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There are three general classifications of horses, light, heavy (or draft), and pony. There are many factors considered when classifying a horse, including, body type, temperament, and height.A horse's height is measured in hands, which is equal to four inches, from the ground to the horse's withers (the highest point on it's back, near the base of the neck). The term "hand" comes from when horses were measured by how many widths of a man's hand it stood, and the average man's hand is about four inches across.
Light horses originated in the southern hemisphere where endurance, agility, and shedding of excess bulk were necessary. It is believed that all modern horses came from the Arabian, which is the oldest recorded breed with documented lineage. Light horses are usually between 14.2 and 17.2 hands high, and are either hot or warm blooded. Hot blooded horses are those closely resembling the Arabian, with fiery temperaments, while warmbloods have the influence of heavy horses in their lineage, like popular European sport breeds. Light horses are used primarily for showing, sport competition, and recreation.
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Heavy horses, or draft horses, originated in the northern hemisphere where they needed extra bulk and strength to survive the colder, harsher climate. They are referred to as cold blooded, because of their calm and gentle natures. Heavy horses are generally larger than light horses, with broad, heavily muscled bodies. They are not as fast as light horses, but are much more powerful. Heavy horses were even used in ancient Rome as war horses, pulling heavy carts of weapons or soldiers. Heavy horses are used mainly for farm work, or pulling carts for transportation.
Ponies are generally considered to be 14.2 hands or shorter.
There are a few exceptions to this rule though. A pony is not just a short horse, they have a different build to them. They have rounder, stockier bodies, shorter legs, thicker manes and tails, and wider, stronger bones. Ponies are very hardy creatures, and can carry much heavier loads proportionally than light horses. They are also highly intelligent and more independent than other types of horse. Ponies are generally used by children for riding, light driving or pulling, or as pets.
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There are hundreds of different breeds within these classifications, developed over centuries for specific uses and environments. There are several breeds of horses who fall into more than one classification, and new breeds are being developed all the time. Horse breeders need to be commited to improving the breed, and not producing subpar foals for profit.
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