Horses Vs Ponies
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Horses Vs Ponies

The differences between a horse and a pony, which is not just height but also temperament and build.

The general public, or at least the part that is “non-horsey” tend to think that a pony is a small horse. This is not the case and is about the equivalent of saying a pet cat is a small lion.

Photo courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons

There are many differences and the one anyone, even a non “equine expert” can see is height, but this is only a small part of the disparity. As the distinguishing height feature is easily recognised it is for that reason that many people believe a pony is a small horse.

There are many breeds of both horse and pony, and each has its own characteristics, so this is intended as a general article rather than specific to any breed.


Equines are measured in hands and to their withers. In olden days a hand was laid sideways to calculate height and this was taken to be four inches, so one hand is 4” and an animal that is 66” high is called 16.2hh – 16 hands high and 2 inches. Horses and ponies are measured to their withers - the place where their back joins their neck. There is where the shoulder bone joins the back bone and shows up as a small bump. The reason this is used for measurements is that it is stable, while the head and neck can be raised or lowered, giving a false calculation.

Photo courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons

Technically a guide is that pony has to be under 14.2hh and a horse over, hence the idea a pony is a small horse, but there are exceptions to this. Rarely, if ever, a pony is bigger than 14.2, but horses can be smaller and there are some breeds that are always smaller.

One of the smallest equine breeds in the world is the Falabella. This is a horse and despite the fact they are rarely over 8hh, (32”), they are not ponies, but miniature horses.

While some countries do consider the height range to be different, the International Federation for Equestrian Sports, ( states 14.2hh, (or 148cm) is the cut off point, and the legal age limit for competing on a pony is sixteen, due to a few factors. One is weight, obviously adults tend to weigh more than children, and another is height. While there are ponies that are strong enough to carry an adults weight, the height of the person riding the animal effects the overall balance, so this can cause problems for the poor pony finding a centre of balance. A problem that effects the rider is that in order to stay in the saddle you grip with your legs, but many adults find their legs below a ponies stomach, and so have nothing to hold them in the saddle.

There is another range which goes from 14.2hh – 15.2hh and this has different names in different countries, (cob for a stocky, large type pony or hack for a finer, small horse are common in Great Britain), but these are not often used as sport categories.

There are two main differences between horses and ponies for an equestrian person; build and temperament.

A large pony and a small horse. This photograph shows up many common differences admirably. There is only 4" difference in height.


A pony is generally stockier in build, more robust and therefore hardier. They are better able to resist the elements of cold weather. They are often stronger, relatively speaking, than horses; many horses can pull their own weight, while ponies, such as Shetlands, can actually pull about double their weight.

Many breeds of pony have a rougher coat than many horse breeds and along with this is a thicker mane and tail. Ponies tend to have shorter, sturdier legs than a horse and rounder bodies.

Photo courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons


Ponies tend to be sweeter natured, (with a few exceptions, for example, although especially small, (usually under 10.2hh), and therefore seemingly suitable for very young children, some Shetland ponies can be vicious little brutes – not all show these characteristics, before Shetland owners lynch me). On the whole ponies are usually friendlier and again suit children who want to have them as pets as much as for riding.

They are more sure footed, patient and frighten less easily, so they trip, stumble and “shy” less, (when they jump to one side because something has frightened them), – meaning the rider is likely to fall off less.

Ponies, by and large, are more cunning. The good thing about this is if they find themselves in difficulty of any type, they often look for and find a solution, whereas a horse in the same situation may wait for the rider to tell him what to do, or panic and make things worse. The down side is that many ponies “play” with their owner, enjoying pushing them out of the way so they can escape through doors, pushing them about for a laugh, (both horses and ponies are extremely playful and seem to have no idea how strong they are compared to a human). Horses try this too, but adults are better prepared to “fight back” and push the animal back into the stable, or anticipate the action and move accordingly.

All this makes ponies better suited to children, and as in many things nature seems to have made a good choice making them small. However, size is important when a pony picks up bad habits, and some of these vices can be dangerous, even fatal.

Experts only become expert after years of experience and practice, but by this time they are large adults. To cure an animal of a bad habit you need an understanding of the animal and its behaviour. You need to be better at mind games, and at times brute strength is also required. Children have none of these, or at least few children do, and most adults are too large and heavy to ride a pony. This makes putting an end to bad behaviour somewhat difficult. You can always send your problem horse to an expert if you are unable to resolve it yourself, but this becomes a huge problem if it is a small pony.

All in all each type has a lot to recommend it, and no one can say it better than Donald Duncan in his 1954 poem. As it is already present in another article I put a link rather than repeating the same thing.

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Comments (7)

Interesting and informative piece of work you have shared with us . . . Thank You

A very educational article, Jill.

This is really educational. I also thought a pony is a small horse.

Each type has its own admirable quality. Thanks for enlightening us on these important details.

A lot of great information presented here.

Ranked #2 in Horses

Thank you all for reading and commenting kindly.

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