There are too many ponies in North America. Just kidding. Sort of. But really, wow, there are a lot of ponies here. It is not surprising how well the pony establishment is surviving, even though there continually still struggles and setbacks. This is more about passion over money, and from what I have learned you are in the pony breeding business because of a very personal reason, and that passion is what holds the fabric of that community together.
So as an outsider looking in, and gathering endless input from lovely people all over the country, I immediately started seeing why pony breeding flourishes here in the U.S. There has been quite the head start. Even though Welsh ponies in the United Kingdom can be tracked all the way back to the 1400’s, (and really references to ponies and cobs were found as early as 930 A.D), it took until 1901 to form the Welsh Pony and Cob Association. Welsh Ponies were already being imported to the Americas in the late 1880’s.
Apparently, they are famously hardy animals by not only surviving the treacherous moors of Wales, but also because some idiot King by the name of Henry VIII got it into his heavily pickled and idiotic brain that little horses were vermin, and crazily sought out to destroy every horse he could find under 15 hands. Imagine having a bunch of knights show up on you doorstep and be like ‘hey your child’s love of her life is too small to exist, so yeah, we are gonna go ahead and chop him up here. thanks, bye’….. huh?? That was in 1540, when the women in Henry’s life were also getting beheaded on a regular basis, and the entire kingdom was probably wondering who let this creep on the throne. Who the heck orders a decree to kill ponies?? I mean I don’t like them, but I just ignore them, I wouldn’t for a second think a Ponycide was necessary.
For a more eloquent rendition of the history lesson, Leslie Wylde does a pretty good job. http://www.horsenation.com/2012/04/30/horses-in-history-the-welsh-ponys-worst-enemy/#comments
Back across the pond and fast forward to 1907, after a couple of decades of George E. Brown ( Auroa, Illinois) importing a whole bunch of Welsh Ponies, he and John Alexander formed The Welsh Pony Society of America. A century later, this country has a pretty substantial grip on Welsh ponies in and out of competition. There are a lot of standards when breeding a Welsh pony. Certain colors are not allowed….there are sections which relate to height. A, B, and C and D. One of the main differences from breaking away from the British Society is the possibility that here in America, the ponies were primarily continued to be bred for ‘Sport’ rather than back in the U.K. where they had a tendency to be bred for less jumping and more for ‘Show’ . Hence we have, on our own, created an ideal riding and jumping pony for the typical American child. It seems logical ponies were being bred at an easier and quicker rate, because they were generally being used for recreation, for wealthier children at that time, for pleasure, and they were smaller, easier to feed and store in the backyard. Keep in mind horses were still being used, especially outside of the North East, as means of transportation, work, racing, or fox hunting, rather than sole sport of horse showing. Horse racing was the dominant money maker for breeders, and money came hard and fast in an industry that spent horses just as hard and fast. In The Breeders Gazette, a popular publication which covered all areas of livestock breeding, suggestions were made for breeding all kinds of horses, from shetlands to Shires, (and pigs to lambs) but the concern was primarily for anything but horse showing. Early on, horses may have shown, but they normally had a primary purpose or were useful in other areas of life. Not to imply that ALL ponies bred here were automatically show ponies, some of them actually worked very hard, were actively being used in coal mines, or feed mills, and being used in delivery service well into the 20th century.
What you see today in the show ring is primarily of Welsh breeding. Famous early pony stallions of the Welsh line circa 1890- 1930’s include Dyoll Starlight, Ta-Y-Bwlch Berwyn, and Grove Ballistite.
Interestingly Dyoll Starlight can be found on both sides of the pedigree for Cymraeg Rain Beau, a 1974 pony Stallion which many recognizable ponies can be traced back to today, including Buzz Light Year, Blue Mist, Beaujolais, Remember the Laughter, Millbrook’s Tiny Bubbles, Knickerbocker, and more and more and more….…… Molly Sorge wrote this about Marguerite Taylor-Jones in 2010…http://www.chronofhorse.com/article/marguerite-taylor-jones-changed-face-pony-breeding
However, earlier in the mid 20th Century, Joan Dunning was an astonishing contributor to the Welsh lines and had a certain tenacity about her which made her steadfast in her dedication to keep certain standards very high for her ponies. She was a hardcore conformation critic, and I can imagine ruffled enough feathers in her loyalty to the pony over the person. My favorite line I found written about her was this “ She was an acute judge of conformation, and strongly opposed breeding to extremes of appearance at the expense of the animal’s health, intelligence or character. As a longtime director and president of the Welsh Pony Society of America she was a major influence on the development of the breed in this country, insisting always on maintaining the hardiness and intelligence of the original pony type” Well, take that Henry VIII!
She loaded herself onto a boat to go back to the U.K. multiple times following WW II in order to find the perfect mares to bring back to her farm in Virginia, quite often accompanying the ponies and terriers she accumulated during those buying trips on the way home, probably secretly giving the ghost of that old King the middle finger each time leaving England. (yes, literally on a boat, no Horseflight back then, so about ten days to make the crossing, not 7 hours).
Joan used her wealth to a more than admiral contribution to society on many levels, even outside horses, and now you know a little more about her. Her first stallion born here in the U.S.?
Farnley Sirius. Farnley Sirius eventually led to Farnley Lustre…….
Farnley Farm & Shenandoah ponies are everywhere, thanks to this incredibly dedicated woman, and please do not take offense to silly humor I carry around in my imagination.
In all seriousness, she was probably the most humble person out there, probably never gave the finger to anyone, even secretly, and on the Farnley Farm website, she announces herself, she did not put the energy she could have into promoting the Dartmoor pony (a similar breed) and feels she could have done much better by them. I maintain my ultimate respect for Joan and strive to be half the woman she must have been. However, I will not apologize for the opinion I carry for Henry VIII.
What about Farnley Lustre? It has been said he may have been the stallion of the Century, which is quite a powerful statement. Think first of the fact that he sired just over 150 foals, first. 150. So imagine 25 of them being kept as stallions. Getting the picture? Those 25 sired countless foals! Frankly Lustre’s reach is so deep into the ponies we see today, it is hard to imagine where we would be without him today. I think it might be a completely different world. I am also beginning to think there is no match today on Joan’s obsession with conformation, like for real, she was a hardcore adamant conformation geek, which has to contribute to the success of her stud. Anyone care to guess who might have been in Farnley’s Lustre’s pedigree around the turn of the 20th century….? I’ll give you a hint, he was grey.
Also? nice to have a good Stallion manager, http://www.chronofhorse.com/article/stud-manager-hershell-shull-finds-his-niche-farnley-farm
Times are a changing in this century
One of the more famously pony obsessed breeders and contributors to the magazine the Paisley pony was Thalia Gentzel, and her knowledge on all things pony was immeasurable. She wrote constantly about lines and kept extensive records on seemingly all the Welsh ponies in North America. Her articles can be found through many issues, and she was highly respected throughout her lifetime, including earning a Lifetime Achievement awards from the Welsh Association. Her Helicon Sport Ponies were epic winners. Her writings can be found everywhere, and I could spend months trying to track her work down.
In 2001, she wrote in the Chronicle of the Horse that most of the ponies today are derived from about four major pony lines. (more I would say) Farnley Lustre, Cymraeg Rain Beau, Blue Danube and Carolina’s Red Fox. Yet, she couldn’t finish the article without mentioning other sires leading to other famous show ponies. In all reality, following the ponies needs an encyclopedia all it’s own.
Thalia was a real push into meeting the breeders and meeting the ponies, universally, it seems, and I hope we have another Thalia around today? Do we?
Also interestingly, without Cheryll Frank, recording sires might still be unavailable today, which is super important. I can hardly believe it took until the year 2000 to establish a database with the Federation, but it did finally happen, with someone clearly more outspoken than I am, and she wrote to the Chronicle this little bit of awesomeness “The American Equestrian public desperately needs an impartial database that records the facts, without prejudice for or against any breed, horse, rider, trainer, or owner. Without such a tool, our industry is based on advertising budgets, rumor, prejudice, bogus claims, and old wives’ tales”
I think I could easily be bff’s with Cheryll Frank. Recording stallions with the Federation is key for established breeders, as well as the next generation coming up, because that is basically your education of who is what and what they produced, without it, you are guessing.
If Amy Rosi had not written The Pony Book about Emerson Burr, we would be left without most useful source of information out there. He painstakingly explained every detail on how to care for, manage, breed, raise, ride and show ponies produced for an entire generation who lacked the internet. This book was wildly popular and shared all of his knowledge and expertise, including interviews with Breeders across the country, and trophy winners from major competitions (WIHS) for the spanse of over two decades. Thankfully the Federation continues to recognize his lifetime of dedication to ponies and children through various horsemanship awards and programs. But really? Any child who reads and memorizes The Pony Book will never need a horsemanship quiz, because guess what? It is ALL covered in that tome.
The Shetland Pony. You know you love them, you see them flying about like mad these days thanks to tireless efforts of U.S. Pony racing. These were serious coal mining ponies until the need for them dissipated in the mid 1900’s and they instantly started finding better lives, especially in America. Eli Elliott (also in the Midwest), started bringing these creatures over from Scotland during the same time frame as George with the Welsh’s, late 1800’s. Everything was carefully recorded and as early as 1888, Shetlands had their first association (the American Shetland Pony Club) with two Studbooks. Shetlands are used for everything child related, even adult related when they are used for driving. Even I could appreciate seeing so many little ones at the Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show this summer
Maybe not the ideal hunter show pony standard, but still important enough to include them in our horse show lives. The trend to offer shetland pony racing at our biggest competitions across the country doesn’t seem to be disappearing. We hope. It is not difficult to see how a pony racing kid can transition to a children’s jumper pretty handily, hence earning a spot on a team headed for a championship. Do not underestimate a kid who has started on a shetland, these scrappy riders learn EVERYTHING about speed. Mini Kent Farringtons are scattered all over the countryside and you are cheering for them at WIHS every year.
But is the Shetland pony heading for dire straits? A serious divide amongst shetland pony breeders may be the biggest concern of the sustainability of this adorable breed. Should you care? Well, yes, if its popularity continues to gain momentum, there is a viable market here for shetland ponies again. Foundation ponies are the core to keeping the standards even and true, and if breeders break away over dissent, will the breed be forever altered and irreparable? The fall in interest in Shetlands is highly disturbing and the big picture is getting overlooked again and again. When I looked at the American Shetland Pony website I have to admit I was totally confused at what i was looking at with breeders all over the country. They didn’t look like shetland pony breeders at all! Miniature horses yes, Arabian type little beasts, yes, but shaggy fat short little locomotives like what I am used to seeing? no way. Solutions have to be out there, but again, people really need to find a cohesiveness through the industry and sport, not let personal experience bewilder the next generation of riders and enthusiasts.
Ironically, what many of you know as the Shetland pony because of the races you have seen is not necessarily supported by the American Shetland Pony Club, and you will almost NO reference to racing shetlands on their website. I saw one small picture. You will find a show schedule for the ponies, however, and there are two shows for shetlands that exist today. So why do we see a tiny revival of sorts with Shetlands? Because some very keen person involved with the Washington International Horse Show witnessed pony racing in the U.K., reached out to U.S. Pony racing here in America, and said “WE WANT THIS TO HAPPEN AT OUR SHOW”. Vision meet Action. Now hopefully Action will meet Sustainability.
The Dartmoor Pony
Also from the U.K. specifically surrounding Devon (that is the U.K Devon, not Pennsylvania Devon), these ponies are probably the most suitable kids pony, (with all my pony expertise), they seem to be the safest, soundest riding pony out there, but because they aren’t fancy show ponies, we may not see them around much longer. They do EVERYTHING a child really wants to do with their pony, from swimming to running around cross country, jumping, fox hunting, driving, western, and more, more, more. I can see why Joan regretted not promoting this pony as much as her other famous ones. It is a really, really cool breed. There are only six breeders listed on the Dartmoor Pony website (www.dartmoorpony.com), Farnley Farm being one of them still plugging away at their survival. Interestingly, the Dartmoor pony might be in peril in the U.K. as well. I found lots of whackadoodle articles regaling the emotional culling of herds growing out of control and the outrage of it all, but I also found one woman who filmed a short and dramatic documentary featured in the Equus Film Festival which can be found here. Keep in mind, livestock such as sheep and cattle are considered the same as ponies outside of America. Grazing rights are more complicated than just owning a farm, there is territory owned by the crown where livestock can ‘graze’ or roam freely and farmers obtain these grazing rights for their animals, without having to actually own the land. Sometimes multiple animals share common land, because different animals eat different things. http://theinsiderein.com/2016/05/24/monday-night-movie-dartmoor-ponies-the-final-round-up/
Watch the film that goes along with that article. https://vimeo.com/139357727 Do any similar things pop up about our own wild horses out west? And then there is the gut wrenching moment when I suddenly realized… what if Henry VIII was not pickled in the brain after all and the wild ponies had multiplied so rapidly in the 1500’s that he had NO CHOICE but to cull the herds?? Shit. See what the internet can do to a person? Sure enough, back to researching came up with this blog piece. http://newforestcommoner.co.uk/2014/10/04/new-forest-unusual-tails/ and this one from the same site. http://newforestcommoner.co.uk/2014/05/26/stallions-on-the-new-forest/ And when Henry VIII’s daughter, Elizabeth I, eventually became known as the ‘Savior of the Ponies’ for removing her father’s edict, she actually was thinking the forest couldn’t sustain a larger horse’s appetite, and thought the shorter ones would simply eat less and save the forest. Omg. SIGH.
Reminiscent of the Chincoteague Ponies. Chincoteague ponies are highly monitored and if you know little of this special local phenomenon, you can read all about it here. http://www.chincoteague.com/ponies.html Not to slight the pony in the least, but that website covers all the bases. I grew up reading Misty of Chincoteague, written by Marguerite Henry, which chronicled the shipwrecked ponies in legendary fashion, and was all true, she was famous for her obsession with the island living ponies, and dedicated her life to telling their stories. I would think it would be nearly impossible to find any horse person in my generation and older who did not read her tales and become an instant addict. I have ultimate respect for Marguerite, because she never dumbed down her writings to appease a certain audience, she felt her books should be adored by all ages, if you didn’t understand a word, she simply expected you to look it up, duh, that is why a dictionary exists. She recognized kids were so hungry for knowledge, that when interested, they would overcome vocabulary challenges to follow a good story. She was not wrong then, nor would she be wrong today, I still believe kids want to learn, we just spend too much time tryna keep them smiling all the time, that we don’t even give them a chance to be knowledgeable.
American Sport Pony – these ponies seem totally kick ass in multiple disciplines, and seem to be as a result of the warmblood influx we have seen during the past few decades. The lines are traced back to warmbloods in the mother countries (lol), not welsh’s and they are all over the dressage, eventing and showjumping world. I am sure there are a few hunters as well, but they are not nearly as dominant as the Welsh. Thankfully there is a way to keep track of all the little monsters out there through the North American Sportpony Registry, who seem really organized, have a great website, and offer incentives and good prize monies. What more do you need? http://americansportpony.com/
Hackney – Whether you care for these little speed demons or not, if you respect horse showing in America, you can’t ever throw shade at these guys. Hackney ponies were bred for a very specific reason, because someone was always late for a meeting, or really, really wanted to be the first to arrive. Way before cars were even dreamt about, aaaaand also in the late 1800’s a hotter blooded horse was coming over on the ships that sailed from England. The Hackney Horse was useful, but people wanted a smaller Porsche in their shed, so they mixed a couple of welsh lines with the Hackney horse and came up with the Hackney Pony. Quick moving, especially with a lighter souped up set of wheels, easy keeper, good with kids, and this breed took off like wildfire. Two different people claim to have initiated the Hackney phenomenon, a Christopher Wilson of Westmoreland, U.K. in 1872, when he started introducing the Welsh and Fell lines to the Hackney Horse, and also the first importer, a Mr. A.J. Cassatt from Philadelphia who brought over the first hackney pony ’239 Stella’ in 1878. There were a lot of wealthy people in Philadelphia before the turn of the century and the Great Depression, and wealthy people were starting to use the railroad to get out of the dirty city and find summer homes to build for their families. Fresh air for all. But if you took the railroad to get to the countryside, what then? You needed to start finding a way to get around your summer countryside, and start putting together your stable full of steeds. The Devon Horse Show was a concept that came to fruition out of a need to bring all the viable stock in the countryside to one place in late spring, show them off for potential buyers, and at the end of the day, a LOT of horses and ponies had new addresses. The idea was soooooo successful, that it started turning into a really fancy pants event, and eventually would make so much money they needed to find an outlet to give a little of that money back, hence the beneficiary becoming the Bryn Mawr Hospital in 1919. The horse show has evolved tremendously with time, eventually becoming less elitist and more inclusive through the 20th century, it’s history captivating with it’s growth and drama, but it still gives homage to the original exhibitor to this day in its logo, and still entertains carriage driving in it’s prize list, which I hope more of you will watch in the future, now that you know why you are lucky enough to show at Devon today.
So what does this all mean? So what if there are a lot of ponies in North America? There are still loads of issues going unresolved with pony breeders here in the U.S. The rule changes within the Federations are constantly upheaving normally acceptable standards, the expense of upkeep is still staggering compared to other countries, opinions differ more greatly than the amount of sports teams in the country, and the ride on the struggle bus is still pretty high. Measurements of ponies are not permanent until age 8. So some breeders have to hang on until they are totally sure the pony will measure? ugh, what in heaven’s name were people thinking? Did anyone think about the breeders when this rule was pushed through? Without some other viable source of income, I don’t even see how you could make a living just off making little pony babies and selling them. Does that mean we should we give up on pony breeding? Or power through the difficulties and philosophical differences, and pray for the best? Maybe the good riding kids today aren’t all that interested in breaking the ponies and bringing them along all the necessary years it takes to develop a good pony, but that would be a real shame. They should be interested, somehow, or at least know where to go to get interested. My guess is most kids don’t know what is out there for them to try.
I am not sure, but I do think the lessons we have all learned from following the format of pony breeding are good lessons, and could be applied to horse breeding in America, and we may stand a chance to succeed with the animals above 14.2 hands. It is all right in front of us, we just have to look harder.