Horses For Dummies
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Besides the most popular horse breeds, some pony breeds and warmblood breeds are popular in the United States.

By definition, a pony is a small type of horse standing less than 14.2 hands at the withers. However, a distinction exists between a true pony and a horse that is simply on the short side. Not every horse under 14.2 hands is considered a pony, and not every pony over 14.1 hands is considered a horse. Ponies are members of distinctive pony breeds. In other words, you can’t breed two Thoroughbreds or two Arabians and get a pony. Breeders produce a pony by breeding two ponies, or by breeding a pony to a small horse.

In the 1980s, a European type of horse called the warmblood became popular in the United States. Seen for years in international jumping and dressage competitions, the warmblood suddenly became the horse of choice for Americans who wanted to compete in the upper levels of Olympic disciplines like dressage, jumping, combined training (or three-day eventing), and driving.

Pony breeds

Ponies tend to be hardy little creatures. Most pony breeds developed in harsh European climates with rugged terrain; they had to become durable and levelheaded to survive.

Most adults are too big to comfortably ride a small pony (neither the pony nor the adult will be happy), although a smaller adult can do fine with a larger pony. If you want a mount for your child, however, a pony can certainly do the job.

The following pony breeds are popular in North America:

  • Shetland: The Shetland pony is the creature people most often think about when they hear the word This breed is one of the smaller ponies around. Shetlands make excellent mounts for young children as long as the ponies — and the kids — are properly trained. American Shetlands are usually around 11 hands high and come in a wide variety of horse colors.
  • Welsh Ponies: These ponies come in four different types: the Welsh Mountain Pony, the Welsh Pony, the Welsh Pony of Cob Type, and the Welsh Cob. Each of these four names represents different heights and conformation types within the Welsh breed. Okay, we know it’s confusing, but stay with us. If you think of each type in terms of its height, it gets a little better: The Welsh Mountain is 12.2 hands or shorter; the Welsh Pony 12.2 to 13.2 hands high; the Welsh Pony of Cob Type is 13.2 hands high or less; and the Cob Type is actually horse-sized at 14 to 15.1 hands tall. All versions of Welsh Ponies make excellent equine companions for children. The taller ones are big enough for some adults.
Welsh Pony Photo by: Gemma Giannini
  • Connemara: The Connemara is a refined-looking pony that excels in jumping. Measuring on the tall side (13 to 14.2 hands), Connemaras make suitable mounts for some adults and for children.
  • Pony of the Americas: The Pony of the Americas, or POA as it is commonly called, originated from crossings with the Appaloosa horse and the Shetland pony. POAs typically have Appaloosa markings, and are good ponies for kids. In fact, the American POA breed association has one of the most extensive youth show programs in the country. POAs typically stand anywhere from 11.2 to 14 hands high.
  • Highland Pony: The Highland Pony is a rugged Scottish breed with roots that go back to the 8th century BCE. Although popular in the U.K., only a handful of Highland Ponies can be found in America. They measure from 13 to 14 hands, and are shown in dressage, eventing and driving, and used for trail riding.


Several different warmblood breeds exist, each named for the region it comes from, with its own distinct characteristics. What they all have in common is a large stature, profound athletic ability, and a high price tag. Some of these breeds are common in the United States and Canada, while others are only available in Europe.

Here’s a list of the warmblood breeds you see most often in North America:

  • Belgian Warmblood: Averages around 16 hands; good in show jumping, eventing, and dressage
  • Dutch Warmblood (check out one of these horses in the color section): Average around 16.2 hands; known for talent in dressage and jumping
  • Hanoverian: German breed known for abilities in dressage, eventing, and jumping; averages 16 to 17 hands
  • Holsteiner: Developed in Germany; averages 16 to 17 hands; excels in driving, eventing, jumping, and dressage
  • Oldenberg: Hails from Germany; averages 16 hands high; talented jumping, dressage, and eventing horse
  • Swedish Warmblood: Averages 16 hands; used for show jumping, dressage, and eventing
  • Trakehner: German breed used for jumping, dressage, and eventing; averages 16 to 17 hands

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Connie Isbell is a former editor and writer atAudobon magazine, as well as the editor of numerous pet books. Audrey Pavia is the author of many books on pets and animals, including the bestselling Horses For Dummies and The Rabbit: An Owner's Guide to a Happy Healthy Pet. She has been a frequent contributor to numerous pet publications, editor-in -chief of Horse Illustrated, and senior editor of The AKC Gazette.

Audrey Pavia is the former editor of Horse Illustrated magazine and an award-winning writer of numerous articles on equine subjects. The author of seven books about horses, she has also contributed to Thoroughbred Times, Horse & Rider, and many other animal magazines.

Janice Posnikoff, DVM, is a highly respected equine veterinarian with over 20 years experience. She is a graduate of the Western College of Veterinarian Medicine, University of Saskatchewan, Canada.

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