In looks and in temperament, there is very little difference between the Hackney horse and the more popular Hackney pony with the exception of size. Hackney ponies (and Hackney horses) are for experienced, patient and physically strong equestrians only. They only go one gear and that’s warp drive.
Hackney ponies can calm down when they are older, but they need patient training first. Many Hackney ponies have wound up in horse rescues through no fault of their own because of the worldwide economic recession of 2008. Of course, every Hackney pony is an individual and you may one day come across one that does conform to type.
Full Of Oats
When you go look at riding school horses, you will find many calm and trustworthy representatives of supposedly “crazy” breeds like the Thoroughbred or the mustang. But you will be very hard pressed to find any purebred Hackney pony as a teaching horse or therapeutic riding mount. Crossbreeds, yes. Purebreds, not so much.
This isn’t because they are mean or mentally deficient. It’s because they are full of energy and, of the pony breeds, are one of the most easily startled. A Hackney pony weighs an average of five or six hundred pounds. They can do you a lot of damage without meaning to. This is because they are keenly alert to dangers. Once they are wound up it may be hard to calm them down.
The Devon Horse Show
This writer and horse lover was fortunate enough to go to one of America’s most prestigious horse shows, the Devon Horse Show, which features Hackney pony classes. I managed to go for ten years and poked around the barns as well as sat in the stands. Although I’ve also been a groom and frequented many a riding barn, the Devon Horse Show was the closest I could get to a Hackney pony.
Unlike most of the other horse breeds, no spectator was allowed to pet a Hackney pony or allowed back in the barn areas. Not that you really wanted to. They knew it was show day. Their thin skins quivered, they chomped the bit into huge gobs of foam and their eyes seemed about as wide as their heads. They often took off at full high-flying trot from a dead stand still even before their harness was fully on them.
St. Mawr, Danelli & Doodlebug
In conclusion, if you really want to know the temperament of a Hackney pony, and don’t have access to one, read a novella by D.H. Lawrence called “St. Mawr” (1925.) The title character is a Hackney stallion with a noble heart but a sinister temperament. Although the story does not delve deeply into the reasons for St. Mawr’s temperament, he is somehow trained when moved to the American West and used as a working ranch horse.
St. Mawr is painted in glorious, almost otherworldly terms by the generous palette of Lawrence’s prose. But, this beautiful horse also tries to kill people every now and then and is considered too dangerous to ride in civilized London. It is implied that all St. Mawr needed was a bit of space to run wild, use up his high spirits and then he was ready and eager to cooperate with people. A Hackney pony is often like this, too, especially those headed for the show ring or this four year old rescue pony named Danalli having a saddle placed on him for the first time.
Another more contemporary fiction book about a Hackney pony stallion is “A Horse Named Doodlebug” by Irene Brady (Scholastic; 1977.) The pony in this, like Danelli, had been rescued from a butcher in the auction ring. Doodlebug had been extremely well trained but certainly had his quirks and could not be ridden. But he could pull a cart and put up with the girl who rescued him.
“Storey’s Illustrated Guide to 96 Horse Breeds of North America.” Judith Dutson. Storey Publishing, 2005.
“International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds.” Bonnie Hendricks. University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.
“The Ultimate Horse Book.” Elwyn Hartley Edwards. Dorling Kindersley; 1991.
“A Horse Named Doodlebug (Original Title: Doodlebug.)” Irene Brady. Scholastic; 1977.
You Tube. “Danalli: A Story of Promise.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sf2pbjnxjrM