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What it’s Like to Ride a Scottish Pony (and to fall off of one!)

An Unforgettable Adventure in Edinburgh

If you’re an adventurous or outdoorsy traveler looking for a unique experience, a Scottish pony ride could be just the ticket. But what is it like to ride a Scottish pony? Is it really all that different from horseback riding? Well my friends, the answer is yes. Quite different! Be sure to leave your pride at the door but bring a hearty sense of adventure.

Ride a Scottish pony in Pentland Hills over Edinburgh - stout and sweet Exmoor ponies run wild

Why I Chose to Ride a Scottish Pony

I’m no expert equestrienne, but I love going horseback riding while traveling whenever possible. After researching options for my time in Edinburgh, I settled on Exmoor Pony Trekking, run by students of Edinburgh University. Aside from Haggis or Scotch, this seemed a perfect Edinburgh travel adventure.

The Exmoor is a specific breed of pony, exceptionally well suited for the rugged terrain and often harsh climate. Exmoor Pony Trekking is perched on the windswept Pentland Hills outside hopelessly photogenic Edinburgh. This would ultimately prove to be quite the Edinburgh experience.

Getting to Exmoor Pony Trekking

Scottish coos graze in the Pentland Hills outside Edinburgh, Scotland
Bonus: The adorable, distinctive Scottish coos roaming the hills!

I arrived via Uber, as public transport takes a while from Edinburgh’s center. Upon arriving, it’s a 15 minute walk through the trees and hills to the riding center. Along the way I ran into one of the guides and we strolled up together. We chatted pleasantly for quite some time as I had arrived rather early. Take note: there are no restrooms or even stables at the location, as the ponies typically roam more or less wild.

There is a restaurant/golf shop by the car park before you set off on the trail to the riding center. If ya gotta go, go then. Bring minimal belongings as no bags can be taken on the ride. I was able to leave my large camera bag in the tack shed, which does lock.

The ride – including a safety talk and getting everyone sorted on their perfect Scottish pony – takes about 2-3 hours and winds through the dramatic Pentland Hills Regional Park. Having done a fair amount of horseback riding over the years, I chose the Intermediate-Advanced ride. I’ve galloped through the hills of Tuscany, trotted through the King’s Forest in France, and cantered the beaches of Half Moon Bay – all without incident.

What to Know for Your Scottish Pony Ride

Folks, if you want to ride a Scottish pony know it is NOT like riding a horse. Your center of gravity and balance is very different astride one of these petite ponies. If you’re remotely on the tall side, your feet will nearly touch the ground (I’m 5’7″ for reference) and it’s just a smaller space to balance in overall. It requires a greater degree of control and to be honest, balance has never been my strong suit anyhow. Their short (though powerful) legs mean short strides, translating to a bumpier ride.

An exmoor pony stands by a fence on a stormy day in the Pentland Hills over Edinburgh, Scotlands
Exmoor ponies are about 4 feet tall at the withers, a good foot (or more) shorter than a horse.
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After about an hour we all took a try at cantering. The ride gets much bumpier here and balance even trickier. If you are not a well experienced rider, you will find yourself having to REALLY focus. The first couple passes were successful, though much of the ride was spent walking or trotting in order to accommodate the varying experience levels of the riders. In the final hour of the ride, as we headed back towards the not-barn, the guides asked if we wanted to go for a proper gallop. Everyone was in, especially the hardy little ponies.

Off we were, with the fella behind me ready to race ahead and show off a bit. As he gained ground behind me, I anticipated cutting right to avoid crossing paths. Well, both ponies had different ideas about that and mine ended up swiftly cutting left.

Oh No, My Pride!

With my balance and expectation ready for the opposite direction, my mount effectively ran right out from under me in true cartoon style. Ass over teakettle I went, with my tailbone taking the first impact to earth and my head right after. I could hear a resounding clunk as I connected with what had to be a rock.

Folks: WEAR YOUR HELMETS. Like I said, those ponies can haul some ass, so I met the ground with quite some speed. My tush screamed and my vision swam for a second, though mostly from the involuntary tears that sprang to my eyes. While I had a headache for the rest of the day, I’m quite sure I’d have had one hell of a concussion without that helmet.

View entering Pentland Hills Regional Park astride an Exmoor Pony
Helmets wisely required. The shorter riders had an easier time – I’m just glad I didn’t also land in a puddle!

The guide I had met at the start of the day quickly made her way over to check on me while her colleague collected the other riders to wait as the situation was assessed. I was thoroughly embarrassed to say the least, as much by the fall as the tears I couldn’t help.

Accidents happen, especially with animals involved. The guides demonstrated genuine concern, and one walked with me a bit as I shook off the fall. Thankfully while my tailbone smarted and my head ached a bit, my pride took the biggest injury. I fell off a freakin’ pony, man! I felt bad for the rest of the group, as there was no more trotting – much less galloping – as we ambled back to base.

Learning from this Travel Experience

While this travel mishap didn’t keep me from loving Edinburgh, I think I’ll stick to horses for my rides. Maybe a camel one day. I will say, the staff was friendly, professional, and responsive on all fronts. I filled out an incident form, and they even checked up on me in the following days to make sure I was indeed okay. Despite the fall I still had a wonderful time – both with Exmoor Pony Trekking and in Edinburgh all around.

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