How are Ponies and Miniature Horses Different?
Do you know the difference between a pony and a Miniature Horse? Both are equines, and both are smaller than standard horses. But contrary to what many believe, they are not one and the same.
What are the differences between Miniature Horses and ponies? A Miniature Horse is a breed that was developed to hold the same proportions as a standard horse but in a very miniature form, usually 34” at the withers or shorter. A pony is a horse that is 14.2 hands high in height or shorter; rather than being a breed itself, there are over one hundred different pony breeds.
All that said, it can be very difficult to differentiate between some pony breeds and Miniature Horses. Shetland Ponies and Miniature Horses are often mistaken for each other! To learn more about the difference between the two, read on!
What Is A Pony?
A pony is a horse that typically stands no more than 14.2 hands high. 14.2 hh is equal to 4.7 feet. Rather than being a distinct horse breed, there are approximately 159 different pony breeds. In addition to these breeds that have been developed to mature to 14.2 hh or shorter, any grade horse that is 14.2 hh or under will be called a pony.
Now, not many things in life are black and white, and this is true when we define the pony. Some individuals within a “pony breed” will stand on the taller side. For example, the standard height for a Fell Pony tops out at 14 hh, but a purebred Fell Pony that is 14.3 hh will still be called a pony. On the other hand, a standard Quarter Horse that stands only 14-14.1 hh will not be called a pony; shorter Quarter Horses can still be registered regardless of height and will be, therefore, called a Quarter Horse.
Most pony breeds originate from the colder Northern climates, and so they generally have thicker coats and fuller, longer manes and tails. They are usually stockier than standard horses, with shorter legs, wider barrels, and thicker necks in proportion to their bodies than larger equines.
How Tall Can a Pony Be?
If your equine is 14.2 hh exactly, are they considered a horse or a pony? This can be confusing, but let’s look to the International Federation for Equestrian Sports for guidance, as they are quite invested in determining exactly what should be considered a pony and what should not when qualifying entries. Here is what the FEI says:
“Ponies’ regulatory height at the withers must not exceed: 148cm (14.2 hh) 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).”
A pony is a horse that is 14.2 hh or under. A horse that is 14.2 hh exactly (or just a few centimeters taller), therefore, should be considered a pony.
What Is A Miniature Horse?
There are a few different Miniature Horse breeds, including the American Miniature Horse and the Falabella of Argentina. Rather than being a subtype of horse, the Miniature Horse is a specific breed. The first record of a Miniature Horse was from the year 1650 at the Palace of Versailles. King Louis XIV kept a zoo for “unusual animals,” of which the now-popular Miniature Horse was a resident. They were imported into the United States in the 1800s, but not for America’s zoos – instead, they were kept for America’s coal mines, where their small size allowed them to navigate tunnels impassable for larger draft breeds.
Miniature Horses are generally quite a bit smaller than ponies, standing only approximately 34” at the withers. In fact, the Falabella is considered to be the smallest breed of horse in the world. Miniature Horses also differ in body proportion; they are less stocky and more refined, similar to a standard horse. A Miniature Horse can be no taller than 38″ at the withers.
Ponies vs. Miniature Horses: The Differences
Though ponies and Miniature Horses are genetically both equines, there are several ways they can be differentiated! Use these steps to determine if you have a miniature horse or a pony:
Miniature Horses are shorter than ponies.
Most ponies fall somewhere between 11 hh and 14 hh. One of the smallest pony breeds is the Shetland Pony, which can stand no taller than 11.2 hh according to the breed standard. 11.2 hands equals 46”. On the other hand, the Miniature Horse stands approximately 34”, which equals 8.2 hands. A Fallabella stands at approximately 24,” which equals just six hands. That means that a Falabella will stand at just half of the height of a typical pony.
Miniature Horses and ponies are measured using different metrics.
Horses are measured in hands. One hand is equal to four inches. This has been the standard of measurement for horses for centuries, going back to when horses would literally be measured using a person’s hands when selling and purchasing because there were no rulers. Ponies are measured in the same way as standard horses: in hands.
Miniature Horses, on the other hand, are measured in inches. It is unclear why or when this was determined as the standard metric for measuring these smallest of equines, but it is likely because this made more sense for their tiny statures.
Regardless of which metric is being used, both ponies and Miniature Horses are measured at the withers, not at the top of the head. This is because the height at which the head sits will vary greatly depending on the arch or position of the horse’s neck. It is simply more accurate to measure to the withers, which will not change much depending on position.
Ponies are proportioned differently than Miniature Horses.
Most ponies were bred to work, and usually, that work was on the farm. For this reason, most ponies are very strong and can pull loads significant for their sizes. They are, therefore, generally quite stocky and thick. Miniature Horses, on the other hand, are proportionately similar to standard horses – there are many different “types” of Miniature Horse builds, with many of them built to look similar in body type to the Arabian, complete with the refined, slightly dished profile.
Because of their northern origins, ponies typically sport very thick manes, tails, and body coats when compared to their miniature friends. This is to help them stay warm in the harsh environment.
A Miniature Horse is a breed, and a pony is a type.
Lastly, the Miniature Horse and the pony differ in how their names are defined. A Miniature Horse is a breed, a handful of breeds, to be exact. If you are in the United States and you are talking about a Miniature Horse, you are likely talking about the breed of American Miniature Horse. There are other breeds of Miniature Horses, depending on which country you are in.
Ponies differ in that they are more of a type of horse. There are over 100 different breeds that are classified as ponies. This is similar to the way draft horses are described; a draft horse is not a specific breed but rather a class or type of horse that has several breeds associated with it.
What Are Miniature Horses Used For?
Since Miniature Horses are clearly too small to be ridden, you may wonder what these sweet pets are used for. The majority of them are kept as pets. Miniature Horses are also shown in hand and in cart-pulling, used as companions for larger equines, and even used as therapy animals.
Just last week, our local library brought two Miniature Horses to the park to get kids excited about storytime! That would certainly have excited me as a child (and truth be told, I was tempted to go as an adult). Though they cannot be ridden, Miniature Horses are still a lot of fun to have around the farm. Check out this YouTube video where I hung out with my Miniature Horse, Yoshi, for 12 hours straight!
Miniature Horses vs. Ponies – It Isn’t All About Differences
While there are several clear differences between Miniature Horses and ponies, there are even more similarities. Miniature Horses and ponies are genetically the same: they are domestic horses. They have the same care needs and require the same maintenance.
One similarity between the two is that both Miniature Horses and ponies are prone to obesity and all of the diseases that are exacerbated by it. In that sense, while some may be tempted to pamper their Miniature Horses and ponies with treats, they require the same maintenance as a standard-sized horse. Both of these small equines make excellent family pets and are useful around the homestead, having long lifespans and bringing much joy to the ranch.
Now that you know the difference between a Miniature Horse and a pony, it’s time to learn the difference between a full-sized horse and a pony! Check out my article The Difference Between Horses and Ponies: Complete Guide.