Most people know that little girls love ponies. What might not be as evident is that grown-ups seem to love ponies just as much! Ponies seem to attract a hundredfold the attention of even the most beautiful and well trained of horses. It's what I call "pony magic magnetism." It still amazes me and I've ridden and trained ponies since 1980.
Oftentimes when my daughter Catie and I take her ponies places such as shows, trail rides or parades, we are frequently asked three questions:
1. Are those little horses or ponies?
2. Are they fully grown?
3. What kind of ponies are they? because they seem so nice for ponies.
Generally speaking, as a rule of thumb, if a someone is riding an animal it is usually a pony. Miniature horses are the same size as some small pony breeds, however most miniature horses are shown in hand or pulling a cart.
Certain pony breeds such as the Welsh, Exmoor and Dartmoor have been bred to be ridden for millennia. Only in the last 150 years have children beyond the aristocracy and royalty started riding ponies. To be called a "pony" an animal must be 14.2 hands or less, making many large and medium ponies perfectly capable of carrying adults.
Historically, ponies that were bred to be ridden were bred to be ridden by adults. Only the aristocracy could afford to train and feed large horses; the average European peasant used ponies to ride, to pull carts, to till fields, to dredge in coal mines and numerous other workaday jobs. Many breeds such as the Welsh have separate driving and riding categories in their breed registries.
A stouter pony with broader chest and higher knee action is more greatly desired for the driving types such as the Welsh Cob. For ponies bred for riding, different conformational guidelines are needed. Narrower withers, sloping shoulders and deep hips are desired for less knee action and more ability to have smoother more ridable gaits and the athleticism that is required of ponies that jump.
Miniature horses vary from ponies in numerous ways, the greatest being they possess horse phenotypes, or horse DNA as opposed to pony. As far back as the early 17th Century, numerous European Royal families bred true miniature horses as pets. Odd and exotic pets have appealed to the ridiculously wealthy long before Paris Hilton bought her first Bush Baby.
The Sun King, Louis XIV of France, was known to have minis in his personal zoo. A stallion given as a gift by the Hapsburg Court of Vienna was noted for his tiny size, particularly his hooves. By the 18th Century the Hope Family of England had a full breeding operation that would last more than 100 years.
The modern mini has been bred out of small Shetland, Welsh and Dartmoor ponies with the infusions of small thoroughbreds and the very petite Fallabella of Argentina, the first true modern mini breed. There are more than 30 miniature breed registries in the US alone, making minis one of the more diverse breeds today.
From the hearty Dartmoor to the refined Connemara to the versatile Pony of the Americas there is probably a pony out there for what you want to do. Take your time, contact the appropriate breed registry for guidance and have fun ponying!
KELLY MOLLOY-MCDANIEL is a Tehachapi-based trainer. Please email any questions to email@example.com; follow her on Twitter @SpitCreekRanch #SpitCreekelly.