Pony Breeding for Performance

Reprint of July/August 2014 Pony Issue. Read the full Magazine at:


Sitting ringside at a horse show, where you are probably reading this, it is easy to overlook the attention it takes to get every single pony to the ring. From grooming until they shine, the morning hacks, baths, wiping boots, and applying fly spray, each pony has had hours devoted to those several minutes of performance. If we look back even further, almost every pony was carefully bred, most in this country, for performance success in various pony divisions. Mares and stallions were chosen selectively for size, temperament, various pony hunter qualities, and young ponies were raised, mostly in huge paddocks playing with other youngsters, from Florida to Maine to California.

So, what do people consider when the breed? Here, we go through just a couple of the topics that breeders consider when trying to make the perfect cross for performance success.


Of the ponies showing successfully in the rated pony hunter divisions, “top of the line” ponies are the norm. Top of the line means that the pony is right at the measurement cutoff for their height class, i.e. 12.2 hands for a Small Pony Hunter, 13.2 hands for a Medium Pony Hunter, and 14.2 hands for a Large Pony Hunter.


Absolutely there are wonderful ponies showing that are more “off” sizes like 13.0 hands and some that are very successful. However, it is often tougher to market these ponies and find them jobs, so breeders generally aim for as high in a section as they feel comfortable.

Planning height can only go so far, as there can be a lot of variability and the best-laid plans can lead to ponies that are tough measures. A few of these ponies might still make it as division ponies, many will become successful children’s and short stirrup ponies, and the mares with impeccable bloodlines can often be scooped up inexpensively as broodmares.


The quality of a pony comes down to the three sections it is judged in – the model, the under saddle, and the over fences. The goal of breeding is to improve the next generation pony in all of these qualities and those that go into them, such as a child-friendly attitude, natural balance for easy lead changes, a big stride to easily make it down the lines, and plenty of jump for when the children flat-out miss into the one-stride.

If your mare is not perfect, breeding her can still make a fruitful outcome provided you seek to correct for her less desired attributes. If your mare is absolutely wonderful in all aspects, but does not have a pretty head, breeding her to a stallion that is known to stamp his stunning face on every single one of his offspring would be the ideal choice.


It is very difficult to make breeding decisions when 50% of the combination (the stallion) has probably never been to a horse show and jumped around a course, the exact task you are trying to breed the foal for. Except in a few rare cases where the stallion has been gelded and continued on to a successful career in the pony hunters (Armani and Red Drum’s Patriot are two currently in the ring), you will generally never see the stallion you are breeding to performing the task you are aiming for.


As for the mare, while some successful show ponies become fantastic broodmares, it can be a long process. Many mares showing on the circuit today are on Depo or some other hormone source, which makes it hard for them to cycle and hard to conceive a foal. Additionally, unless they suffer an injury during their career, many mares are still in the golden years competing successfully throughout their primetime breeding career.

Mares that are “off-size” can make excellent broodmares, but then, same with the stallion, you are put in the situation of breeding for offspring that performs a

task successfully that neither the sire or the dam have performed themselves. In those cases, focusing on what a pony hunter really needs must be placed at a premium for selecting a stallion and necessary desirable attributes- a great canter, scopey jump, and a child-friendly attitude must take the highest priority.


While thinking about breeding, one of the other most important considerations is a plan on what to do with the foal. If it is a colt, when are you going to geld it? Are you planning on showing it on the line as a youngster? Are you planning to sell it? How are you going to keep it on a path to become a pony hunter and a child’s pony? When should it start under saddle or jumping or break its green year? While these questions might be way down the line, they should all go into the planning process on deciding to breed.

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