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The Polish Driving Pony - APRIL FOOL's!!
courtesy of Pat Belskie

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Hope our valued reader's don't mind an April Fool's joke played on them this year :). We had a lot of fun helping promote a 'fake' breed. To find out more about how the idea all started, read below.. if it makes you feel any better, we also believed it was a real breed when Pat first told us about them.

The REAL story of the Polish Driving Pony, as per Pat Belskie

It all started several years ago. I have Post Polio Syndrome and, realizing that my condition could only worsen, I decided to geld my stallion and get him broken to drive - hedging my bets against the loss of use of my legs. Hubby and I had already decided the we were in no physical shape to continue with our warmblood breeding business so we had sold the other stallion and reduced our herd size. We sent Phoenix to Bill Long and soon I was taking lessons driving my own 2nd generation homebred gelding . I guess I was having too much fun because one day hubby said he'd like to take a lesson... and that was the end of MY driving horse.

So hubby is taking the lessons and having fun and I decided I needed to BUY a driving partner. Since our daughter was expecting our first grandchild I rationalized that we would need a pony and so I started looking. I immediately found Maggie.... in a 3rd world country (or so it seemed - dirt roads, single-wides and lots of rebel flags!) She was in a little pen with another horse without a single blade of anything growing and not a bit of hay. Her feet were three times too long however she wasn't quite as skinny as the horse. Maggie was lifeless. The seller had a very hard time catching her and tied her short to force the bridle on ("She's a bit hard to catch and bridle") but she willing pulled the little pipe cart with a huge overstride. I bought her, the cart and the harness on the spot - $600 for all!

It wasn't long before Maggie and I were driving daily and she was happily flying around the many trails adjacent to us. She gained weight, filling out her 12.2 hand frame, and grew a mane and tail. I got a show cart and a new harness and decided to enter her in the Carolina Carriage Classic, since my trainer's wife was the organizer. To prepare her I mapped out a 3 month plan starting with a Poker Ride/Drive, then a small show with a couple of driving classes, and some other outings to get her used to trailering and driving in strange places.

I was very excited the day of the Classic. Although I had only decided to show on the first day there were a good number of classes. I was shocked when we took 3rd in the Pony Turnout class. I mean, my little backyard pony, a cheap wooden cart and a synthetic and stainless steel harness against those fancy, registered ponies with their expensive gigs and incredible leather and brass harnesses? I was thrilled! But then I was blown away when Maggie WON every other class we entered! She even took the Obstacle Championship marking the fastest times of ANYONE - including the horses!!! Wow!

Well, hubby was chatting with some friends who asked what breed Maggie was. He just couldn’t tell them the truth - didn't think it would be fair to Maggie. Afterall she was a CHAMPION! So he quickly said she was a Polish Driving Pony. No one questioned it and we thought it was a good joke. But it became an even bigger joke when we found out that the local columnist had overheard him and there in black and white was "Maggie" the Polish Driving Pony!!! It became an inside joke.

We took Maggie along with Phoenix to the National Drive that year. We are friends with Harvey Lagasse of Journey’s End and he eagerly told anyone who asked that I had a Polish Driving Pony. The funniest thing was when two women in a cart with two rather small minis drove up to me and said in a demanding voice, "And just what kind of pony is that!?" When I replied "A Polish Driving Pony" the one woman turned to the other and proclaimed "See!!! I TOLD YOU SO!!!"

So now you know the rest of the story. APRIL FOOL!!!

Color: Black or black bay; white marking permitted but not encouraged
Size: 12.2 hands ideal; range 12 - 13 hands
Frame: Refined yet well-muscled with elegant head and small ears
Gait: Forward and correct with movement much like a miniature warmblood; good over-stride common
Hooves: Hard and strong, not requiring shoes
Temperament: Very kind and eager to please
Health: Excellent; hardy pony with above-average fertility
Show: Roached mane, full tail, trimmed legs; body clipping permitted when necessary

The Polish Driving Pony is a very rare breed that has only within the past 25 years been recognized. It is actually a descendant of the Polish Konik (Konik Polski in Poland; Polish Pony elsewhere); the Konik being a descendant of the wild Tarpan, which used to inhabit the primeval forests of Poland, Lithuania and Prussia. The last Tarpans were caught in the second half of the 17th century and were placed in the Zwierzyniec game reserve of Count Zamoyski. Early in the 19th century the Tarpans were given to the local peasants. Interbred with domestic ponies they eventually produced the Polish Driving Pony.

The purebred Koniks disappeared around 1910 but all was not completely lost. Polish scientists noticed that Tarpan-colored foals, mouse grey with zebra stripes on their legs and black manes and tails – were being born to their own domestic mares where the Tarpan once lived. Over several generations of breeding these particular ponies to each other they successfully bred back a pony with similar characteristics to the Konik – a hardy animal suitable for draft or riding that rarely topped 13 hands.

As other offspring of the local mares were bred another common pony emerged. Predominantly black in color, with some black bays, and occasional white markings, these ponies expressed many traits similar to the Konik: long life, strength, good health, and excellent fertility. However the Polish Driving Pony was lighter in frame and thus very well suited to driving.

It is not known how many Polish Driving Ponies actually exist but the establishment of a registry in 1986 began documentation. Nonetheless there are most likely many ponies that have not been identified or registered.

The Polish Driving Pony standard calls for a finely built animal with good muscle. Most are black but some black bays may still be seen. While white markings are not especially desirable they incur no penalty, however breeding for excessive white is discouraged. Ideal height is 12.2 hands with animals from 12 to 13 hands being acceptable. This is a hardy and intelligent pony that possesses three very correct gaits and more often than not exhibits natural engagement and a good overstride. While their higher neck set and fancy movement make them ideal for driving, some are being successfully ridden. They are shown with a roached mane, full tail and trimmed legs. Strong hooves make it unnecessary to use shoes.

Polish Driving Ponies are fast and willing learners. They are very affectionate and tend to have mild temperaments, yet they are often not a good choice for a young or inexperienced child because they are very forward. They are especially well suited for combined driving competition since they have the movement for dressage as well as the speed, agility, and braveness for marathon and hazards.

There are currently a few known mares in the US but to date there are no stallions and no frozen semen is available. Interbreeding with Koniks is permitted and now that Konik herds are being established in England and elsewhere it is hopeful that a stallion will soon find its way across the ocean... or will it?

More to come on the Polish Driving Pony tomorrow!

This article was provided courtesy of Pat Belskie.


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