Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Queen of England Rides a Pony--Advantages of Small Horse

I really wish that I could show you this picture directly.  However it is copyrighted so you'll have to use the link to view it.

In the picture, Queen Elizabeth, on a Fell pony, is riding with her grandchildren Lady Louise Windsor and James, Viscount Severn, in Windsor Great Park.  So if an 85-year old woman, who just happens to be the Queen of England, can ride a pony, why should any of us worry about being seen on a smaller horse?

Princess Fiona is an Irish warmblood who is very successful at
cross country, jumping, and dressage.  Compare her conformation
with Blessi.  He is a bit unsure of Fiona's intentions--his front legs
are not normally splayed.
Smaller horses definitely offer some advantages over larger horses.  The Horse Confirmation Handbook by Heather Smith Thomas discusses how to evaluate horse confirmation for soundness, potential for different activities, trainability, and willingness. The author gives some information on gaited breeds but that is not her focus.

One of the chapters in the book discusses height and how it impacts horse performance. Thomas makes some interesting statements as to why smaller horses can be a better ride. (I am summarizing some of the points so there may be some oversimplification since confirmation requires the analysis of many interrelated factors.)
  • Body balance is more important than size.
  • "A shorter legged horse has a lower center of gravity and better base of support, with a securer balance than an overly leggy horse."
  • "Horses with short legs rarely overreach and forge, yet this is a common problem in a disproportionately long-legged horse." ie, short-legged is defined as slightly short-legged in relation to the horse's proportion.
  • "When a short-legged horse gallops well, he can often compete with the best of the taller, leggier horses, due to better balance and body control on turns and uneven terrain on downhill slopes."
  • The longer-legged horse will probably be faster on a long uphill grade.
  • A short rider on a tall horse may have difficulty applying the aids appropriately since the rider's legs may be too short to contact the appropriate areas on the horse.
  • Tall horses are harder to mount and dismount.
  • A rider who is too heavy or tall for a shorter horse may hinder the horse's balance.
  • "A small horse almost always has better endurance tnan a large, bulky horse."
  • Depending on bone width and back length, a smaller horse may be able to carry more weight proportionate to its height.
  • "When agility and staying power are considered, a well-built small horse will often do better than a well-built tall horse." ie, cutting horses are usually 15 hands or less.
  • A taller horse may be better for racing and jumping, but many smaller horses excel at these sports also.
  • "From foalhood, large, leggy horses tend to have higher risks for injury and problems." due to fast growth, weak spots in bones growing rapidly, etc.
I have only owned one horse, Blessi an Icelandic. Do you agree with these statements? How do Icelandics compare with the other breeds you may have ridden or owned?  And taller horses offer advantages over shorter horses but you'll have to look up that information yourself.