Deciding whether you should get a horse isn't the kind of decision to take lightly. There are many factors to consider — from housing and basic care needs to the particular breed that’s right for you.
One fantastic breed that’s unfamiliar to many U.S. owners is called the Highland Pony. Although difficult to find in the U.S., these horses are hardworking animals that have won their way into many a Scottish owner’s heart. Consider this unique breed before deciding on the best horse for you and your family.
What Is a Highland Pony?
The Highland Pony originated in ancient Scotland. They come from mountainous regions and likely originated as early as the 700s. This breed was well-established by the time they were first documented in the 1600s.
They’ve never been a tightly controlled breed. This means that there aren’t a lot of precise mating or coloration restrictions built into the breed standard.
Although they don’t specialize in any particular tasks, one Highland Pony fact is that they’re the best breed for pulling heavy loads across steep terrain.
There are only about 5,000 to 6,000 of these horses alive in the world today. They’re still the most popular and plentiful in their native country. You can also find a good number of breeders in England. A few hundred of them exist in:
Only a handful have been imported to the U.S. According to the Highland Pony Enthusiasts Club of America, you can only find a couple of these horses for sale at any given time, and most of them are on the East Coast. But at least one West Coast breeder exists.
If you decide this is the breed for you, you’ll have to put in some extra time and patience to acquire one in the U.S.
Physical Characteristics of Highland Ponies
Due to their mixed breeding history, there’s some debate about what the ideal Highland Pony looks like. The average Highland Pony size is between 13 and 14.2 hands at the withers. This means that they reach about 52 to 58 inches at their shoulders. But they can get taller in certain circumstances.
They’re also very heavy animals. They weigh an average of 1,000 to 1,200 pounds.
These horses come in a wide range of colors. These include:
A lot of them also have zebra striping on their legs and shoulders. They shouldn’t have a lot of white markings. In fact, the only acceptable white is a small star that’s sometimes present on their heads.
The typical Highland Pony lifespan differs from one animal to the next. Horses in general live for an average of 25 to 30 years.
The Highland Pony Temperament
Highland ponies are steady, hardworking animals. They’re used to difficult environments and are built for endurance. Their temperaments are well suited to farm life and agricultural work. But they’ll also plod along happily on a long-distance trek.
They’re not exceptionally temperamental, so they’ll do well with most families. Overall, they’re intelligent, empathetic creatures.
The Highland Pony Diet
All pet horses need access to a consistent supply of clean, fresh food and water. Horses are grazers and can only safely eat small meals at a time. But they also burn lots of energy, so they end up eating quite a bit throughout the day.
Have a large supply of hay and grass on hand for your animal, and make sure it’s easily accessible. You can also provide a salt lick that contains trace amounts of essential minerals.
Consult your veterinarian for advice on the best amounts and types of feed for your particular animal.
Basics of Highland Pony Care
All horses have some basic needs for healthy, contented lives. This includes both access to material resources and well-informed groomers — all of which can be pricey. The cost of maintaining your horse for a year will likely greatly outweigh the cost of buying the animal in the first place.
Some of these basic needs include:
- Shelter. The Highland Pony is particularly content living in the outdoors, but your pet still needs some kind of shelter to call home. This can be a barn or stable of your own or room in a local stable that’s owned by someone else.
- Outdoor space. Horses benefit from having a fenced-in space where they can roam and graze throughout the day. It’s also a good space for them to interact with other members of their species — they’re very social creatures.
- Feed. Your Highland Pony can eat a lot. You need to make sure that you’ve got enough feed to keep them satisfied all year long. For the average horse, this can mean up to 20 pounds of food a day.
- Tooth maintenance. Your horse’s teeth will continue to grow throughout its lifetime. Some of them will require professional grooming to maintain. Find a veterinarian who's familiar with horse dentistry to help you with any tooth-related issues.
- Hoof maintenance. Your horse’s hooves also grow on a regular basis. They need to be trimmed by a professional every six to eight weeks. Some horses will also require shoes. In this case, you’ll need to find a professional farrier — or blacksmith — to help shoe your horses.
- Extreme weather provisioning. Horses can struggle in extreme weather conditions. They don’t like it when it’s really hot out or when it’s really cold. Make sure that their home environment is suitable for all times of the year. For example, they can’t get a drink if their water source is constantly frozen in the winter.
Your Highland Pony’s Health
Your Highland Pony will require regular veterinary checkups by a qualified veterinarian. Find a veterinarian who specializes in horses and other large animals. Luckily, there are plenty of equine veterinarians throughout the country.
Just like other mammalian pets, including cats and dogs, your horse will need to get vaccinations and undergo regular deworming. Your veterinarian can recommend the best vaccinations and the right schedule for administering them. Deworming should occur on a relatively frequent basis. Your veterinarian can recommend the best deworming schedule for your horse's environment.
Your veterinarian should also give your horse an annual checkup to look for any signs of disease or problems related to old age. Some conditions that horses unexpectedly develop, like grass sickness, can be sudden and fatal. Signs of this inexplicable condition include a distended belly and trouble swallowing. Never hesitate to contact your veterinarian if you’re concerned about a health issue with your pet.
With proper care and maintenance, you can expect to live a long, happy life with your horse. Provided that you’re able to find one, even new horse owners can’t go wrong with a Highland Pony.