By Laura Michaels, Pony Wrangler at Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Converting dog years to human years is relatively simple — multiply by seven. With ponies, it is different. One pony year equals eight human years until the pony is two years old. Thereafter, each pony year equals two-and-a-half human years. Since we do not currently have any foals in the Ocracoke herd, I decided to start the age groups at five years old. These age groups will describe some of the physical traits as well as behaviors of the fourteen ponies in the herd. Each group will then reflect the approximate physical and mental equivalents to humans.
Adult/Prime: 5-12 years old
The five to 12-year-old pony is in his or her prime both physically and mentally. The adult pony has a mature physique and has had many experiences that (hopefully) have made him or her sensible. A pony in this life stage has basic nutritional requirements and an immune system that is at its peak. At five years old, a pony has a full set of permanent teeth.
- Physical traits: Equivalent to humans ages 23 to 40.
- Mental traits: Equivalent to humans ages 25 to 42.
Adult/Middle Age: 12-20 years old
Between his or her prime and senior years, the 12- to 20-year-old pony shows noted changes in stamina and can lose some muscle tone. The changes are extremely variable between ponies depending on genetics, activity level, and care. At this stage, ponies develop an additional sensitivity to weather and insects. They become more tolerant and relaxed around humans.
- Physical traits: Equivalent to humans ages 40 to 61.
- Mental traits: Equivalent to humans ages 42 to 50.
Adult/Senior: 20-30 years old
The senior pony at age 20-30 will likely have dental changes (e.g., lost, worn, and/or broken teeth), that lead to difficulty chewing, assimilating nutrients, and maintaining weight, and dietary needs include an increased amount of feed. A senior pony can also experience vision and hearing deterioration that can affect his or her behavior. At this stage, a pony’s immune system is not as strong as it once was, and arthritic changes may cause lameness. Graying begins around the eyes, ears, and muzzle, and mare fertility declines. The average lifespan of a pony is 25 years old.
- Physical traits: Equivalent to humans ages 61 to 86.
- Mental traits: Equivalent to humans ages 50 to 60.
Adult/Elder: 30+ years old
Ponies of more than 30 years of age might be physically impaired but remain healthy enough to enjoy light work or activity. Their eyes may become cloudy, and they may experience partial blindness. They may have stiffness and difficulty eating, but they are still treasures!
- Physical traits: Equivalent to humans ages 86 to 111. (Note: The highest number is for a 40-year-old pony).
- Mental traits: Equivalent to humans ages 60 to 70.
Here is the breakdown of the age groups of the fourteen ponies in the Ocracoke herd:
Adult/Prime: Winnie (4), Jobelle (5), Hazelnut (7), Captain (9), Rayo (10), Paloma (12).
Adult/Middle Age: Jitterbug (14), Sacajawea (15), Lawton (18).
Adult/Senior: Maya (22), Luna (24), Easter (28).
Adult/Elder: Oops (33), Lindessa (37).
No one knows on what day Lindessa, the oldest pony in the herd, was born. All we know is that she was born in 1985 and that she is 37 years old this year. Lindessa currently has four grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren — that is over half the herd! Just imagine all the hot, buggy summers, cold winters, and hurricanes she has survived. She is truly a treasure…and oh, the stories she could tell if she could talk!