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Our neighbors have seven children and a pasture of horses and ponies. Because some of the ponies are females and there is a stallion among the horses, it prompted my grandson to ask me if the horses and ponies can breed with each other.
Ponies and horses can crossbreed, and they often do. Their offspring are typically hardy and have exceptional temperaments, which make them suitable for many equine activities.
Some horse owners may want to breed their favorite mare with a pony, intending to get the perfect foal, but there are things you should consider before you mate a horse and pony.
Horses and Ponies
Horse and ponies have a lot in common; they are two of seven members of the Equidae family, which also includes donkeys and zebras. The animals that make up the Equidae family are herbivores and have long heads, long legs, and a single hoofed toe.
Different species of Equidae have bred throughout history and produced viable hybrids, most notably is the mule. There is no marked difference between horses and ponies that prevent crossbreeding of their species.
The ability of the horses and ponies mate and produce a viable foal is a testament to the underlying similarities of their genetic structures. Ponies and horses also have similar social and reproductory behavior. When the animals are left to their own devices, each forms small herds with a dominant male.
Size differences between horses and ponies
A pony is typically shorter than 14.2 hands tall, and horses are taller than 14.2 hands. The heights of both vary greatly. For example, some ponies, like the Shetland ponies, can be as short as seven hands, and Welsh ponies 15 hands.
A similar difference can be found amongst horses, the Shire breed is typically over 17 hands tall, and the shorter horse breeds such as Fjord horse ranges in height from 13.2 to 15 hands tall.
However, ponies height varies greatly, for example, the Shetland pony ranges in size from a minimum height of approximately 7.0 hands; to a maximum height of 11 hands at the withers.
Characteristics to consider when breeding horses and ponies
Breeding a horse with a pony can result in an excellent equine that will make a great companion for you and your children. But it is essential to recognize the characteristics of the horse and pony you intend to breed.
Temperament is a critical factor when choosing mates for breeds. It is the general disposition or personality of an animal. You want offspring with desirable personality traits so that you can enjoy each others time together.
Ponies are typically intelligent and friendly, but stubborn. They are incredibly social animals and get along well with people. Their small size and friendly nature make them enjoyable companions. The pleasant temperament of ponies is a primary factor for breeding with horses.
Although both ponies and horses are equines, there are fundamental physical differences. Most pony breeds originate from cold climates, and their bodies exhibit the characteristics you’d expect in a cold climate animal. They have thick manes and coats and short legs.
Ponies also have broad barrel chests, dense bones, thick necks, and short heads. Horses come in all shapes and sizes, but they typically have thinner coats, longer legs, and necks than ponies.
Conformation is the overall physical structure of a horse or pony. Animals with irregular anatomical shapes, such as turned out feet, can negatively impact an animal’s health and usefulness. You want to avoid breeding animals with poor conformation.
Size matters when breeding horses to ponies
Because some horse breeds are so large, it’s not advisable to mate them with a small pony mare. However, not all agree with this, English breeders artificially inseminated Shetland mares with Shire semen with no ill effects.
They theorize that a mare’s womb controls the size of her foal, and therefore she will not grow a foal larger than she can deliver. I don’t agree. On more than one occasion, I have heard of cows and horses with oversized babies that had to be surgically removed by a veterinarian. This procedure resulted in the loss of both the mother and her offspring.
Shetland Pony Crosses with Horses
It’s hard to imagine this little Shetland pony breeding an Appaloosa mare! But it happens. Shetland pony stallions are commonly crossed with horses, because of their small size, thick bones, and desirable temperament.
Some crosses are Shetland-Arabian, Shetland-Paso Fino, and Shetland-Quarterhorse. However, the most famous cross is Shetland-Appaloosa.
Shetland ponies are strong and durable animals that have a long life span. They evolved in the harsh environment of the Shetland Islands, where forage was scarce, but they were required to work.
Shetland ponies are gentle and extremely intelligent ponies. They work well as a child’s pony but can be stubborn. For horses that may need more substantial bone or a calm temperament, the Shetland pony makes an ideal cross.
Pony of the Americas
Pony of the Americas is a horse breed that originated from crossbreeding a Shetland stallion and an Appaloosa mare. Leslie Boomhower purchased the Appaloosa mare and her foal named Black Hand.
Black Hand impressed his owner so much that Ms. Boomhower started a new breed with him as the foundation stud. The breed she established is the Pony of the Americas.
Pony of the Americas have been crossed with many other horse and pony breeds but maintain their small stature, and many continue to have the Appaloosa coat pattern.
Pony of the Americas is a favorite for young riders, the Pony Club of the Americas is one of the most active youth-oriented associations in the US for kids under 18.