Steppe Ponies, Not Horses
The steppe horse should probably be considered a pony rather than a horse, and the distinction between pony and horse is recognized by horsemen today, even if that distinction is not precise. Ponies are generally smaller than horses, usually no more than fourteen hands high, and in the common view this is their principal distinction. However, there are other equally significant differences between ponies and horses, and these are important in considering the effectiveness and threat posed by the steppe peoples who rode them.
Ponies are tough, often stockier than horses, and surprisingly strong. Some modern ponies, such as the halflinger, while not as tall as a horse, may be as heavy. As a rule their proportions are different—their legs may be relatively shorter and thicker and their heads proportionately larger. Their manes and tails are often longer and their hair more coarse. Their generally smaller size may account for the fact that they live longer than horses and require less food, and food of lesser quality. All of these factors, along with some Paleolithic evidence, suggested to a Scottish scientist at the turn of the century that ponies and horses were distinct “races” in ancient times and that size alone might be a rather arbitrary distinction. Clearly the two are very close and are often interbred, but the question of their lineage is not so much a concern here as are the pony’s excellent qualities of strength, stamina and ability to subsist on little food. All of this was well known in antiquity. In the fifth century the Roman author Vegetius wrote of Hun horses that they were ugly and small, but rated them as best for warfare because of their toughness and obedience.
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