Miniature horses, known as ponies, make great horses for children as well as many other equestrians that like a smaller statured horse!
There are numerous Pony breeds. Ponies varying in size and other characteristics, but all share some basic traits that differ from other horse types. Evolving from extremely harsh environments with nutritionally poor vegetation has resulted in their being small, sturdy horses. They are sure footed, steady, and noted for their gentle dispositions.
Throughout their history ponies have been used as work animals. Pony breeds were used for driving, pulling carts and hauling loads (like coal from mines), and as children’s mounts. Today ponies are also used for competition, performance, and for pleasure riding.
Pony breeds tend to have a smooth comfortable gait, making them a pleasurable riding horse. They are especially popular for children due to their smaller size.They are closer to the ground and when well trained they are easily controlled and maneuvered. Many ponies excel in equestrian disciplines and the show ring and the top ponies are even competitive against full size horse breeds.
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Horse Backgrounds and history
Ponies are the smallest of the horse breeds. These miniature horses have ancient bloodlines connecting their ancestry back to the oldest breed of horse. Though Ponies have been developed throughout the world, their exact lineage is rather obscure. There are several suggested developments for the different pony breeds. These include their being evolved from northern heavy draft horse breeds or from southern light horse breeds, and also from wild races.
These are sturdy small horse breeds with a long ancestry reaching back to the primitive Ice Age pony. Ponies evolved from harsh environments with harsh terrain and inferior nutrition. The results are smaller horse breeds with unique physical characteristics. With a diet of poor quality grasses and vegetation, their gut and digestive system is designed to handle large quantities of food. Their teeth two reflect this diet, their molars are big and strong, capable of grinding away at coarse folage for hours. They have heavy shaggy coats in the wintertime to deal with severe weather conditions, and their legs are short and muscular for climbing over rough terrain.
They differ slightly in appearance from other horse breeds with shorter legs and a rounder barrel. Their heads are somewhat shorter and they have a broader forehead. They have somewhat shorter and thicker necks and their bones are wider and stronger. Their manes, tails, and coats are also usually thicker.
Though Pony breeds are primarily used for recreation and competition today, some are also still used for work. In some countries they pull carts or other types of horse drawn vehicles and are used as pack animals. They are also used at children’s parties and summer camps, and in carnivals. They will be used to give children short rides or are hitched to a pony wheel with several other ponies, which then serves as a walker for rides going around in a circle.
Ponies are generally 14.2 hands high or under. All are smaller than the heavy draft horses and the majority are smaller than light horses. They range in size from those that are actually larger than a small full-sized horse to others that are barely over two feet high. Though they are small, these are very durable horses. Some breeds, like the Shetland Ponies, are extremely strong and can pull as much weight as a draft horse.
Pony breeds, like draft horse breeds, are often named for the country or region in which they originated. The term ‘pony’ is also used to refer to some horses that are full-sized, such as the polo ponies, Indian ponies, and cow ponies.
Some of the most popular Ponies include:
- American Sport Pony
- American Quarter Pony
- British Riding Pony
- Chincoteague Pony
- Connemara Pony
- Dales Pony
- Dartmoor Pony
- Exmoor Pony
- Fell Pony
- German Riding Pony
- Gotland Pony
- Hackney Pony
- Highland Pony
- Kerry Bog Pony
- Shetland Pony
- Moorland Pony
- Mountain Pony
- New Forest Pony
- Pennine Pony
- Pony of the Americas
- Welara Pony
- Welsh Pony
- Welsh Cob
Ponies do well in many disciplines. Nearly all Ponies can be used for driving, pleasure riding, western driving classes, and can be great schooling ponies for the beginning rider. Some are extremely versatile, being great performance ponies for showing as well as great for trail and pleasure riding. Those with characteristics of a sports pony do well as hunters on the flat and over fences. Ponies can also show in dressage, equitation, and other events, with top ponies even being competitive against full sized horses.
Ponies are well known for their superior intelligence and with good horse training, more tractable temperaments. Well trained ponies can make wonderful mounts for children. Their small sizes make them less intimidating and are more closely matched to a child’s size and strength. They are closer to the ground and when well trained, are easily controlled and maneuvered.
The amount of proper training, however, can have an impact on a ponies demeanor. Those that are improperly trained or trained by inexperienced persons can result in a Pony that can be spoiled, stubborn, or devious. Those that are properly trained result in an excellent mount for children and others that wish to compete in equestrian disciplines. Many of the larger ponies are quite strong, so can also be ridden by adults.
Ponies tend to be more independent than other types of horses, and they require less diligence in their care. There are basic care requirements for all the Pony breeds, but it is very important that the needs of each individual breed is also considered. Be sure you learn about the care requirements for the breed of Pony you are getting.
Due to their rugged evolution, nearly all pony breeds can thrive on a more limited diet than that of a full sized horse. They are extremely easy keepers and most will do well on low fat and low carbohydrate forage, with little or no grain supplements.
Ponies are generally hardy and do extremely well in a pasture situation. If kept indoors in a box stall or barn, daily turnout is very important. Horses are gregarious and thrive on companionship. Though the Pony breeds are more independent than other types of horses, most are highly social and enjoy the company of other horses.
The amount of grooming varies from breed to breed. A few breeds will need their coats clipped for an even look, and thick manes and tails will require regular trimming and pulling to remain healthy. Cob varieties may also develop scratches beneath their feathered fetlocks, so good grooming is essential. Many have small, tough feet which need regular trimming, but often do not require shoes. Hooves should be checked by a farrier and trimmed as needed.
Pony breeds include some of the hardiest horses. These durable breeds are strong, sound and healthy. They require very little maintenance and include some of the longest lived horses. Some, like the Shetland Pony,can easily develop laminitis if on a diet high in non-structural carbohydrates. With these owners must pay careful attention to nutrition, being careful to regulate feed quantity and type.
Featured Image Credit: Sabine Hagedorn, Shutterstock