The Hackney is a dynamic high stepper that comes in two versions, the horse and the pony; both of which are bred for their durability and brilliance in harness. The Hackney is loved for its animation, vigor, endurance, personality, and strong natural way of going. It is the high stepping aristocrat of the show ring and is not only captivating but also breathtaking. The crisp trot with knees raised high at each step and powerfully propelled hindquarters amaze those who view the Hackney for the first time. Its bright spirit, gentle eye, and intelligence are all parts of the winning package that draws both young and old to the Hackney breed.
The Hackney loves to be driven and “do its owner proud,” both in the show ring and on a quiet country road. Under saddle, it is equally affable. However it is presented, the image of the Hackney Horse and Pony is one of beauty and animation.
Today hundreds of Hackney Ponies and Horses are used as both stylish show horses and amiable family companions. The caring and sharing between children and Hackneys is one of life’s greatest joys. They can teach a child lessons for life and are easy to keep, especially the ponies. They do not take up much space and are relatively inexpensive to buy and maintain. Their longevity and soundness are legendary – and they are so much fun!
Above all, Hackneys love to please, whether under the lights of a show ring or the canopy of green leaves on a country road.
The Hackney originated in Norfolk, England, where horses called Norfolk Trotters had been selectively bred for elegant style and speed. Seeking to improve on both accounts, breeders crossed their Norfolk mares to grandsons of the foundation sires of the Thoroughbred. The first Hackney Horse as we know the breed today is said to have been The Shale’s Horse, foaled in 1760. He was renowned for his elegant style and speed and became a foundation in the breed. During the next fifty years, the Hackney continued to be selectively bred as a distinct breed.
The development of the Hackney matched stride-for-stride with the improvement in both the quality of English life and the use of public roadways in Britain. Vast advancements of roads in the mid-1800s contributed to the development of swift trotting horses. Originally these roads required heavy draft animals that could tug carts from deep ruts. Now, a driver could command, “Trot on,” and really go!
Prosperous farmers, not nobility, were responsible for developing high-tech carriage and riding horses. As noblemen were busying themselves with foxhunters and Thoroughbred racehorses, wealthy farmers took to the roads to show off their prosperity with harness horses. A pair of perfectly matched bays with elegant head carriage, trotting along smartly, their knees rising almost to their noses - that was the proof of abundant crops, calves, and lambs.
This was the golden age of driving, when automobiles were not even a dream. The Hackney was the ultimate driving machine of the 1880s both in the United States and the United Kingdom. The breeding of Hackney Horses in Britain was formalized with the founding of the Hackney Stud Book Society in 1883.
Ships bearing both Hackney Horses and the smaller ponies, which certain breeders were selectively encouraging, were crossing the seas regularly during the 1800s. The first Hackney Pony imported to the United States was Stella 239, brought to Philadelphia by A.J. Cassatt in 1878. From 1890 until the Great Depression, wealthy Americans brought over boatload after boatload of horses and ponies of the most noted strains.
Owners of Hackney Horses throughout the western states wanted to form a society by first obtaining assurance of affiliation with the council of the English Hackney Society. After this was accomplished, in 1891 Cassatt and other Hackney enthusiasts founded the American Hackney Horse Society (AHHS), an organization and registry that continues today.
The Hackney Horse and Pony inspire the same loyalty and affection from their owners as the Hackney of yesteryear. The remarkable high-stepping gait is exciting to watch as the Hackney transmits its exuberance, enthusiasm, and excitement to both owner and spectator. It is known as the “aristocrat of the show ring,” carrying itself with an attitude that is seemingly explosive with great expression, while also remaining tractable.
Its diversity and temperament allow the Hackney to adapt to the challenge, be it show, pleasure, carriage, riding, or as a child’s friend. When it is observed traveling smartly down a road, all other horses and ponies by comparison seem merely ordinary.
The action of the Hackney, which is its hallmark, is spectacular and highly distinctive. Its remarkable high stepping gait is exciting to watch. Shoulder action is fluid and free with a very high, ground covering knee action, and action of the hind legs is similar, but to a lesser degree. The hocks are brought under the body and raised high. All joints exhibit extreme flexion, and the action is straight and true. The whole effect is arresting and startling, showing extreme brilliance. The Hackney is truly elegance on the road!
Shown in a variety of ways, the Hackney Horse must stand over 14.2 hands. It can be shown in Single, Pair, Four-in-Hand, and Obstacles classes and In-Hand. Some are shown under saddle, competing in Hunter/Jumper, Dressage, Eventing, English Pleasure, and competitive trail riding/driving.
Show carriage driving has classes for elegance and style appropriate for the horses. Among them are fun classes, such as obstacle courses involving flapping clotheslines, barking dogs, and farm animals. Hackney Horses have recently sparked an interest with junior exhibitors due to their intelligent and trainable temperament.
Pleasure driving clubs exist all over the country just for the fun of driving. No competition is involved here, just a learning experience and a delightful drive with camaraderie in the countryside.
The Pony was developed by crossing the Hackney Horse with ponies of good conformation and motion. Hackney Ponies are almost exclusively shown in harness, but they can also be shown in-hand (judged on conformation only). Due to their personalities, they make good pleasure carriage animals.
Hackney Ponies are shown in four divisions:
- The Hackney Pony (Cob Tail)
- Harness Pony (Long Tail)
- Roaster Pony
- Pleasure Pony
The Hackney Pony (or Cob Tail) division is for ponies measuring over 12.2, but under 14.2 hands at the withers. These ponies must be shown with a shortened tail and a braided mane and forelock. They are shown with a four-wheel vehicle called a viceroy and are also shown in pairs.
The Hackney Harness Pony (or Long Tail) must measure 12.2 hands or under at the withers. It is shown with a long mane and undocked tail. Like the Cob Tail, it is also shown with the four-wheeled viceroy vehicle and can be shown in pairs.
Another class for either the Long Tail or Cob Tail is the Pleasure Driving Division. Ponies are shown with unbraided manes and tails with an appropriate pleasure vehicle, but only by amateurs, at a pleasure trot, road trot and flat walk. They must stand quietly in the lineup and back when asked. They are to be quiet, easy to handle, and a pure joy to drive.
Hackney Roadster Ponies are the speedsters of the Hackney breed and are very popular. They measure below 13 hands and are shown at three separate trotting speeds: the jog trot, road gait, and at speed. They are shown with a two-wheeled bike with the driver wearing racing silks. They can also be shown under saddle by junior exhibitors wearing racing silks. A new division, Roadster Pony to Wagon, has the pony hitched to a miniature doctor’s buggy.
Showing in the newest of the four Hackney pony divisions, the Pleasure Pony is 14.2 hands or under, well mannered, and a pleasure to drive. It can be either a Long Tail or Cob Tail and is shown with unbraided mane and tail and an appropriate vehicle in the Pleasure Driving Division, driven only by an amateur. They are required to stand quietly, back up and be easy to handle.
All Hackney Horses and Ponies must have both parents registered with the American Hackney Horse Society and must have genetic DNA testing performed.
The modern Hackney is colored black, brown, and bay, with chestnut being the minority. They come with or without a face strip and white stockings. They should possess a small head, muzzle and ears, giving the general impression of alertness.
The head should be well shaped and in proportion to the size of the animal, with large eyes and well shaped ears, set somewhat close together, carried alertly. The face should be straight, with fine muzzle, large nostrils and clean, smooth jaw line. The neck should be set on top of the shoulder with the topline of the neck considerably longer than the underline. The shoulder should be long and well angulated with prominent, well-defined withers. The back should be somewhat level; the hip should be long with a fairly flat croup and high set tail carriage.
A compact body with a round rib, short strong loin and either a long or docked tail are desired. The legs should be of medium length, the joints are large and of strong quality. The thighs and quarters are well muscled. Pasterns are of good length and slope. The Hackney has a good foot, and both the horse and pony have a reputation for soundness.
To learn more about these wonderful horses and ponies, contact the American Hackney Horse Society, 4059 Iron Works Parkway, A-3, Lexington, Kentucky 40511 or visit their website at www.hackneysociety.com
"The Official Horse Breeds Standards Guide, Voyageur Press; First edition (October 2, 2009) by Fran Lynghaug." Available at bookstores and online booksellers and from www.voyageurpress.com.