Pet Improvement: Ponies

The Connemara pony showcases the hardiness and look of this great Irish breed.

Ponies are just what they are, small horses primarily designed to accommodate small humans. Ponies must be 14.2 hands (58 inches) at the withers (base of the neck) or less to be classed as such. Some breed standards have even shorter height requirements.

The hand measurement is interesting, and is believed to have been used for at least 10,000 years, dating back to ancient Egypt. It is based on the width of a man’s hand at the base and is standardized at four inches. 

There are a lot of theories for the benefit of ponies, but the scale size helps the novice feel more comfortable. Plus, the child is closer to the ground, so not as far to fall. Temperament that is specifically suitable for children is crucial. There are many wonderful breeds of ponies; here are a few.  

Welsh ponies originated in the Wales over 2,000 years ago and are believed to be descendants from a prehistoric Celtic pony. They were wild, sturdy, horses living in the harsh mountain climates and terrain. Other than the Arabian horse, they are considered one of the oldest known breeds. The Welsh pony was not originally bred for children but instead used as a small draft horse. They would plough, pull carts, haul peat and coal and other tasks. Unfortunately, when the coal hauling started, many ponies were condemned to a life underground in the mines doing this grueling work. 

 During the 16th century, King Henry VIII wanted all horses under a certain height exterminated to encourage the reproduction of only large war horses. For males, it was under 15 hands, and females 13 hands. This would basically wipe out the Welsh pony. But because of their hardiness, they were able to escape by climbing mountains and going places that they could not be pursued.

The modern Welsh pony is considered one of the most beautiful, with wonderful temperaments. They are multi-dimensional and incredible for children. Arabians, as well as other refined breeds, have been crossed to create a versatile and hardy animal. 

They are divided into four sections, A, B, C, D, based upon height and pedigree. Section A is the smallest pony and cannot exceed 12.2 hands (50 inches). They also have full size cobs that are over 13.2 hands. Please visit https://wpcsa.org for much more great information. 

Shetland ponies are a Scottish breed that originated in the Shetland Isles and are also believed to originate from the Celtic pony from thousands of years ago. They were also originally used as small draft horses. They are short, under 42 inches, with strong legs. Most people have heard of Shetlands and their thick necks and full manes. They are also known to be a bit ornery at times. Like the Welsh pony, through the breed registries, these horses have been refined over time to fit certain standards and are excellent for children. 

Shetlands are the most popular pony breed in the United States. Their official site also has extensive information on other miniature horses as well at https://www.shetlandminiature.com.

Pony of the Americas (POA) was created in Iowa in 1954. The foundation stud came from a cross of an Arabian/Appaloosa bred to a Shetland Pony. These ponies all carry the Appaloosa pattern, which is a colorful and diverse spot pattern on white, snowflakes, frosting and several other beautiful combinations. Ease in training and gentleness are benchmarks. 

The POA was originally bred to be between 44 and 52 inches and primarily for children. This has slowly changed over time as the breed has become quite popular. I have personally watched these ponies outperform full-size horses. Their registry is at https://www.poac.org.

All this reminded me of when I was a small child and pined to have my own pony, as so many children do. I was young enough that my father still sung a little song at bedtime about going to the zoo and buying me peanuts and Cracker Jacks. But I did not want that, I wanted a pony! “Plllleeeeaaaaase dad!” I begged one night interrupting the song. 

My father, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross recipient, wisely replied, “Of course, but you must first show me that you can train the old dog.” Thinking that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks and he could prolong the inevitable. 

Little did my father realize that I was a library savant, so I promptly marched down the next day and checked out several books on “How to Train Your Dog,” and off we went. I set up hurdles next to the house, and the dog and I would jump together and then separately. We also jumped back and forth over the hedge next to the kitchen, and I am sure my mother must have wondered about her child.

The day came for the presentation, and I worked the dog like a pro. “Sit, stay, shake, come and heel” all commands he did perfectly. Then we performed over a series of fences that I had set up. He jumped at a heel, off lead and in perfect sync with me, aka agility style, that left Dad speechless. 

Jane Laulis is an avid pet lover. She hosts a pet talk radio show and is involved with pets from research to retail, nutrition to pet food manufacturing. She lives on the coast with her scientist husband, ocean faring dogs, indoor cats, exotic snakes and a charm of hummingbirds. She may be reached at [email protected]

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