Last Updated on January 8, 2022
When we hear the word pony, most people would assume that they are just a smaller version of a horse. But have you ever wondered if horses and ponies are really the same? And what is the difference between a pony and a horse?
Horses, ponies, and all other types of equines all have their own distinctive characteristics. Many people prefer one type of equine over another, as they all have their own strengths and weaknesses. Let’s find out all about the differences between horses and ponies!
What Is The Difference Between A Pony And A Horse?
Most people assume that a pony is a smaller version of a horse, and in a way they are right. Ponies are almost always smaller in stature than horses, but they do have many other differences too.
The height is the main and most significant difference between horses and ponies. But there are also differences when it comes to body shape, confirmation, hair type and thickness, and most of all personality. Anyone who has ever had a battle of wills with a stubborn pony will attest to this!
You might also be wondering where miniature horses fit into all this. Miniature horses are very small, and would certainly fit into the height category of ponies.
However, miniature horses are very different from ponies, and therefore they bear the name horse. These tiny equines have been specifically bred to be very small, whilst still retaining the appearance of a horse.
Difference Between Horse And Pony Size
So, we already know that the main and most significant difference between a pony and a horse is their height. But at what point does a pony become a horse?
In most cases, an equine that measures over 14.2 hands high is classified as a horse. For an equine to be referred to as a pony it should normally measure 14.2 hands high or less.
This is a convenient benchmark and is used when setting height limits for competition. It is very common to have equine classes for ponies measuring 14.2 hands high or under, and different classes for horses that are 14.3 hands high or more. This helps to ensure that similar-sized horses are competing against each other.
But, as with all things equine, it is not always that simple!
Some equine breeds fall exactly in the middle when it comes to height, and they can be classified as a horse when they are pony-sized, and vice versa.
Here are some common examples of horses and ponies which don’t always follow the height rule:
- Arabian Horse – normally between 14.1 and 15.1 hands high
- Connemara Pony – anywhere between 13 and 15 hands high
Some breeds of horses are also titled horse or pony for other reasons. One good example of this is the Icelandic Horse; this stocky equine is between 13 and 14 hands high, but breeders traditionally refer to this smaller equine as a horse.
Another strange example is polo ponies, which are nearly always horse-sized. The American Quarter Horse is another breed that is called a horse but frequently comes in pony size. How confusing!
To make it easier, it is safe to assume that if the name includes ‘horse’ or ‘pony’ then that is what is classed as. If not, then go by the height of the animal to decide if it is a horse or a pony.
Learn more about How To Measure The Height Of A Horse?
Difference Between Pony And Horse Appearance
If you stand a horse and a pony side by side, you will notice straight away that the horse is taller. But start to look closer, and you will see that they have other differences in their appearance. Their bone structure and proportions and body shape will be different, as well as other dissimilarities.
In general, horses are more elegant and refined than their smaller counterparts. Ponies are stockier, with a thickset muscular body and strong legs.
In relation to their size, ponies tend to have a wider chest than horses, and shorter legs. The neck of a horse is longer and thinner, and a pony will often have a pronounced crest running along the top of the neck.
Horses have long and chiseled heads, whereas ponies tend to have short heads with cuter features.
When it comes to body hair, horses are very different from ponies. Larger equines tend to have a thinner coat, with a mane and tail which is silkier and more flowing. Ponies have a thick, dense coat, with a mane and tail to match.
The reason for this is that the ancestors of our ponies normally originated from colder environments. The classic example of this is the Shetland pony, which was first found on a rugged and bitterly cold group of islands to the north of Scotland.
Pony Vs Horse Character And Strength
If ponies are smaller than horses, does this mean they are not as strong? Well, it depends on the breed, but in general, most ponies can match horses in strength. If you put a 14.2 hands high pony breed against a horse one inch taller, in the vast majority of cases the pony would be stronger!
Ponies also have incredible levels of endurance and can travel long distances. However, when it comes to speed, the horse will nearly always come out top. Horses are lighter in build and more athletic, enabling them to cover ground more quickly.
When it comes to personality, again each breed of horse or pony is different. Generally speaking, ponies are more strong-willed and cheeky, and can be a bit of a handful at times! Horses are more level-headed and eager to please.
So, as we have learned, a pony is not just a smaller version of a horse! Horses and ponies are very different, and each has its own distinctive characteristics and appearance. Which is better is up to your personal preference and needs, and most people love horses and ponies equally.
We would love to hear about your experiences with horses – did you learn to ride on ponies then move onto horses? Or perhaps you prefer cute and cuddly ponies to large, elegant horses? Add a comment below this post and we’ll get back to you!
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE