One reason for the growth in pony dressage is the specific breeding of dressage ponies through the importation of good German Riding Ponies and serious breeding here. For small adults, especially smaller women, ponies certainly suit them. Not only for the older, smaller riders, but also the young riders.
People say, “How can ponies be compared to big horses in the higher levels of the sport?” and of course the answer is obviously completely, “YES they can”. There is no difference between a pony or a horse when it comes to assessing, training and judging the movements, whether it be collected and extended trot, canter, or the higher movements in flying changes, piaffe and passage. Ponies are capable of getting very good scores and it is not difficult to compare a horse to a pony.
One of the disadvantages of having a pony in the dressage area is the amount of balance and strength they need to perform the test. There is a higher degree of difficulty for the ponies than for the bigger horses as the distance those smaller legs have to cover in a 60x20m arena is quite immense. To hold an extended trot on an entire diagonal for a pony takes a lot of strength and balance and so much more fitness and core strength than a large horse.
Some judges say it’s difficult to judge ponies. There really is no difference whatsoever – frame, balance, engagement, overtrack, expression, cadence, it’s all exactly the same. Judges don’t see it hard to judge 16 hands against 18 hands, so why is it more difficult from 14 hand to 16 hands? It’s still only two hands difference. And the footfalls in all the paces are exactly the same, as are the FEI definitions for all the movements. It makes no difference. (Just look at the pony through binoculars and, hey presto, it’s a horse!)
The one that shows absolute international quality and springs to the fore in Australia would have to be Hilkens Denali. Wendy Lorincz searched a long time to find a suitable pony for herself. Having ridden bigger horses to Advanced level and being a shorter and lighter lady, she decided it would be really nice to find a fabulous pony that she could train and continue to ride to FEI.
Denali, at the time a stallion, was owned and trained by Amy DeLangen in New Zealand, and she had ridden him to Small Tour. Amy had also imported another stallion, Golden Strike, and he took precedence at that time. She gave Denali to her daughter who competed him at lower levels for a few years before he was put up for sale.