Breed evolution: The history of this colorful, diminutive breed began in 1954, when Les Boomhower of Mason City, Iowa, a Shetland Pony breeder and attorney, was offered an Arabian-Appaloosa cross mare in foal to a Shetland stallion. The resulting colt was white with eye-catching markings, like black paint spattered all over his body. On his flank, one black smear was in the shape of a hand, so Boomhower named the youngster Black Hand.
The colt inspired Boomhower to gather a group of friends and Shetland enthusiasts to organize a registry for the Pony of the Americas, the name they gave to this new pony breed. The group also set standards that remain today with very little changed: a small head, dished like the Arabian; a body muscled like the Quarter Horse; coloring like the Appaloosa visible at 40 feet; a height of 44 to 52 inches (today, 46 to 56 inches); and a gentle, easygoing temperament.
The Pony of the Americas Club, Inc., tells us that one can get a POA by crossing registered POAs, by crossing a registered POA with a registered horse or pony of an approved breed (see the POAC handbook for a listing), or, by crossing a registered POA with a grade horse or pony that's been identified with the POAC for breeding purposes.
In 1954, Black Hand was the first POA to be registered; more than 50,000 ponies have been registered since. Eventually, the Shetland was used less frequently in breeding, replaced by larger Welsh ponies crossed on small horses, such as the Mustang and Arabian. Appaloosas have been used consistently to help maintain the pony's distinctive coloration, strength, and versatility.
Owners tell us: Lydia Gove had owned several POAs when she starting working as a trainer at KS's Pony Farm in August 1999. She's since trained more than 35 ponies. She's also spent countless hours imprinting and halter-breaking each year's foal crop.
"I love my job, and even on my days off, I'm relaxing with my ponies," says Gove. "POAs are what I dreamed about since I was a little girl, and I feel very lucky to be able to live my dream."
KS's Pony Farm has more than 50 head of POAs, some of which are for sale. Gove recalls the time she escorted one pony-seeking family, including a 2-year-old boy, into the weanling pasture. As the ponies crowded around to greet the new humans, the family watched in amazement as a filly put her head down to the ground so she was eye level with the boy. The filly then let the boy awkwardly, but enthusiastically, pet her right over her eye.
"The filly, only 8 months old, was already demonstrating the love of people, and the patience and kindness, that POAs are famous for," says Gove.
On the trail: This wonderful disposition gives Gove confidence when she uses her ponies as trail mounts. "I have many memories of riding through the trails, around the edge of the neighbor's cow pasture, and taking our ponies in the pond for a swim on the way home," she says.
"They were always willing to go right by a herd of cattle or a flock of grazing Canada geese," she continues. "They'll maneuver a gate, cross a bridge, race across the pasture, and walk home quietly on a loose rein. Very rarely do any of my ponies spook on the trail, and many times they're better behaved than the other horses on the ride."
POAs have been a part of Shauna Hatch's life for about 15 years. She and her 8-year-old daughter, Sabrina, partner with two other mother-daughter POA owners to ride in Utah's Rocky Mountains.
"The ponies are such a good match for the girls," says Hatch. "The girls can saddle and bridle the ponies with just a quick check from mom. On a ride, the ponies shine with patience."
Hatch recalls one particular ride, which included three girls on their ponies. "We encountered a long, steep climb where the ground was very muddy," she says. "Some of the adults dismounted and tailed their horses up [dismounted and held onto their horses' tails as they ascended the hill] for nearly half an hour. But our little girls gaily rode their three very surefooted ponies.
"And the ride down created some very nervous riders, except our three girls," Hatch continues. "Their ponies slid between rocks, picked their way carefully, and were the envy of every rider."
Chris Geisert grew up at Azure Skies Farms in Kingman, Kansas, where his parents, Alice and Ted, have raised POAs for the past 30 years.
"POAs have been bred over the years to be ridden and shown by children," notes Geisert. "Because of this, the emphasis on a laid-back disposition has been quite strong, so they make good, dependable trail mounts. They have enough of the tough pony in them to give them some endurance and sure feet, as well."
Geisert frequently rides his leopard-colored POA gelding, Azure Skies Wonder Jack, on the trail. "When riding through woods that have no trail, it's interesting how much more alert my gelding becomes, tuning into every signal I give him with the reins," he says. "When we find a trail again, I can feel him relax a little.
"He'll take the lead on a ride, cross streams, and go through places that other horses would be afraid to go through without a leader."
One day, Geisert decided to trim a trail through the woods. "I decided the best way to do this would be to take Jack along and trim some of the high branches from his back," he notes. "I didn't know how he'd react to small branches falling around him. But he just sniffed at them to see if they'd make a good snack."
Selection savvy: Find a local mentor with experience with the breed. State POA clubs are a great way to meet other POA families; currently, there are more than 40 POA state clubs and chapters throughout the United States. These clubs offer a variety of events, from trail rides and clinics to cookouts, play days, and awards banquets.
Other recommended resources for the ponies are the POA International Sale, held every October, and the regional sales held by some state clubs.
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