What is the Difference Between a Horse and a Pony?

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  • Originally Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Revised By: Jillian O Keeffe
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 24 February 2020
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Generally speaking, the difference between a horse and a pony comes down to height: a horse is usually at least 14.2 hands (4 ft 10 in, 147 cm) tall at the area between the shoulders, while ponies are shorter than that. Besides the height distinction, ponies tend to have a set of physical characteristics that horses don't, and are generally very strong for their size. There are a number of exceptions though, both because of height variations within breeds and because of traditions about the names of certain breeds. Despite their differences, both animals can be used for riding, pulling carts, and farming, among other things.

Distinguishing Characteristics

Ponies generally have stocky frames, with short legs, big chests, and thick necks. They generally are much stronger, relative to size, than horses, and tend to be hardier and more resistant to cold weather. They also tend to be quite intelligent, and as a result can often be very stubborn.

Horses tend to have longer, rangier bodies, as well as narrower faces and necks. Their bone structure is generally lighter than that of ponies, and their hair is often thinner. Like ponies, they are generally intelligent, though they don't always have the same tendency to stubbornness. Both animals can be used for similar tasks, though sometimes specific breeds of each are better suited for particular tasks. For instance, Thoroughbred horses are good for racing, while Hackney ponies are good for harness sports, like pulling a cart.


Variations and Exceptions

There can be a lot of variation in both height and features in both horse and pony breeds, which can blur the distinction between the two. Horses can range from just under 14.2 hands to in excess of 20 hands (6 ft 8 in, about 2 m) in extreme cases. Similarly, there are some breeds of pony that sometimes exceed the 14.2 hand limit, like Connemara Ponies and Dale Ponies.

There are also some breeds of horses that are almost always less than 14.2 hands when they're fully grown. For example, Caspians horses rarely grow larger than 12 hands, and Icelandic horses rarely get bigger than 14 hands. Despite this, they're still considered to be horses because of their physical features and because of the tradition of describing them by this name. Likewise, the American Miniature Horse is almost never larger than 8 hands, but is still considered to be a true horse.

Adult vs Foal

It is important to recognize that the distinction between pony and horse is judged based on an animal's height when it is fully grown, and based on the characteristics of the breed as a whole. Young horses and ponies, called foals, are usually less than 14.2 hands, but if they are horses then they'll nearly always get bigger than that as they grow. People often confuse foals for ponies, but ponies are strong and functional, while foals are still growing, and can't be used for riding or other work.


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Post 13
@bagley79-- I agree with your comment, and most kids who don't know much about horses would choose something that is a little smaller like a pony. We had an old mare who was not a pony but was not as tall as our other horses.

She was the best horse we ever had when it came to kids who didn't have much experience. We could put anybody on her and know that she wouldn't freak out about anything.

I would choose a horse like this any day over a pony who was difficult to work with.

Post 12

This was an old pony that had been around for awhile and was very smart. I quickly learned that I didn't know very much about horses and got bucked off the first time I got on him.

This breed of horses is also known for being quite stubborn, and he certainly lived up to that. Even so, I enjoyed having this pony around and got to the point where he knew that I was in charge and not him. We had a lot of fun memories with that old Shetland pony.

If someone is considering getting a horse or pony for their kids there is a lot to take into consideration. Just because a horse may be

smaller in stature doesn't necessarily mean they will be easier to work with.
Post 11
@anon161454-- I think Arabians are beautiful horses but I don't enjoy riding them. I prefer to ride a horse that has a more even temperament.

I am not that experienced at riding horses, so when I get on the back of one, I don't want one that is nervous or gets spooked easily. I am sure the horse can already sense that I am nervous, so I need one that is very calm.

My son on the other hand likes to ride horses that are more of a challenge, and an Arabian would be one breed that he would enjoy working with.

Post 10
@aeronmack-- I have often wondered why a miniature horse is referred to as a horse instead of a pony and now I understand why.

We love to visit the horse barn every year on our trip to the fair. My kids especially love the miniature horses because they don't feel so intimidated by them. I guess I just assumed they were ponies because they weren't that tall, but I see that was incorrect thinking.

I can see why many people enjoy owning a miniature horse because they are so cute, but if I were to own my own horse I would want one that I could actually ride.

Post 8

Arabians are the best! I have one, and I love him so much! They are probably best for intermediate riders because they tend to be nervous and can be quite jumpy/spooky.

Post 6

Ponies are horses shorter than 14.2 hands. Any breed can have members over or under 14.2 hands. Specific breeds like Shetland pony are predispositioned to be ponies. Just like shire horses contain the genetics to give them the build and height of draft horses.

Post 4

Horses and ponies are the same species because they are able to breed. They have different genes but yet are the same thing just like a dog and a wolf.

Post 2

Ponies and horses ARE the same species, at least according to their scientific classification: Phylum: Chordata || Class: Mammalia || Order: Perissodactyla || Family: Equidae || Species: Equus caballus.

Post 1

A pony is not a small horse. Horses and ponies are genetically two different species. There are "horse-sized" ponies, and "pony-sized" horses, but the genetics are what tells them apart, not the size. A miniature horse, for example, is very small and looks like a pony, but genetically, it is a horse.

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