Mini Horse Vs Shetland Pony – Are They Different?

Last Updated on March 24, 2022

There is no doubt that the smallest equines have endless amounts of cuteness, but when we put the mini horse vs Shetland pony together what are the differences? One common mistake is that all tiny horses are the same breed. But besides having small statures, they each have their own unique characteristics.

Let’s take a look at the mini horse vs Shetland pony, so next time you come across one, you can easily know what breed it is.

Shetland Pony Vs Miniature Horse

Most people assume that any equine shorter than 14.2 hands is a pony. In most cases, this is a correct observation. However, some breeds that stand below 14.2 hands are actually not a pony at all but a horse.

We know that it is a little hard to wrap your head around but to make it easier, think about the characteristics of the animal in front of you. You see, it is not only height the determines if an equine is a horse or pony but also its characteristics.

Shetland Pony Vs Miniature Horse

Shetland Pony

The Shetland Pony is one of the smallest breeds. It is also popular in many countries around the world. Shetland ponies hail from the Shetland Isles, and a remote group of islands located northeast of the top of Scotland.

The land and climate here are harsh, which heavily influenced the evolution of the Shetland Pony. This breed is extremely hardy, strong, and intelligent, all characteristics necessary for its long survival on these islands.

Miniature Horse

The miniature horse is what its name implies, a horse! In fact, this breed is shorter than a Shetland, confusing, we know. Miniature horses originate in Europe and first come to popularity in the 17th century. Their first purpose was as pets for the upper classes.

This role was pretty cushy for the mini horse. As prized pets, they were no doubt treated very well. Unfortunately, their fortunes changed when children were no longer allowed to work in mines. When this happened, the miniature horse has pulled away from its life of luxury to replacing the work of children.

Purina Animal Nutrition Purina Mini Horse and Pony 50lb Textured

Shetland Pony Vs Mini Horse

There are several differences between the Shetland Pony and the mini horse. Here we will cover the characteristics of each breed so you can see how they differ. After this, you won’t have trouble recognizing each type.

Shetland Pony Characteristics

The Shetland Pony is the descendent of small ponies that lived on the Shetland Isles more than 2,000 years ago. When the Vikings arrived, they brought their own horses, which crossed with these ancient ponies, and then Celtic ponies. The result of this crossing is the Shetland.

After this, the Shetland Pony remains relatively isolated without the influence of other horse types. Food for the ponies on the islands is scarce during the long, wet, harsh winters. The strongest and most intelligent ponies survived.

This leaves us with a very hardy pony, that does not need a huge amount of food for its well-being. The Shetland grows a very thick coat in the winter the helps to keep them warm and dry. They have compact, stout bodies with thick necks and strong hindquarters.

Shetland Pony

The mane and tail of the Shetland are very thick, adding another layer of protection. A Shetland has an attractive head with very small ears, surely another necessary evolution to ensure the ears did not succumb to the weather.

Due to evolving a need for resourcefulness, the Shetland Pony is very intelligent. They have good temperaments but can have an independent streak. This brings out a stubborn side, as sometimes they just want to do what they please.

They are also master escape artists. To manage this, the Shetland needs good, regular training, and it is not always the best pony for a first-timer. The average Shetland Pony stands between 28 to 72 inches at the wither.

Mini Horse Characteristics

A mini horse is essentially a regular size horse in miniature. The purpose of creating this breed was to have a tiny version of a horse with the same proportions. They have more refined features and a build that looks like a horse.

The breed has a reputation for a kind, friendly temperament, which is one reason they are popular pets. They come in every coat color from bay to pinto, to Appaloosa. On average, the mini horse stands 34 to 28 inches tall at the wither.

Mini Horse Health Problems

The miniature horse is unfortunately prone to some serious health issues. One of the most common and serious is dwarfism. Dwarf minis are of course cute, but they encounter problems that can require long-term and expensive care.

Dwarf mini horses are smaller than those born without them. They can have deformities to their jaws, back, and legs. Quick intervention is necessary for a dwarf miniature horse so that it can live a long, comfortable life.

Miniature Shetland

The miniature Shetland is basically a category that some add to the mini breed. This is a sometimes necessary distinction if you plan on showing your mini horses. The main and only real difference between a regular and miniature Shetland is height. To count as a miniature, the pony must stand below 34-inches at the wither.


The main difference in the mini horse vs Shetland pony comparison is the features. Miniature horses have all the features and refinement of a full-size horse, while the Shetland has everything you’d expect to see in a pony.

Both breeds are prone to obesity and need carefully managed diets, so they don’t succumb to laminitis or other health problems. Both breeds are small but the mini is not all tall and finer built.

What’s the difference between a horse and pony?

The main distinction between ponies and horses is the height. Horses are usually considered to be at least 14.2 hands tall, while a pony can’t stand taller than 14.2 hands.
Horses and ponies are both of the same species, Equus caballus, and they even come from the same family tree. However, adult ponies remain smaller than adult horses for their entire life. Apart from being shorter than horses, ponies also have other characteristics that make them different from horse breeds. One of them is conformation – ponies are stronger and stockier than horses. They are also more tolerant of cold weather and have good endurance, which makes them great work horses. Ponies also tend to be very intelligent. This means that ponies are in general more stubborn than horses, and maybe even a little difficult to deal with.

Is a foal a pony?

A baby horse is referred to as a foal. Foals are the horses that are younger than one year of age. Ponies might look a bit like foals because of their size, but in reality they are part of the equine family, and are naturally short. Their legs are shorter and their bodies bigger than those of the horses. The appearance of the ponies depends on the breed of the pony, but also on the climate where they are kept. Ponies are usually docile and friendly, and are suitable for children and teenagers, although some may have a tendency to shy away from strangers. 

Are ponies meaner than horses?

Ponies are known for being very intelligent. This means they may be more difficult to train than a horse. Ponies can be stubborn, and this makes training them even more difficult. However, when you do manage to get your pony to follow commands, they will respond well to discipline. You shouldn’t have any problems as long as you are respectful of their space. But if you tease and push them around, they might get a bit upset and might even try to bite you.

How much land does a Shetland pony need?

Shetland ponies are known for their unique and friendly personalities. These friendly horses are great companions, with lots of personality. They have an easy going temperament and are generally quite happy to live in a small paddock or pasture on a farm. However, a Shetland pony needs at least one acre of land to be able to graze properly.  
The good news is that you won’t need a special space to keep your pony happy during the winter months as they are known to live outside all year round for all their life. 

Are mini horses hard to care for?

This small horse is a wonderful addition to any stable, and it’s easier to care for than a regular sized horse. They are typically low maintenance, but they do require exercise and good nutrition. You will need to check their hooves regularly, and brush them often, but this is not as time consuming as grooming a full size horse.
Miniature horses are easy to ride, although they are mostly only fit for kids or very small and light adults. If you want to take your miniature horse to the show ring, however, make sure that your miniature horse has a few months of training. Like any horse, a miniature horse needs a balanced diet. This is not a problem for a miniature horse because they are relatively inexpensive.