The Riding Pony was developed in the United Kingdom, and are now bred all over the world. The term is used to refer to as show ponies, divided into classes based on height and type, hunter classes, side-saddle and in hand classes. Generally speaking, where the term "riding pony" is used in a competition schedule it is accepted as referring to a show ponies, as hunter ponies have their own classes.
Riding Ponies are more like a small horse than a pony, with small heads and ears. They are compact, with sloping shoulders and a narrow front. Their feet are tough and they possess strong limbs. They are well-proportioned with comfortable gaits and free-flowing movement.
There are three types:
- The show pony: the classic "show riding pony", show ponies resemble miniature show hack with pony features, and often contain Arabian or Thoroughbred blood. Show ponies are shown in three height sections - up to 12.2 hands high, 12.2 to 13.2 hands high and 13.2 to 14.2 hands high.
- The show hunter: similar to the show pony, but with more substance. The pony should be suitable to carry a child across country. Height class divisions are the same as for show ponies.
- The working hunter: stockier, more workmanlike, and expected to jump a short course of natural fences. Height class divisions are divided into 13 hands high and under and over 13 hands high. Fences should be no higher than 2ft 6 inches for ponies under 13 hands high and no higher than 3ft for ponies over 13 hands.
Children's ponies in Britain were mainly of the native breeds, and were used for riding and hunting. When pony classes began in the early 1920s, breeders began crossing Welsh and Dartmoor ponies with small Thoroughbreds and Arabians. From the 1930s into the 1950s, Arabian blood was again introduced to improve stamina and refinement, which included one of the most influential sires, Naseel. The result was an elegant, but small, animal that is now seen in the show ring.
In 1893, The Polo Pony Stud Book was formed, encouraging the breeding of fine riding and polo ponies. By 1899, there were over 100 stallions and 600 mares registered, almost half of which were native ponies. The society changed its name in 1903 to Polo Pony and Riding Pony Stud book, and again in 1913 to the National Pony Society. Over the years, the native breeds formed their own societies, and the NPS became dedicated to the British Riding Pony. Since 1994, foreign-bred ponies were placed on a separate register.
In America, the Pony of the Americas developed in the 1950s, while in France, the Poney Francais de Selle (which was bred similarly to the British Riding Pony) developed in the 1970s. The French version is more of a useful all-around pony club type, and less refined.