Pony Cart: the Amish ATV
Driving the backroads of Amish America you find yourself passing the horse-and-buggy in miniature, with little Amish pilots egging on their diminutive yet sturdy ponies, whipping across front yards or up the shoulder and down to the neighbor’s, perhaps to collect a missing ingredient for the casserole mom is working on back at home.
Photo: Randall Persing
The pony cart serves a useful function in certain parts of Amish society, allowing their ‘owners’ to practice the skills needed to handle an animal-and-wheeled-vehicle combination. You don’t see them in all places, but they tend to be popular especially in the larger settlements, places such as Holmes County or northern Indiana.
To be honest, I am not sure if the presence of the pony cart is dictated by the local Ordnung, or more by a particular family’s finances and/or sensibilities.
In a sense, the pony cart is the All-Terrain Vehicle of Amish society–not that the pony cart can go just anywhere (though Amish youth may wish it were so).
Rather, just as modern country kids tear around on their ATVs, the pony cart is a fun ride for Amish youngsters, and at the same time a fairly hefty expenditure–a luxury item that not all Amish kids will get.
Were I an eight-year old Amish boy, however, I would really be hoping for one of these. The kids always seem to be having a blast.
‘sheep cart’ courtesy of Bill Coleman
They do have the same risks than the buggies though. One evening, in Holmes country, we saw the result of an “encounter” between a cart and a van full of Amish workers. Of course the pony was kill, the passengers van were OK, the cart itself was just destroyed. We didn’t see any injured children in the ditch, which was great (but maybe he/she was back in the house?)!
How about horseback riding for kids somewhat older than this? A boy of about 11 once decided to race me and my bicycle. He was out in a pasture with his horse when I came by on my bicycle, so he took the opportunity. He was riding bareback. I was going slow on loose gravel, so he won easily. He pulled up at the next house and looked mighty pleased with himself as I rode past. That’s the only time I recall seeing anyone on horseback in Amish country.
Looks like fun to me but it could be dangerous!
Amish pony cart--low visibility road danger
Emma the weekend I arrived in Elkhart/Lagrange Counties in Indiana last year a father and his sons were killed while riding in a pony cart. Adults sometimes use them for short trips, with the children for example. It’s probably safe to say they are less visible than your average horse-and-buggy and apparently the woman driving the van that hit them, who was a local, simply did not see them for whatever reason. So I would say the risk factor is higher with these.
Amish rarely ride horseback
John sounds fun! I have only seen Amish on horseback on a few occasions. As you’ve noticed it’s not too terribly common.
Stephen Scott in Plain Buggies writes: ‘Horseback riding is extremely rare among Old Order people. One will occasionally see a child riding a pony or a young man out for a ride, but almost never would a person ride a horse to church. Obviously the problem of modesty is involved for women and, of course, only one or two people can conveniently ride a horse with room for very little baggage.’
About horse back, I saw two young Old Order Amish women on horse back in Holmes county. They were neighbors of my Conservative Mennonite friends. I was quite surprised! but my friends said it was not so surprising for them anymore!
The only Indiana community I have seen these pony carts used is in Wayne County. It seems as if the children use them as their main transportation back and forth from the areas 4 schoolhouses.
Great photos!! I am curious about these photos being taken and wonder if the Amish in these approved of the snapshots.
Everything I have read tells me that the Amish frown on Cameras. While visiting many Amish families in the last week we were informed that photos of empty buggies would be fine but every man we talked to was really quick to say no family photos and stressed to us to please refrain from taking photos of him, his children, wife and also the house.
I just wonder, were these photos were taken with their knowledge?
i’ll bet not!!
How cute! I love the miniature horse and buggy.
Pony Carts are big with the school children in our community. They just pile on and go but this is normally just in the Summer time. Pony Carts are also used for ‘fun’ 🙂 I learned to drive a horse for the first time in a pony cart and they sure are fun!
In our community the boys will ride horseback pretty often to go to work or somewhere were only they would go. They don’t use them to go to singings or church though. Girls will sometimes do it but normally thats only if they can remain modest and just for short trips to the neighbors or in the feilds.
Just thought I’d share. Kate
Pony cart in Holmes county
We live just outside of Holmes County. I grew up here, but my husband is from Chicago, so getting used to seeing buggies was a change for him. One day we were waiting to pull into traffic on Route 39. A pony cart with a brown and white pinto pony pulled up next to it. A teenage girl in a plain summer dress held the reins. She also had on sparkly blue flip flops- something I had never seen before. Sitting next to her, giving instructions was an Amish man who looked like her father. Judging by his harried look and instructions and pointing hand telling her to “Go! Pull out NOW!” my husband and realized it was an Amish driver’s ed lesson. Remembering teaching our son to drive a car, we got a good laugh from that. Sometimes we really ARE more alike at heart than different.