Moving from a pony to a horse with Oliver Thomas Mitchell

For many young riders, the time comes when they need to make the transition from a pony to a horse - usually this is a result of growing beyond the height that suits their mount, but can also be for a range of other reasons. It's not always an easy change, so we caught up with young rider Oliver Thomas Mitchell (13 years old), who recently made the switch from his beautiful schoolmaster pony, Fairbanks Ringo, to his first horse, Regal Prince Black (AKA Teddy). Oliver rides and trains at Gooromon Park Riding Centre in Hall, ACT. 

Tell us a bit about your riding journey - when did you start, and what drew you to the sport?

I was first drawn to horse riding around the Autumn of 2017. I had my first lesson sometime around March. Two of my friends at the time both rode horses as their co-curricular sport and I had grown pretty tired of being pressured into playing sports I didn’t want to by my school so I decided to try it out.

When you were looking for in your first pony, what were the qualities you were looking for?

While we were looking for my first pony, we were definitely looking for a calm collected older schoolmaster. We knew that this would be best for me as I was still in the early stages of my riding career and we wanted a pony that would just make it easier for me to learn, develop and understand without having to fight against it every day.

How did it feel when you first sat on Ringo? Can you tell us a bit about your journey with him?

It definitely felt weird to be sitting on Ringo as there was so much hype around going to see him that when we actually did spot him in his paddock, it was like we just saw our favourite celebrity. 

Our journey was much more about me unlocking his secrets and learning his buttons, I was learning how to do something new on him almost every week. He definitely was a vital part of my riding career and I would be nowhere without him.

What did you look for in your next horse, when you realised you had outgrown Ringo?

When we were looking for our next horse, we definitely wanted to replicate all the good in Ringo and have it put into a horse's body x2. Now, this was a ridiculous ask, but somehow we managed to find it within Teddy!

What made you realise that Teddy was the one?

It was definitely his adorable face, shiny and silky fur and his absolute calm and happy temperament. While tacking him up he went a solid two minutes without a bridle or halter on and yet he still just stood there as calm as he could be, waiting for someone to come attend to him.

Additionally, while riding him for the second time, we had a little moment where he freaked out and ran off - I was completely fine, he was completely fine, no one was hurt, he never even went into a medium canter and he was really easy to calm down and get back under my control. Later I was told that that was one of the worse they’ve ever seen him do so I knew if anything else went wrong while I’m on the saddle it would be extremely easy to put out (not like he gets spooked much anyways).

What have been some of the most exciting aspects of moving from a pony to a horse?

I have definitely been excited about how easy it is to calm him down, not have to deal with any bad attitude on the ground and on the saddle. It is really nice not being so close to the ground while riding as well and I definitely love how much more sensitive Teddy is to your aid than Ringo. Not to forget that Teddy dirties and breaks his rugs a whole lot less than Ringo!

And what have been some of the unexpected challenges?

I never thought that I would have to change how much I ask for things. It is definitely really weird to put his rugs or saddle on without being able to look over to the other side. I never thought that he would be as much of an eater as he is and finally, I never thought about how many more things I needed to buy compared to what we had to buy for Ringo!

Do you have any advice for young riders about to make the change themselves?

You should never doubt yourself or your ability to ride, it's never going to be easy to adapt to a new horse, let alone a really tall one. Your horse will never forget the movements it has been trained, your one job as its new rider (for the first few months) is to just get to know it, learn how to ask for things, get used to its feel, and to just have fun. No one is rushing you to do well other than you, it may take some time but that time is vital and you will never regret the time you spent just getting to know your horse.

You can keep up with Oliver and Teddy's journey together on Instagram!