A pint-sized superstar the Hackney Pony is a refined and elegant animal with excellent paces. Although, as its name suggests, it was originally bred from the Hackney Horse, the Hackney Pony looks like a pony rather than a little horse. They remain popular as driving ponies for adults or show ponies for children.
Unlike the native breeds, the origins of the Hackney Pony can be dated precisely. In 1866 Christopher Wilson started to breed a Hackney Horse stallion called Sir George with Fell mares. The subsequent progeny were then cross-bred with each other until the Hackney Pony emerged. It is believed that Welsh Ponies may also have been used in the breeding process. Mr Wilson was looking to create a pony which had the physique and stylishness of the Hackney Horse but in a smaller and hardier frame, making it more suitable for use in harsher environments. He succeeded admirably, creating a pony which could winter out in the North of England but which would still be more than acceptable for the landed gentry and other moneyed people to be seen driving. By the end of the century the breed had become established as popular carriage ponies. Unfortunately the start of the 20th Century saw both mechanization and austerity. Unlike the native breeds, the Hackney pony was not seen as being useful for the war effort. In fact, it was not seen as being useful for anything and since fewer and fewer people could afford to keep horses for pleasure driving or riding, their numbers went into decline. Fortunately the latter half of the 20th Century was vastly pleasanter than the carnage of its opening years. The 1950s in particular saw an increase in interest in recreational riding and driving.
Hackney ponies may stand up to 14.2 hands high and are most commonly bay although they may be black or chestnut. All white markings are permissible. While earlier Hackney ponies were able to live out even in winter, modern Hackney ponies tend to have finer coats manes and tails. In spite of its refinement, the Hackney pony has typically pony features such as a small face with relatively large eyes and small, pert ears. Although lightly built, they have powerful shoulders and chests. Their bodies are compact and although they have neat quarters, they are nowhere near as powerful as some other breeds. This means that although they may be competent jumpers, it is highly unlikely that they will be outstanding. Another issue for people interested in jumping is that although Hackney ponies have good joints, they have fine bones, which is less than ideal for an activity where the pony essentially balances on either its back legs or its front legs for a large percentage of the time, let alone one where the front legs have to absorb significant impact. It's also worth noting that the Hackney pony naturally has a high-stepping trotting action which some people may find uncomfortable under saddle. It's also worth noting that as Hackney ponies are relatively light compared to other ponies of similar stature they are better suited to lighter riders.
Modern Hackneys ponies do retain many of the characteristics of the pony temperament; however it has to be noted that they are often more sensitive than native ponies and as such are better suited to people with at least a moderate degree of experience, who are calm enough and confident enough to deal with the odd display of spookiness. If mishandled (or just given insufficient attention) Hackney ponies can easily develop bad habits. On the plus side modern Hackney ponies tend to be both friendly and intelligent and in spite of their light build they are courageous and resourceful. If well handled they will reward their owner handsomely.
Although Hackney ponies do not tend to suffer from genetic conditions, they can have health issues which are exacerbated by treating them as works of art rather than living, breathing creatures. To begin with the Hackney pony's high-stepping trot can cause extra wear on the joints. Some trainers teach their ponies to exaggerate this action to the point where their knees nearly touch their chins. This is terrible for their joints. To make matters worse, there has been a traditional practice of leaving Hackney ponies' hooves long in the toe to draw attention to their feet. There have also been questionable practices used to set their tales artificially high for appearances. These are now banned at many shows and in some countries. The result of using them can be the inability of the horse to use its tail properly resulting in loss of protection (e.g. inability to swat flies in summer). A vet will be able to detect these issues and to offer advice.
Caring for a Hackney
The modern Hackney Pony is generally half-hardy at best. They usually have sleek, fine coats, manes and tails rather than the thick ones of their Fell ancestors. This means they need protecting from the worst of the weather, which means stabling and feeding. On the plus side they are less prone to laminitis than many of their pony counterparts and are significantly easier to groom in winter. They will need regular attention from a farrier and it is kindest to have the hooves kept in a natural shape rather than effectively sculpted to look good. They will also need to be wormed. Even in colder weather, they will appreciate being out of doors as much as possible, which is perfectly feasible with a good New Zealand rug, possibly supplemented by blankets. They may also need a rug for the stable and a sweat (or cooler) rug is also a good buy if the pony is to be worked regularly. Hackney ponies may be refined but they are also active, energetic and honest workers. This means that owners need to be prepared to take them out for ridden or driven exercise ideally on a daily basis.
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