Ponies are generally considered intelligent and friendly. They are sometimes also described as stubborn or cunning. Properly trained ponies are appropriate mounts for children who are learning to ride. Larger ponies can be ridden by adults, as ponies are unusually strong for their size. In modern use, some organizations may define a pony as a mature horse below a certain height at the withers; this may vary from about 142 cm (14.0 h) to nearly 150 cm (14.3 h). Some breeds classify an animal as either horse or pony from its pedigree and phenotype, no matter its height. A full-sized horse may sometimes be called a pony as a term of endearment.
Domesticated ponies of all breeds originally developed mainly from the need for a working animal that could fulfill specific local draft and transportation needs while surviving in harsh environments. The usefulness of the pony was noted by farmers who observed that a pony could outperform a draft horse on small farms.
In many parts of the world ponies are used as working animals, as pack animals and for pulling various horse-drawn vehicles. They are seen in many different equestrian pursuits. Some breeds, such as the Hackney pony, are primarily used for driving, while other breeds, such as the Connemara pony and Australian Pony, are used primarily for riding. Others, such as the Welsh pony, are used for both riding and driving. There is no direct correlation between a horse's size and its inherent athletic ability.
Pony breeds have developed all over the world, particularly in cold and harsh climates where hardy, sturdy working animals were needed. They are remarkably strong for their size. Breeds such as the Connemara pony are recognized for their ability to carry a full-sized adult rider. Pound for pound ponies can pull and carry more weight than a horse. Draft-type ponies are able to pull loads significantly greater than their own weight, with larger ponies capable of pulling loads comparable to those pulled by full-sized draft horses, and even very small ponies are able to pull as much as 450 percent of their own weight.
Nearly all pony breeds are very hardy, easy keepers that share the ability to thrive on a more limited diet than that of a regular-sized horse, requiring half the hay for their weight as a horse, and often not needing grain at all. However, for the same reason, they are also more vulnerable to laminitis and Cushing's syndrome. They may also have problems with hyperlipemia.
Ponies are generally considered intelligent and friendly, though sometimes they also are described as stubborn or cunning. The differences of opinion often result from an individual pony's degree of proper training. Ponies trained by inexperienced individuals, or only ridden by beginners, can turn out to be spoiled because their riders typically lack the experience base to correct bad habits. Properly trained ponies are appropriate mounts for children who are learning to ride. Larger ponies can be ridden by adults, as ponies are usually strong for their size.
The smallest equines are called miniature horses by many of their breeders and breed organizations, rather than ponies, even though they stand smaller than small ponies, usually no taller than 38 inches (97 cm; 9.2 hands) at the withers. However, there are also miniature pony breeds.
Many horse breeds have some pony characteristics, such as small size, a heavy coat, a thick mane or heavy bone, but are considered to be horses. In cases such as these, there can be considerable debate over whether to call certain breeds "horses" or "ponies." However, individual breed registries usually are the arbiters of such debates, weighing the relative horse and pony characteristics of a breed. In some breeds, such as the Welsh pony, the horse-versus-pony controversy is resolved by creating separate divisions for consistently horse-sized animals, such as the "Section D" Welsh Cob.
Some horses may be pony height due to environment more than genetics. For example, the Chincoteague pony, a feral horse that lives on Assateague Island off the coast of Virginia, often matures to the height of an average small horse when raised from a foal under domesticated conditions.
Conversely, the term "pony" is occasionally used to describe horses of normal height. Horses used for polo are often called "polo ponies" regardless of height, even though they are often of Thoroughbred breeding and often well over 14.2 hands (58 inches, 147 cm). American Indigenous tribes also have the tradition of referring to their horses as "ponies," when speaking in English, even though many of the Mustang horses they used in the 19th century were close to or over 14.2 hands (58 inches, 147 cm), and most horses owned and bred by Native peoples today are of full horse height. Non-racing horses at racetracks that are used to lead the racehorses, ponying them, are called "pony horses".
The United States Pony Club defines "pony" to be any mount that is ridden by a member regardless of its breed or size. Persons up to 25 years old are eligible for membership, and some of the members' "ponies" actually are full-size horses.
Tuscaloosa police say they received a call around 10 p.m. March 20 about a small pony wandering around near 30th Avenue East and First Street East in the Alberta City suburb. (Tuscaloosa Police Department)
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