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What is a Pony?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2016
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A pony is a breed of horse which has a number of distinct traits, most notably a small size. Numerous pony breeds can be found all over the world, and some well known representatives of this equine group include Shetland, Welsh, and Connemara ponies. Just like their larger relatives, ponies have been used for work, sport, and pleasure for thousands of years, and they are incredibly diverse creatures.

A pony is not merely a small horse. There are several distinct physical differences between horses and ponies which make the two easy to distinguish. Ponies tend to very stocky, with thick bones, wide chests, and small heads. Their manes, tails, and coats are often thicker than those of horses, perhaps because many pony breeds evolved in colder climates where a thick layer of insulation would be vital.

Ponies are also incredibly strong for their size, thanks to their muscular bodies. A mature pony can sometimes pull the same weight as a draft horse, for example, and many ponies are capable of carrying adult riders. Pound for pound, ponies are much stronger than horses. They are also known for being extremely hardy, and tolerant of a wide range of conditions including extreme cold. The pony is also famous for being extremely intelligent, and sometimes a bit stubborn.

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The official definition of a pony is a horse under 14.2 hands. The hand system of measurement used for horses can be a bit confusing. The height of a horse is measured to its withers, the high part of a horse's shoulders. A “hand” is four inches or 10.16 centimeters, with each number after the decimal point representing an additional inch, so a pony can be up to almost five feet tall (or 147 centimeters). However, the 14.2 hand standard is not hard and fast. Some pony breeds occasionally produce individuals which are taller, while some horses measure in at below 14.2 hands, but they are still classified as horses because of the breeds to which they belong.

Some people think of ponies primary as children's horses, but ponies have been used as work animals and to carry adults for thousands of years. Many children get their start as riders on ponies because a well trained pony is easier to handle than an adult horse for a younger rider. Just like horses, ponies are shown in a variety of classes, and they can also be found working on farms, carrying people in the hunt field, and drawing carts and carriages for both leisure and transportation.

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anon94200
Post 6

There are wide variations within species. In animal husbandry, these differences would most often be described as breeds. No different than dogs - a chihuaha and a german shepherd are the same species, and are capable of mating and producing fertile offspring - the easiest genetic way to informally show two animals are of the same species.

Sub species is not typically used anymore in biology (nor is the term breed), with the advent of DNA testing.

Horses and ponies are represent different breeds, but are the exact same species.

anon45706
Post 4

They are genetically different the way a coyote and wolf are different. They also have the same chromosome count and can freely interbreed but that doesn't make them the same animal.

meloukhia
Post 3

Horses and ponies are the same species, by any definition of the term, because they can interbreed, and they have the same specific name as horses do. However, ponies have been bred to exhibit certain superficial characteristics.

Velikaribat, you're right. There is a designation below genus and species, and it's known as "subspecies," often abbreviated as "ssp."

Moderator's reply: Great comment! Check out our article, What is the Difference Between a Horse and Pony? for more info.

velikaribat
Post 2

I don't think that's right Aeronmack. According to the classification, horses and ponies are the same "species". They are both in the Animalia Kingdom, Chordata Phylum, Mammalia Class, Perissodactyla Order, Equidae Family, Equus Genus, and Cabalius Species. But I have heard that they are different "animals." That is, that a pony isn't just a dwarf version of the horse. Perhaps there is a sub-classification below species?

aeronmack
Post 1

Genetically, ponies and horses are two separate species. Some ponies can be "horse sized" and vice versa. A miniature horse looks like a pony, but is genetically a horse. It can be a bit confusing!

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