certain equine breeds. All saddle seat riding is done on the flat. In Saddle seat, high-stepping gaits are required of the ponies shown, and the rider's position, behind the center of balance of the animal, allows the riding aids to be used to encourage front leg action in the pony. Welsh Mountain Ponies excel in saddle seat as they have a laid back shoulder which allows them to reach and elevate the front end.
The equine sport of driving has always been a strength for Welsh Mountain Ponies, and is growing ever more popular in recent years. Driving has many sub-categories. Some of the categories include:
In Pleasure Driving competitions, ponies are hitched to antique vehicles or replicas. Classes or divisions can be divided by the size of the animal, the kind of vehicle, and the number of animals pulling the vehicle--singles, pairs, unicorns (one pony in front of two), tandems (one behind the other), or teams such as the four-in-hand.
This is similar to three day eventing but it is for equines put to a carriage/cart. As with eventing, it consists of three phases, driven dressage (just like ridden dressage but with a larger arena), marathon (instead of cross country jumping, various obstacles are driven over a long course) and cones (instead of stadium jumping, a timing and accuracy event). Combined driving events take up to three days depending on entries and large areas of land are needed. To accommodate smaller areas, and harsh weather conditions, other categories have been developed, such as ADT (arena driving trail), and HDT.
Roadster ponies are high stepping, fast moving ponies. Roadster ponies are shown in a racing bike (sulky) as with harness racing horses. Jockeys were racing colors. Speed under control is the goal. This is one of the most popular styles of driving for spectators as the command “trot on” is often accompanied by audience hooting and calling. Great fun and the ponies seem to love it.
We can’t forget to mention recreational driving. This is one of the fastest growing disciplines in the US today. And Welsh Mountain Ponies are often the pony of choice. They are ideally suited for driving. When a child outgrows their beloved Welsh Mountain Pony, the pony can be trained to drive. This way the pony can continue to be enjoyed by the entire family, in competition or just for recreational drives down a country lane.
Trail can either be competitive or recreational. In a competitive trail class, a pony is ridden through, around, over a series of elements that may be found during an actual trail ride. Bridges, poles, tree branches, flapping tarps, road hazard signs, are just a few of the creative obstacles to be found in trail competition. Some events include in-hand trail where the same obstacles are negotiated by a pony being led by a handler. This is becoming more and more popular for the adult competitor as well as children. And, of course, Welsh Mountain Ponies are enjoyed for non-competitive trail riding. They make great childrens’ or smaller adult mounts for trail as they tend to be brave and have great endurance. Also their dense, strong hooves make traveling over rocky terrain much less problematic than for some of their larger equine counterparts.
Welsh Mountain Ponies are known for their intelligence and trainability, which makes them well suited for trick training. (Look for our article on trick training.)
Costume class has been a long time favorite for participants and spectators. Welsh Mountain Ponies adapt well to wearing costumes as our photos show. This class is a real crowd pleaser.
Leadline classes for the youngest of riders are found at most all shows. Show committees recognize the importance of these classes as they are so valuable in creating the next generation of equestrians. And Welsh Mountain Ponies are the best pony for leadline. They are perfectly sized for the smaller riders, elegant in appearance, and quiet in temperament. Parents love this class as it allows them the opportunity to bond with their child over their mutual love of ponies.
In-hand/halter type classes are popular with breeders as they get to showcase the ponies they are producing and also see what the judges have to say about their ponies. But this isn’t a class just for breeders. A proud Welsh Mountain Pony owner will enjoy halter competition and the challenges of turning out a well-conditioned, well-behaved pony for this class. A sub-category of halter is showmanship, where the handler is judged on their ability to show the pony to its best advantage. The Welsh breed shows have recently added a Junior Handler class for this same reason that has been very well attended.
Parades, large and small, ridden, driven, or in-hand, are a popular way to showcase your Welsh Mountain Pony. There are many opportunites around the nation to participate in parades. (See our article on parades.)
Para-Equestrian sport includes all equestrian disciplines practiced by people with physical disabilities. The primary focus is to provide clinic and competition opportunities for these athletes. Many who participate in para-equestrian are quite talented, and some are considered to be among the elite equestrians of the world, regardless of their physical condition. Welsh Mountain Ponies make great para-equestrian mounts for smaller riders as they are less intimidating and closer to the ground for the rider, as well as having temperaments suited to this activity.
Therapeutic riding is an equine-assisted activity for the purpose of contributing positively to the cognitive, physical, emotional and social well-being of individuals with special needs. Therapeutic riding provides benefits in the areas of health, education, sport and recreation & leisure. Throughout the world, there are thousands of individuals with special needs who experience the rewarding benefits of horseback riding. (See our article on one special Welsh Mountain Pony used for therapeutic riding)