pony vs horse

Pony vs Horse: Separating Facts From Fiction

Have you ever thought that all ponies are small horses, or that ponies are just young horses? Pony and horse breeds are very different, even if they both have a strong equine lineage. However, it can be easy to confuse the two, especially because of the misconception that small horses and ponies are the same species.

Simply put, a pony is not a small horse, and a small horse is not a pony. Let’s separate the facts from the fiction and take a trot down this path to explore the differences and similarities between ponies and horses.

Key Differences Between A Horse And A Pony

There are many similarities between horses and ponies, such as their appearance and their behaviour, but their size and temperament are vastly different.


Size matters when differentiating between a horse and a pony, and it’s the most obvious difference. Take a moment and measure your equine friend. If it is taller than 14.2 hands when measured at the withers, it is probably a horse. If it is shorter, then it’s probably a pony.

Although the 14.2-hand measurement is a rule of thumb, there can be some exceptions. Some full-sized horses can be shorter than the 58-inch measurement. An example would be the Falabella, and the most obvious one is miniature horses.

The converse is true as well. Some large ponies tend to be taller than 58 inches and are still considered ponies. One such pony that breaks this rule is the British Riding Pony. But just because they are larger ponies doesn’t mean they should be called horses.


Yes, the horse’s figure also counts. Ponies tend to be stockier than horses, and ponies often have shorter legs and necks compared to horses. Ponies were also blessed with thicker manes and tails than horses.

Horses, on the other hand, are generally more elegant than ponies, and they have fine, smooth, and shiny coats. This makes them look even more refined in dressage competitions.

Metabolic differences

Ponies tend to pick up weight faster than horses do. This may be because of their slower metabolisms. Extra care needs to be taken for a pony’s diet; otherwise, they can start to pack on the pounds. Metabolism varies between horse breeds, but it is equally important to give both horses and ponies the best nutritional care possible.


Ponies mature faster than horses. They generally reach full maturity around five to six years of age, while horses take an extra year to reach the same maturity. Ponies can reach sexual maturity as young as 16 months (for males) and 18 months for females.

On the other hand, a male horse can reach sexual maturity at 18 months, while a female horse is around 24 months. For both horses and ponies, though, they should breed when they are more mature (at least a year later).


If you have a pony, you need a lot of patience. Ponies can be very sassy and independent, perhaps because they often have a mind of their own.

Horses are easier to train than ponies, as they’re often more willing to please their owners. This differs between breeds. Some horses tend to be more spirited than others, but they are also easier to bribe with treats like apple slices and sugar lumps. Ponies need a different approach to training, but with consistency and patience, they can be trained.


For millennia, humans have used horses and ponies for transportation and to make agricultural and industrial advancements. From carrying riders into battle to pulling carriages for early transportation, humans have used these magnificent animals in every part of the earth.

Different horse breeds have been used for their speed and strength as they race on tracks, carry heavy loads, and plough fields. Clydesdale horses have often been used to pull barges because of their strength. Appaloosa horses are well-liked on cattle ranches, while Arabian horses tip the scales in endurance races.

Many ponies are also used on small farms or for pony rides, which children always love. It’s often a child’s first taste of riding horses and ponies, and because of their smaller size, a Shetland pony is preferred for this task. Haflinger ponies have a gentle nature, which is why they are often used to help people in therapy.


The sad truth is that ponies outlive horses. Ponies have been known to live for over three decades, while the average lifespan of a horse is between 25 and 30 years. Different factors come into play, such as genetics, nutrition, and care.

Debunking The Myths

Ponies are young or small horses

This is a myth. Ponies are not just young horses. Size matters, but age doesn’t factor into the equation at all. While the threshold for distinction sits at 14.2 hands (58 inches), there are slight deviations from this height. Pony foals grow and mature faster than horse foals, but they stay small. Some horses only reach maturity at six or seven years of age.

Ponies are not as intelligent as horses

This is a myth. Ponies are very intelligent, and this intelligence is what leads to their stubbornness. Both horses and ponies are intelligent, which is why they can both be trained. However, training a pony can be challenging if it decides to be stubborn.

Horses and ponies have the same dietary requirements

This is a myth. Because they have very different metabolisms, their meal requirements are different. Ponies need food that has a higher nutritional value, but they need smaller portions than horses.

A Breed Apart

There is no such thing as a cookie-cutter, colour-in-the-lines kind of equine. And sometimes the lines between ponies and horses can get very blurred. So let’s take a quick trot around a few interesting horse and pony breeds to see how their diversity sets them apart.

Miniature horses

A miniature horse reaches around 34 inches at the withers. It is a short horse and quite docile. The miniature horse is sleeker than a pony, with a smooth coat and a finer mane and tail. They were popularly used in coal mines because these tiny equines could go into the tunnels, whereas full-size horses couldn’t. While a miniature horse is not good for riding, it is perfect as a therapy companion.

A tale of two Shetlands (horses and ponies)

There are two types of Shetland ponies. They are technically the same species, but one is a pony and one is a horse breed.

A Shetland pony is a Scottish pony. It reaches less than 42 inches, and it has a thick coat, making it perfect for life in cold weather in the Scottish Highlands. However, it is not to be confused with the American Shetland, which is classified as a horse.

The Americans took Shetland pony foals and interbred them with horse breeds like the Arabians and Hackneys. Thus, the baby horses could grow up with the same docile nature, intelligence, and hardiness as their pony cousins but still have the sleek elegance of Arabian steeds. The Shetland horse grows up to around 46 inches at the withers.

Haflinger horses

Haflingers are small horses that grow to be between 13 and 15 feet. They stand proudly next to larger horses, though, because they are incredibly strong and ripped with muscles. Unlike ponies that cannot carry a full-grown human, Haflingers are strong enough to carry a person, despite their smaller stature.

Falabella and Icelandic horses

The Falabella is a very small horse. It reaches between 25 and 34 inches at the withers. The Icelandic horse is also shorter than many horses, as it reaches a height of between 13 and 14 hands (between 52 and 56 inches). You can understand why these equines are often mistaken for ponies.


Are Polo Ponies horses or ponies?

Polo ponies is a term that is used to refer to the horses used in the game of polo. These can be any breed of horse. The term pony is used here to refer more to the agility of the animal than its size.

Are horses and ponies related?

Yes, horses and ponies are part of the same family tree. They are both Equus caballus but have different sizes, temperaments, uses, and dietary requirements.

Is height the only difference between a pony and a baby horse?

No, size is not the only difference. Size is the obvious difference, but their structure and metabolism make them very different, too. Ponies need different meals and attentive care. They have short legs and can be stubborn, but many ponies also have a gentler nature, which makes them good with children.

Final Thoughts On The Pony vs Horse Debate

There are similarities between horses and ponies, including a common ancestor, a love for carrots, and the strong bonds they form with humans. However, where horses thunder on a field, ponies tiptoe in a meadow. The features that set each apart make them unique and special.

While horses can become champions on a track or dress for elegance and success in competitions, ponies have a gentle nature that steals the hearts of young and old alike. Though their differences may sometimes be tiny, making it difficult to tell them apart, both horses and ponies are special and unique.

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