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The 12 Differences Between Horses And Ponies: What You Should Know

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Ever been confused about what separates a horse from a pony? Uncover the fascinating facts and misconceptions about these two members of the Equus Caballus species. Hint: It's not what you think!

A popular belief among many non-horse people and beginner equestrians is that ponies are baby horses, which is not true today. However the word was derived from a French term poulenet meaning foal, a young immature horse, but this is not the meaning of it today.

Horses and ponies are the same species, Equus Caballus. Ponies are basically small horses. A baby horse or pony is called a foal . A young male is a colt. A young female is a filly. 

The most general difference between a horse and pony is their height. Equines are measured in hands, one hand equaling 4 inches. A pony measures 14 hands and 2 inches at the withers or shorter, whereas taller than that height is generally considered a horse. 

Here is a video that also explains differences between horses and ponies.

Horse Vs Pony Video:

How To Determine A Horse or Pony’s Height

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I mentioned above that horses and ponies are measured in hands which is equivalent to 4 inches, from the withers down to the ground. The withers are the highest point of the equine’s body. 

It wouldn’t make sense to measure from the head and neck because the horse/pony is constantly moving their head up and down. 

So the withers are fairly stable in height. Although the pony/horse’s wither height can change if they are wearing shoes or shoes with pads.

As well as whether they are conditioned and trained to carry themselves in a way that puts more weight onto their hind end lifts the front end, causing the withers to become taller and the horse/pony more uphill over time.

When you go to measure the horse/ponies height make sure the horse is standing square and on level ground. You can use a regular measuring tape or you can use a measuring tape or stick specifically designed to tell you the horse/ponies height in hands.

Horse.com has a horse height and weight measuring tape and horse height measuring stick if you are in need of one.

Affiliate Disclosure: These links to horse.com are affiliate links, so if you click through and end up making a purchase I will earn some ☕ coffee money.

If you measure with a regular measuring tape just divide the total inches by 4 and which gives you the horses height in hands.

Another thing to note is that a horse/pony full grown height occurs when fully mature. Horses and ponies mature at different rates so it depends on the equine.

Though ponies and horses are generally determined by height, there are exceptions to this rule. There are breeds that are considered horses or ponies that don’t always follow the height rule.

Some are also called ponies or horses because of tradition. Aside from height differences these animals tend to have different characteristics.

Exceptions To The Horse and Pony Height Rules

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There always seems to be exceptions, especially with equines. There are certain breeds of horses and ponies that are considered horses or ponies based on their breed. But some people still debate whether to determine a horse or pony by height or breed. 

So even though an Arabian horse may be 14.1h pony height, it may still be considered a horse. There are those that would argue and say that Arabian should be considered a pony based on the height. Other horses 

Same with a pony being considered a horse.

For example, a Connemara Pony is 15.1h some may still call the Connemara a pony based on breed, but others would consider the Connemara a horse based on height.

Then there are horse breeds like the Quarter Horse who sometimes but not always consider 14.2 and under a Quarter Pony, like in the photo above and video below.

There is a Quarter Pony Association (to their site) which is fairly new compared to The American Quarter Horse Association.

There are a lot of different opinions on this matter.

Icelandic Horses are hardly ever actually the size of horses. They tend to range around 13h-14h, yet they are called horses. There are several theories as to why the breed registry calls them horses, such as how much weight they can carry, their bone structure and personality. Hhmm, maybe because of tradition? I am just hypothesizing.

Other horse breeds that can be at pony height include Fjords, Morgans, Mustangs, Paints, Appaloosas.

In Pony Club they call all the mounts, ponies whether horse or pony just because of tradition. All horses or mounts in Polo are called ponies. Hence the term “Polo Ponies”.

But then you can’t forget Miniature Horses that are 8 hands 2 inches (34 inches) at the withers or less, which are bred to resemble full sized horses as they are tiny but are supposed to have the proportions of horses.

Shetland Ponies are one of the smallest breeds of pony and can look similar to Miniature Horses.

So as you can see it can be a bit confusing. 

Horse Vs. Pony Uses

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Ponies that are well trained are often great mounts for new and experienced child. They are closer to the ground in the event of a fall, where as if a child fell off a horse which is much taller injuries could be worse.

Small adults also benefit from riding ponies, which may be more proportionate for there size. It easier to get on, again less of a fall and the shorter rider is more able to effectively communicate the riding aids than on a horse that may be too big for them.

There are competitions that separate horses and ponies so that horses don’t have height advantage over the ponies. Not all competitions do this however.

Horses may do more heavy pulling than ponies, but ponies can still pull carriages and carts.

You would think of racing as being a horse thing, but there are actually Shetland pony races with children as riders.

Here is a video of the Shetland Pony racing.

Horses tend to be the choice of some upper-level competitions like show jumping , dressage, and eventing. But there have been some pony-sized competitors, like Teddy with Karen O’ Conner who competed eventing internationally and was only just over 14.1 hands.

Difference Between Horse And Pony Body Proportions

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Before going over the common differences between horse and pony proportions, remember there are exceptions. So this is just in general.

A ponies head is often shorter in proportion to their body compared to a horse sized head which is usually longer in proportion to their body.

Ponies have short ears compared to horses.

Horses tend to have long legs while ponies have short legs.

Ponies usually have thicker arched necks than horses.

Ponies tend to have thicker bones than horses. Aside from draft type horses.

Difference Between Horse And Pony Temperament And Personality

The horse and the pony

Horses are commonly seen as more docile, quiet, willing and easier to work with.

Ponies are commonly seen as more clever, stubborn, cheeky and sometimes need more experienced riders. They are known to often be more intelligent than horses. 

Ponies tend to have more playful and affectionate personalities compared to horses.

There are always exceptions, like I keep saying.

However the horse and ponies behaviors and temperament can be affected from breeding, age, training, work load, handling, type, feed, care, daily routines and other factors.

Horse And Pony Maturing Differences

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Horses mature slower than ponies. Typically the bigger the horse/pony the longer it takes for them to mature. The smaller the equine the quicker they mature. This also includes how heavy and thick boned the horse or pony is. Thicker bones take longer to mature. 

“Ponies reach a mature age and experience a shorter and less rapid growth curve than larger horse breeds.”

Kentucky Equine Research

Usually horses/ ponies will mature in height first and then their bone density, tendons, ligaments, and muscles after. They also usually become sexually mature before their bodies are finished growing.

How fast a horse or pony grows typically depends on:

  • Size
  • Genetics
  • Feeding
Small Pony/ Miniature3-4 years
Large/Drafty Pony4-6 years
Light Horse5-6 years
Warmblood6-8 years
Draft Horse6-9 years

Horse and Pony Lifespan Differences

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Just like small dogs tend to live longer lives than bigger dogs, it is similar with horses and ponies. Ponies tend to live longer than horses. Bigger horses tend to live shorter lives than smaller horses or ponies.

Ponies are usually able to be ridden at older ages than horses as well. However there are horses that live long lives and have longer riding careers due to quality care and good genetics, it’s just not typical.

Difference In Horse And Pony Hoof Quality

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Comparing horse hooves to pony hooves. They look similar. Ponies have smaller hooves, while horses have bigger hooves, especially draft horses that have hooves that sometimes look like the size of dinner plates.

However many of the pony breeds commonly have strong, hardy feet. More often than not ponies can excel without the need of hoof support like shoes.

Whereas there are horse breeds that tend to have good feet there are also quite a few horse breeds that tend to have issues with hoof quality, cracking, crumbling, navicular prone, sore-footed, thin soles, seedy toe or white line disease, etc.

Horse And Pony Coat And Hair Characteristics Differences

It is common for horses to have thinner manes and tails than ponies. 

Most ponies have thick puffy manes and tails. 

Ponies coat and hair is often more coarse than most horses.

Difference In Horse And Pony Strength

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Horses tend to be able to carry and pull more weight than ponies because they are bigger and heavier. 

However ponies are very strong and can carry more weight than a horse pound for pound. Meaning if they were the same size the pony breed would usually be stronger.

Metabolic Differences In Horses And Ponies

Equine metabolic syndrome - Wikipedia

Compared to horses ponies usually have a much slower metabolism known as an easy keeper. Because it is easy to keep weight on. Ever heard the saying “a horse that gets fat on air?” Ponies should get enough hay or grass and most will only need a vitamin supplement with no grain or a very small amount of grain.

One problem with ponies being such easy keepers is that they are prone to foundering from eating feed that is too rich or too much food including rich grass. Some ponies need to wear muzzles if they are out on grass to keep them from eating too much or they need to spend a limited amount of time out on the grass.

Horses tend to need more hay and grain-based on their work levels, age, and unique metabolism. Horses vary more with their metabolism between breeds than ponies. The amount of work is also a factor. Thoroughbreds for example have higher metabolisms especially if racing and a quarter horse doing low-level pleasure riding will have a much slower metabolism.

Common Health Issues In Horses And Ponies

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Though Cushing’s and laminitis can affect both horses and ponies. It is more common for ponies to experience these problems. 


Equine Cushing’s disease’s medical term is pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID). It has to do with the pituitary gland, which is a gland located at the base of the brain. This gland creates hormones in response to signals from the brain.

Signs a horse/pony has Cushing is most commonly seen as an increase in coat length and delayed time before shedding the winter coat. Other symptoms include drinking and peeing a lot, losing weight, sleepiness, increased sweating.

“Ponies are more likely to be affected than horses, but mares and geldings are equally likely to be affected.” –  

Royal Veterinary College


Laminitis is also known as founder. It is inflammation of the laminae in the horse’s hoof. The laminae is a soft tissue that attaches the coffin bone (hoof bone) to the wall of the hoof. 

The inflammation can cause separation of the coffin bone from the hoof wall, which is extremely painful for the horse and can be fatal. If caught in time it can be managed but will never be cured.

Overweight horses/ponies are most prone to laminitis. Ponies especially because most easily become overweight.

Horse Vs. Pony Healing Abilities

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This is something interesting that I learned about. There have been studies on horse and pony healing abilities. They found that ponies heal faster than horses because they tend to have more leukocytes which aid in healing.

It is believed ponies may have this because of natural selection in the wild. Ponies have not been bred and tampered with as much as horse breeds have. Horses have been domesticated and bred longer than ponies have. 

“The longer period of domestication of the horse may have precluded natural selection against poor healing because the wounded horse was/is tended to by man. Additionally, the artificial selection of various features, such as height, athletic capacity, and appearance, might have favored the development of some diseases and undesirable characteristics, including the reduced efficiency of leukocytes.”

Veterian Key

Misconceptions About Horses And Ponies

There are many misconceptions about horses and ponies, which can lead to confusion for people who are not familiar with these animals. Here are some of the most common misconceptions:

  1. Horses are always bigger than ponies: While it’s true that horses are generally larger than ponies, not all horses are bigger than ponies. There are some breeds of horse that are smaller than some breeds of pony. For example, the Falabella horse breed is smaller than many pony breeds.
  2. Ponies are only for children: While ponies are often associated with children, they can be ridden by adults as well. In fact, many adults prefer ponies because they are easier to handle and ride than larger horses.
  3. Ponies are less intelligent than horses: This is a common misconception, but it’s not true. Ponies are just as intelligent as horses and can be trained to do many of the same things as horses.
  4. Ponies are always stubborn: While some ponies can be stubborn, this is not true for all ponies. Just like with horses, it depends on the individual animal and its training and handling.
  5. Horses are stronger than ponies: While horses are generally stronger than ponies, there are some breeds of pony that are quite strong. For example, the Shetland pony is known for its strength and endurance.
  6. Ponies are always easier to take care of than horses: While ponies are generally smaller and require less food and space than horses, they still require proper care and maintenance. It’s important to provide ponies with adequate shelter, food, water, and veterinary care, just like with horses.
  7. Horses and ponies can be used interchangeably: While they may look similar, horses and ponies have different strengths and weaknesses. Horses are generally better suited for riding and work that requires speed and endurance, while ponies are better suited for work that requires strength and agility. It’s important to choose the right animal for the job at hand.

FAQS About Horses and Ponies

What is the difference between horses and ponies?

The main difference between horses and ponies is their size. Ponies are smaller than horses, usually measuring less than 14.2 hands (or 58 inches) at the withers, while horses can range in size from 14.2 to 17 hands or more. Ponies also have thicker manes, tails, and coats compared to horses, as well as a more stocky build.

How do I know if I’m looking at a horse or a pony?

You can tell the difference between a horse and a pony by their size and build. Horses are typically taller and leaner than ponies, with longer legs and a more streamlined body. Ponies, on the other hand, are shorter and more stocky, with thicker legs and a rounder body shape. You can also look at their manes, tails, and coats, which tend to be thicker and fuller in ponies.

Are horses or ponies easier to take care of?

Both horses and ponies require regular care and maintenance, such as feeding, grooming, and exercise. However, some people may find ponies easier to take care of due to their smaller size and generally more docile temperament. Horses, on the other hand, may require more space, feed, and exercise due to their larger size and higher energy levels.

How do the temperaments of horses and ponies differ?

Horses and ponies can have varying temperaments depending on their breed, age, and individual personality. However, ponies are often known for their friendly and gentle temperament, while horses can be more high-strung and require more training to become well-behaved. This is not always the case, though, and each animal should be evaluated on an individual basis.

Are horses or ponies better for beginners?

Both horses and ponies can be good choices for beginner riders, depending on the individual animal’s temperament and level of training. Ponies are often recommended for children and smaller riders due to their smaller size and slower pace, while horses may be better suited for larger, more experienced riders. Ultimately, the best choice will depend on the rider’s skill level and personal preferences.

How do the costs of owning a horse compare to those of owning a pony?

The costs of owning a horse or pony can vary widely depending on factors such as feed, shelter, veterinary care, and training. Generally, ponies may be slightly less expensive to own than horses due to their smaller size and lower feed requirements. However, the cost of owning either a horse or pony can add up quickly, so it’s important to budget accordingly.

Can ponies compete in horse shows?

Yes, ponies can compete in horse shows, often in their own classes based on their size and breed. There are a variety of pony-specific competitions and events, such as pony jumping and pony racing. Many breeds of ponies are also eligible for registration with breed associations and can compete in breed-specific shows and events.

Cheers, Kacey

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Disclaimer Notice: Please be aware that horseback riding and related equestrian activities carry inherent risks. The advice and experiences shared on this blog are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional training or advice. Ensure your safety and that of your horse by wearing appropriate gear, practicing safe horse handling, and consulting with certified equestrian professionals. Remember, each horse is unique, and techniques may vary accordingly. Always prioritize safety, respect, and patience in your equestrian endeavors.

Kacey Cleary Administrator
Kacey has been an equestrian since 1998. She was a working student at several eventing and dressage barns. She has owned horses, leased horses, and trained horses. Kacey received an A.S. in Equine Industries from UMass Amherst, where she rode on the dressage team. She was certified with the ARIA and is licensed to teach riding in MA. She has been a barn manager and has run her own horse farm.
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