I agree with Rob. Some are more mature at age three than others. Often a vet can determine with an examination of their leg bones if they are ready. The rest is up to the owner on how psychilogically ready they are.
No, hang on now, if I remember rightly you are an experienced horse person. I start saddle training the day thay are born. I start riding at two, but by riding I mean sitting on them, and playing around, and then I always used to put them in foal, so I would never start serious riding till four or gone, but the horse was being trained all the way through. For the age of your boys I would not consider a pony to be 'quiet to ride' before four, although I have had exceptions, and even then they are still quite young. Were I buying a pony for youngsters I would ideally look for something around eight, but I would not turn away a twilight years animal, as they are goldmines.
I never start any breed before they are 3 years old and includes driving. I know many people start theirs earlier and don't seem to have a problem, but I'm very careful and I don't want to take any chances. There are plenty of ground work exercises and "games" to do without adding my weight. In fact, our weanling paint filly has already had a pony saddle on her back and tightened. She just looked at us like we were crazy. But she won't carry any weight until she is 3 years.
I went to a farm to look at their "broke" ponies and he said this 18 month old Shetland was quiet and broke to ride - I did not think that sounded correct - and yes I would love a rideable pony 8-20 years for my guys to start on - I want him DEAD broke but what I think I will do is next August perhaps get a camp pony for Aug-June and see how it goes (unless the perfect riding pony falls into my lap)
Oh, dear, that poor little chap. I bet he was 'dead' quiet!!! I wish we could set up an exchange programme, England is knee deep in largely unwanted native ponies, and we have a really good range ( 10.2hh- 15hh) of excellent Show Ponies, too. It would not take me five minute to find what you are looking for, in fact I just sold one
I know this is going to sound strange, but how about a mini??? We have an "R" mini, 36 inches, that we got when he was almost three, and started working with him right away. Our area has dogs that people just run loose. When the first time I walked down the road with him, he was scared of everything. Well, after the 100th time he knew every single dog, and would just walk right past them, like it was no big deal. So at three and a half, I put his saddle on when I'd walk him, over and over and over again. I'd walk like three miles a day with his saddle on him. He loved to go out with me and check out his neighborhood and his dogs... Once he got used to having a saddle on his back, weight wasn't a problem. The most difficult thing was the introduction of the saddle... (and him sticking his belly out so I couldn't tighten the girth)..
Then each day, I let one of the kids, (usually the littlest sit on his, while we fed him treats. He got to associate a kid on him, with treats, so he was happy to see the kids coming in his direction. Of course then I started walking him with a child on him, progressing the weight of the child. (up to about 20% of his weight).
So to speed up the story, when we evacuated from hurricane Jean, I took the minis with me to a Motel 6. I would take them off the trailer every four hours around the clock and walk them. Well, there were about 1000 kids that were in the motel along with other motels on the same block. It was known pretty fast that I was out there, walking the boys, and kids were coming over for mini horse rides. Our gelding was such a good boy, and ever after midnight, parents were bringing their kids to ride our mini while I was walking him. We had no problems whatsoever. If it had not been so close to a highway, I would of let our nine year old ride him, instead of lead lining him.
He's such a good boy.... We're so proud of how he went from obstinant stallion to sweet rideable gelding with no problems at all. He was much cheaper then any pony I can think of would be.
There's always got to be some of those people around doesn't there--the ones who say their 18-24 mos. old colt is 'well broke for kids'; ya, right.
Horses or ponies don't get ridden 'til they're 3 here. We do have someone lean over their backs & sit on them bareback, even get led a few steps when they're 2, but that's the full extent of it. Three year olds don't get worked hard at all, but they do get some riding.
Back in the early spring we had some 1 & 2 yr old minis advertised for sale. A gal came to look with her rather large son, I think he was 13. She wanted horses for a riding camp & was looking at our tall B yearling. I knew very well that if she bought him she'd be using him for riding as a yearling--he was 35" in June so would appear big enough to ride
While this horse will make a wonderful family horse & would be one I'd recommend as a child's riding horse, he was NOT going to go to someone like her.