Breed Organization Information
About the Breed
The Hackney is a dynamic, high-stepper with two branches — the horse and the pony — both bred specifically for their brilliant performance in harness.
The Hackney horse was developed in Great Britain in the early 18th Century from the Darley Arabian through his son, Flying Childerns, foaled in 1715, and grandson, Blaze, a renowned British Thoroughbred foaled in 1733.
The Thoroughbred blood was crossed with the British native Norfolk Trotters of East Anglia and eastern Yorkshire through a sire called Jary’s Bellfounder, a trotting horse which also is credited with passing on his bloodlines to the Standardbred. This created a fine, light horse with much style and spirit, which was favored as a carriage horse by English sportsmen and aristocrats.
The Hackney pony was developed from the Hackney horse by crossing with the small, spirited Welsh Ponies. The first well-known pony-type Hackney was Sir George, foaled in 1866. Sir George had strong bloodlines from the Norfolk Trotters. In England in 1872, the trend began to breed specifically for a pony type, but today the British breeders are not as particular about the size of the horses as are Americans, the priority being that the horse perform.
The Hackney was being imported to the United States from England by the late 1800’s. It was in this time that the breeding to achieve the specific pony type was begun through crossing the Hackney horse with ponies of good conformation and motion. Today 95% of all registered Hackneys in the United States are ponies.
Although the Hackney horse had been imported to the United States for over 75 years, the Hackney pony was imported heavily to the U. S. beginning in 1872 with Stella 239. Many stallions which were highly influential in Britain in developing the ponies were brought to America either in the middle of their siring careers or for a few years before being taken back to England. There were also a number of stallions bred in America and later sent to England. For this reason, British and American ponies are more closely bred than some other breeds. Among those sires are Irvington Autocrat 1914, Southworth Swell 2175 and Paddock Lane’s Robin Rea 2474. The strongest influence seems to have come from Southworth Swell, imported in 1925 by J. Macy Willets of Cassilis Farm. Most Hackney ponies today have his bloodlines in their pedigree.
In 1883 the English Hackney Horse Society was created to preserve and develop the integrity of the Hackney lines. The first annual show was held by the society in 1885 in London. In 1891, the American Hackney Horse Society was formed.
The name “Hackney” comes from the French word Hacquenee derived from the Latin word for horse, equus. The term, brought to England by the Normans in the 11th century, was fully assimilated into the English language by 1303. At that time the term meant a riding horse, as distinguished from the heavier warhorse, and later evolved to the abbreviated “Hack” meaning a riding horse or a hired carriage. The modern Hackney breed took only its name from Medieval times as it is rarely ridden because its conformation and extreme motion make it rough to ride. When crossed with modern Thoroughbreds, however, Hackneys have produced some excellent jumpers.
Since the development of the automobile eliminated the demand for carriage horses for transportation, the most popular use of the Hackney has been in the show ring. Hackneys are shown almost exclusively in harness (singly, in pairs, or in tandem), but they may be shown in hand, (lead by a person on the ground).
The Hackney pony is small in stature, under 14.2 hands at the withers (58 inches). It possesses a fine, trim head, small ears with a balanced body, trim legs and feet, short back and well-arched head and tail.
The Hackney horse is a bit heavier proportionately and can be 14 to 16 hands tall. The Hackney also has a reputation for remaining sound through use.
Harness ponies are judged on the same criteria as harness horses — high action in both front and back legs, snappy motion, proud, disciplined carriage of the head and tail and alertness displayed in the ears and eyes.
These small creatures never fail to excite a show ring crowd with their explosive motion, brilliant carriage and spunky manner. Their leg action at the trot is so exaggerated as to give the pony an air of suspended motion, with the front foot and rear pastern often touching the upper body of the pony. The gait is performed with piston-like quickness, suspending for a moment at the highest point.
Showing the Hackney
The most popular place for the Hackney pony today is the show ring. There they may be shown with either a cob tail or a long tail. The cob tail pony’s tail is docked at about six inches long and its mane is braided into 14 tight little knobs with colored ribbon. The cob tail creates a clean image, close to the appearance of the traditional English carriage horse. The long-tail pony retains a long tail and long, flowing mane. The two types may be shown in the same classes or they may be divided into Hackney pony and Harness pony classes. The taste of the individual breeder or trainer and the specific breeding of the pony largely determine the style.
When shown, the ponies are harnessed in sleek leather harnesses, decorated with patent leather and brass or chrome hardware. They are hitched to a four-wheeled buggy called a “viceroy”. This delicate-looking little carriage has a single seat for the driver with a small pad in back, a remnant of the footman’s seat on larger carriages.
Hackney ponies are shown in a variety of classes. The classes may be divided by the sex of the pony, lady drivers only, or they may be divided into amateur and professional drivers. The ponies are shown both ways of the ring at two trotting speeds. The slow, majestic park trot and a slightly faster pace elicited by the announcer’s command of “show your ponies”. Their stylish performance and clean, sophisticated appearance has led the Hackney pony to be known as “The Aristocrat of the Show Ring”.
Both Hackney horses and ponies are sometimes shown in teams. These can be pairs side by side, two in tandem or four in a team. Whenever they are shown together, horses in a team should be as similar in appearance and style of motion as is possible.
When Hackney horses are worked in tandem, the wheelers (horses closest to the wagon), should be slightly larger than the leaders. The leaders should be brighter and flashier with higher motion. The harnesses of the wheelers should be tighter than those of the leaders, showing that they are pulling the larger portion of the load. The leaders’ job is to present a bright flashy appearance.
The carriages pulled by teams of Hackney horses are usually antique vehicles such as stagecoaches or other large passenger vehicles. Often the driver and attendants wear period attire, complete with lap covers to protect clothes. Hackney ponies are often shown pulling miniature versions of these same vehicles.
Hackneys are also very popular for use as “road ponies.” Their fast trot that maintains its high action is ideal for the racing-type shows where they are exhibited. Road ponies are shown pulling a brightly painted two-wheel cart called a “bike”. The drivers wear silks similar to those worn in Thoroughbred racing.
In road classes, the ponies are shown both ways of the ring to a jog trot and road gait and the second, or counter-clockwise, way of the ring at speed. They are all trotting gaits performed at different speeds. The ponies are judged on motion retained at high speed, speed, quality and manners.
The American Hackney Horse Society Foundation was founded in 1994 to provide information and further promote and educate the positive aspects of the Hackney breed of horses and ponies. The Foundation supports the Youth Medallion program and provides sponsorship to Road Pony Camp. They have published an activity book for children and are developing educational video(s) to help in the education of the Hackney.
The Society is also affiliated with The American Horse Shows Association, American Road Horse Council, American Road Horse and Pony Association, American Horse Publications and The United Professional Horsemen’s Association. Regional organizations are located all over the country.
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