What Is A Pony?

What are Ponies?

When I first tried to answer this question, I thought it was fairly straightforward. I was taught that…

The definition of a Pony is:

Ponies are members of the horse family that are 14.2 hands high and under. (which is 4 feet 10 inches or 147 cm). This is measured to the withers of the horse without shoes.

This makes a Horse an equine animal over 14.2 hands high. So even if it is a quarter of an inch over 14.2, it is a horse. Case closed.

But not according to Wikipedia

However, when I went in search of validation for my beliefs, I started to find a LOT of different definitions

Wikipedia says

“For many forms of competition, the official definition of a pony is a horse that measures less than 14.2 hands (58 inches, 147 cm) at the withers.”

Less than…. so accoring to Wikipedia, as soon as its 14.2hh it’s a horse.

Or is it….

Is it a Porse, or a Hony?

I have also found definitions which say “Over 14.2 is a horse and under 14.2 is a pony” but can you spot the flaw in this system?

If you said “what does that make a 14.2 animal then?” you have spotted it. In this system, over 14.2 is a horse and under 14.2 is a pony, so presumably an animal that is exactly 14.2 is a Porse (or a Hony)

So that can’t be right…

Pebbles the horse looking at bennachie in winter

Is Pebbles a horse or a pony? What would the FEI say?

The FEI definition of a Pony:

Ponies’ regulatory height at the withers must not exceed:  148cm without shoes (any measurement between 148.1cm and 148.9cm will be rounded down to 148.0cm); and 149cm with shoes (any measurement between 149.1cm and 149.9cm will be rounded down to 149.0cm).

Now if we convert all that to hands….

Ponies’ regulatory height at the withers must not exceed:  14 hands 2 inches without shoes (any measurement between 14 hands 2.3 inches and 14 hands 2.63 inches will be rounded down to 14 hands 2 inches)

Note 14 hands 2 inches is normally expressed as 14.2hh or “fourteen-two”

So the FEI say if its slightly over 14.2hh, round it down to 14.2hh and call it a pony. So the definition I had always used was slightly wrong. A pony can be a whisker over 14.2hh and still be a pony. Who knew… not me apparently. But that’s because it never really mattered to me. I grew up showing Clydesdales, and they are always a horse.

Mack the Clydesdale

Mack the Clydesdale, definitely not a pony

How do you measure a horse?

It’s not as easy as it looks! So we’ve put together this handy video to show you how to do it.

Step 1 is to identify the horses withers.

These are the highest point on the horses back and are usually the L4 and L5 spinal links. It’s easy on some horses, but on others with a flatter back and more muscular neck it can be a bit of challenge.

Step 2 is to get your horse standing on hard level ground

Make sure your horse is standing as if it’s in the showring. Feet square and head at a neutral height.

Step 3 use your measuring stick to measure the horse

It’s best to use one with a spirit level, so you get the most accurate reading. Don’t push down too hard on the horses spine or you will get a low reading. It should be just on the skin on the withers and no more.

How do you find the withers? and is it always obvious?

As you can see from the video, some horses are easier than others, I was a bit unfair on the team there and didn’t give them any warning, and Pebbles was getting a bit fed up and fidgety towards the end so you can see how people easliy come to different measurements. If two peope have to agree on the height of a horse, then it’s best to spend a bit of time looking for – and agreeing where – the withers are before you measure.

Why does it matter how a pony is defined?

It matters. It matters a great deal. And for quite a few reasons.

  1. Competition. If you are competing, you need to be in the correct class. Size matters. A Horse pretending to be a pony would clean up in show jumping.

  2. Showing. Don’t like the look of the competition? Another class look a bit easier to win? Put some big shoes on and get creative with your clipping and you might be able to sneak up a class (obviously I’m not advocating any of this)

  3. Breed Standards. Certain breeds have very strict standards on how big your horse can be and still be registered and/or shown. I go more into that below

  4. Buying a horse. I would not recommend this, but some people buy horses unseen. If its height is important, ask for a video of it being measured. Or it might have a “lifetime height certificate” if it has been competing

When is a pony not a pony?

Ponies can be called ponies because of their breed type, but be over the breed standard size. So it is possible to have a “pony” which is tall enough to be classed as a horse.

For example, Highland ponies, a native Scottish breed , sometimes grow above the 14.2 hands regulation height that is permitted by the Highland Pony Society Breed Standard so according to height they are a horse but according to type they are a pony. Confused? Not as confused as the poor tall Highlands.

According to the Highland pony society “they are not allowed in the show ring” and if you do breed with them, care should be taken to breed them with smaller Highlands to ensure their children meet the required maximum size. Presumably so they don’t suffer the trauma of being booted out of the horse of the year show for being too tall.

I’m poking a bit of fun here, but I do understand the need to have breed standards, otherwise it becomes the wild west and anything goes. I have handled quite a few Highlands in my time and they are STRONG and DETERMINED. Many’s a time I’ve nearly had my arm ripped out of the socket when they go to grab a mouthful grass at the side of the road. No one wants a Highland pony the size of Giraffe terrorising their neighbourhood so keeping them maximum 14.2hh makes the world a safer place.

Highland pony crossed with a giraffe

No one wants a Highland pony the size of a Giraffe

Reading the Highland pony breed standard got me wondering if the same exists in other breeds – and sure enough, the New Forest Pony Breeding society states

HEIGHT The upper height limit is 148 cms. There is no lower limit. All ponies should be judged equally regardless of height.

All ponies should be judged equally regardless of height – Well, apart from the ones over 148cm of course. They won’t be judged at all. Presumably the ones over 148cm are hanging out with the Highland Giraffes in the “Too big to be a pony” field out the back of the horse of the year show

Fell ponies: Maximum size 14.0 hands or 142cm

Shetland ponies: 10.2 hands or 107cm


American Shetland ponies can be a full hand higher at 11.2hh.

Everything is bigger in America. Even their Shetland ponies. It’s heartening to hear to be honest, our overgrown UK Shetland ponies can emigrate and live the American dream, free from prejudice and heightism…. well, up to a point, over 11.2 they aren’t allowed to be a Shetland in the USA either. So what then for the overgrown mutant 11.2 + Shetland??

Researching this article, I found out that the Shetland has been used in many new breeds.

Breeds derived from the Shetland Pony

Fallabella – Tiny horse, extremely confusingly not a pony despite being 8.0 hands high

American Shetland. max 11.2 hands high

German Classic Pony. max 11 hands high (no luck for our big Shetlands to find a new life in Germany then)

Pony of the Americas. The breed averages 11.2 to 14 hands high. YAY, giant Shetlands can go and become a Pony of the Americas 😊

Petiso. An Argentinian pony bred from crossing Shetland and Welsh ponies, and likely some Criollo. Petisos are in the 11 to 12 hand high range, so Argentina is also a destination for your giant Shetland ponies.

Fun fact, I’m quoting heights in Hands here, but the Shetland Pony Stud Book Society measures them in inches.

Let’s look at some of the other definitions of: What is a pony?

Ponies are small equine companions that belong to the same species as horses, Equus caballus. While they may look similar to horses, there are some obvious differences that set them apart. Ponies tend to be smaller than horses, with proportionally shorter legs and thicker manes. They also have heavier bones and are often mistaken for miniature horses, which are actually a different animal altogether and called horses.

There are many pony breeds, each with their own unique characteristics. Some of the most well-known pony breeds include the Shetland pony, Welsh pony, and Connemara pony. Each breed has different features, such as a smaller or larger size, different coat colors, and different temperaments.

Ponies tend to require less feed than full-sized horses, making them a popular choice for those with limited resources or space. They also have a reputation for being hardy and resilient, able to thrive in cold weather and with little food. However, they may require more specialized care during the winter months due to their smaller size and proportionally shorter legs.

Polo ponies are a popular breed of riding horses, specifically bred for the sport of polo. They are agile and fast, able to turn quickly and stop on a dime. However, they are not the only pony breed that can be ridden. Many ponies are suitable for riding, including those that are too small to be considered full-sized horses.

Pony foals are born just like baby horses and grow up to be ponies. Young horses and young ponies have some similarities in terms of their development, but there are also some differences. For example, ponies tend to have thicker manes and tails from a young age.

One of the main differences between ponies and horses is their size. Ponies are generally considered to be less than 14.26 hands high at the highest point of their shoulder blades, while full-sized horses are larger. However, there are also some differences in their breeding and genetics. For example, some pony breeds, like the Icelandic horse, have a unique gait that sets them apart from horses.

Despite their similarities, there are some differences between horses and ponies that can affect their care. Ponies may require different training and riding techniques than full-sized horses, and there may be some differences in their health conditions and health problems. For example, ponies tend to have heavier bones than horses, which can mean less health issues later in life.

Ponies are a popular choice for young riders, as they are often more comfortable to ride than larger horses. They also require less space and resources, making them an ideal choice for those with limited resources or experience. However, it’s important to remember that ponies are not just small horses – they are a different animal with their own unique characteristics and care requirements.

In conclusion, ponies are small equine companions that are often mistaken for horses. They come in many different breeds, each with their own unique features and temperaments. While they may require less feed and space than full-sized horses, they still require specialized care and attention to maintain their health and wellbeing. Whether you ride ponies or horses, it’s important to remember the main difference between the two – their size.

Your pony questions answered

Are ponies baby horses?

No. Baby horse are called foals.

Are baby horses ponies?

Excellent question… They are foals until they are 1 year old, then they are a yearling until they are 2 years old. Then I suppose if they are over 14.2hh they are a horse. If they are 14.2hh or under they would technically be a pony if purely looking at height, but if you had a two year old Clydesdale who was 14.1 you wouldn’t call them a Clydesdale pony. Equally a 14.3 Highland would not be a Highland horse. So breed type would come into play when classifying a youngster

Often you’ll see the height they “will make” quoted, particularly in adverts. These can sometimes be a bit inflated, so watch out. If the horses final height is important to you, ask to see the Sire and the Dam so you can make a good judgement

Three foals. 2 Clydesdale x and one pure clydesdale

Some of our foals from 2010. All three grew up to be over 15 hands high. Topper (in the middle) works in our riding school

How big is a pony?

As you can see from the above, ponies come in many sizes, but never over 14.26 hands high, and some breeds like the Shetland and the Fell aren’t even allowed to be as big as that. As soon as a pony is over 14.26 hands it is technically a horse, although it’s breed could still have “Pony” in the name

How many types of pony are there?

I counted 77 types of pony breed. This is compared to 359 types of horse breed. A huge difference. This is likely due to the stricter height requirements to classify a breed as a pony.

Some lists show over 80 and even 90 breeds of pony, however there are many breeds with two names so I have combined them to arrive at 77 definitive pony breeds.

Pony A to Z

Below you will find a list of all 77 pony breeds, each one is linked so you can learn more about them

Further pony questions answered

  1. What is a pony? A pony is a small equine companion that is part of the Equus caballus species, just like horses.

  2. What is the difference between a pony and a horse? The main difference between horses and ponies is their size. Ponies are generally considered to be less than 14.2 hands high at the highest point of the shoulder blades, while horses are larger. Additionally, ponies tend to have proportionally shorter legs, thicker manes, and heavier bones than horses.

  3. What breeds of ponies are there? There are many pony breeds, such as the Shetland pony, Welsh pony, Connemara pony, and more.

  4. What are some common colors of ponies? Ponies come in a wide variety of colors, just like horses. Some common colors include black, bay, chestnut, and gray.

  5. How long do ponies typically live? Ponies and horses have similar life spans, usually between 25 and 30 years, although some can live longer.

  6. What is the average cost of a pony? The cost of a pony can vary widely depending on factors such as breed, age, training, and location. Miniature horses and small ponies are often less expensive than full-sized horses.

  7. Can ponies be ridden? Yes, ponies can be ridden just like horses. In fact, some pony breeds, such as Polo ponies, are specifically bred for riding.

  8. What are some common health issues that ponies face? Like horses, ponies can be prone to a variety of health conditions, such as colic, laminitis, and respiratory issues.

  9. What is a miniature horse? A miniature horse is a small breed of horse that is often mistaken for a pony. However, miniature horses are a different animal altogether and are considered horses, not ponies.

  10. How do the care differences between horses and ponies vary? Ponies tend to require less feed than larger horses, but they may need more specialized care in cold weather due to their smaller size and proportionally shorter legs. Additionally, there may be differences in training and riding techniques when comparing ponies and larger horses.

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