Think of the ultimate driving machine today, and you'll imagine some high-powered sports car. The ultimate driving machines of yesteryear, before the advent of the internal combustion engine, were Hackney horses and ponies. Although Hackneys can be ridden, they were bred and developed for driving. They are the equine equivalent of the Maserati.
Hackney ponies stand 14.2 hands or under, although eligibility for specific show divisions places additional limits on height. For example, those showing in the roadster division cannot exceed 13 hands in height. While bay is the most common color, denoting an animal with a brown body and black points—the legs, mane and tail—chestnut and black are acceptable colors in the breed registry. The Hackney naturally holds his head quite high.
The Hackney pony is no shrinking violet. He's spirited, energetic, smart and perhaps somewhat high-strung. However, these ponies often have loveable and endearing personalities. They are show ponies and enjoy being fussed over. When you groom them, either them for competition or just as part of the daily routine, it's an enjoyable experience.
Once you see a Hackney pony's action and animation, whether in harness or under saddle, you'll never mistake him for any other breed. As he trots, with a gait called a "park trot," his knees rise quite high. He's known as the "aristocrat of the show ring," according to the United States Equestrian Federation, the governing body of horse shows in this country. This high-stepping pony competes in five main divisions of USEF shows.
Roadster ponies perform at the jog trot, at the road gait—which they would use if driving down a road—and at speed, as they flash around the ring. They are hitched to jog carts with drivers wearing racing silks. Those under 18, junior exhibitors, might also show them under saddle. The cob tail division showcases the classic Hackney, with equines 14.2 hands and under shown with braided manes and short tails. In his division, Hackneys singly or in pairs pull a four-wheeled cart called a viceroy. Only ponies 12.2 hands and under may show in the harness pony division, also known as the long tail division, which also features a viceroy. Long-tailed ponies are shown with long, unbraided manes. Both long- and cob-tailed Hackneys can show in the pleasure division, hitched to "an appropriate pleasure vehicle," according to the American Hackney Horse Association. The in-hand division for ponies under the age of 2 is judged on conformation.
For all their glamor, Hackney ponies aren't hothouse flowers when it comes to care. According to the American Hackney Horse Association, which also oversees pony registration, these little guys are easy keepers who tend to stay sound and healthy into old age.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.