Although they are derived from original horse prototypes, ponies are thought to have evolved where living conditions were harsh, terrain was rough, and where food was possibly scarce. Different breeds of pony have emerged in different parts of the world; differing conformations are the result of native environmental factors. What differentiates ponies from horses is size and conformation.
Throughout the centuries, ponies have been bred to serve a number of different roles. Early on, ponies provided the entertainment for the children of European nobility and sometimes they were kept as household pets. The advent of industrialisation saw ponies being used as ‘pit ponies', working in coal mines throughout Europe and then America.
Today ponies can participate in various equestrian pursuits including Engllish and Western riding classes, driving, harness and gymkhana . Ponies can also compete in dressage and equitation. They are often separated into three size categories for showing purposes. They are a preferred mount for children and may be used for trail riding at camps.
Physically, ponies differ from horses a great deal. They usually grow thicker manes, tails and coats and their legs are proportionately smaller. Heavy bones, thick necks, wide barrels and short heads are also typical features of a pony. Many regulations stipulate that a pony must not exceed 14.2 hands at the withers.
Different pony breeds arrived in Australia in the 1800's. Stock included purebred Shetland, Welsh Mountain, Welsh Cob, English Hackney Horse, Hackney Pony, Timor Exmoor and Hungarian Ponies. Over a century later, the Australian Pony emerged as a product of cross-breeding the various horse and pony breeds within Australia. This diverse gene pool has resulted in an extremely versatile breed of pony which has had a major impact on current pony breed societies and associations.
The Australian Pony Stud Book Society was established in 1931 and was the first society of its kind in Australia. Nine purebred pony breeds are recorded including Shetland, Australian, Hackney Pony and Hackney Horse, New Forest, Connemara, Highland, Dartmoor, Welsh Mountain and Welsh Sections B - C - D and the Fjord Horse.