The World’s Smallest Horse Breeds
You may think that the smallest of horse breeds are useful only as adorable pets, but even the most miniature horses are still incredibly strong for their size. Small horse breeds are used for a variety of jobs aside from companionship, including packing, driving, and even as therapy animals. Tiny equines are more than just cute faces, and the following eleven breeds are both adorable and hard-working.
What are the world’s smallest horse breeds? Eleven of the world’s tiniest horse breeds, starting with the smallest, are the:
- American Miniature Horse
- Shetland Pony
- Faroe Pony
- Exmoor Pony
- Caspian Horse
- Welsh Pony
- Przewalski’s Horse
Keep reading to learn more about the fascinating history of these tiny equines!
Smallest Horse Breed #1: Falabella
The Falabella, originating from Argentina, is the world’s smallest horse breed, reaching only 25”-34” at the withers. Development of the breed began in the 1860s when Patrick Newtall began breeding specifically for a small horse using the native Criollo stock.
After Newtall passed away, his son-in-law, Juan Falabella, picked up the breeding program and added bloodlines from the Welsh Pony, the Shetland Pony, and small Thoroughbreds. Accomplished through significant inbreeding, Mr. Falabella succeeded in creating a horse of a consistently diminutive size.
Similar to the American Miniature Horse, the Falabella has the proportions of a standard-sized horse, unlike the typical stocky pony. They are commonly found in bay and black, but can also produce palominos and horses with both pinto and spotted patterns. Falabellas are kept as companion animals and therapy animals and are popularly ridden and driven by children.
Smallest Horse Breed #2: American Miniature Horse
American Miniature Horses, popularly called Minis, are only slightly larger than Falabellas – averaging up to 34” or 38”, depending on the specific registry. The horse was developed in the United States in the mid-1900s, likely from coal mine horses imported from the UK and also from a line of small horses bred by Lady Estella Mary Hope in England.
Today there are approximately 250,000 registered American Miniature Horses distributed in over 30 countries, with the vast majority living in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany.
American Miniature Horses are kept as companion animals, therapy animals, cart pullers, riding horses for children, and as attractions at amusement parks, petting zoos, and birthday parties.
Smallest Horse Breed #3: Shetland Pony
Originating from Scotland’s Shetland Isles, it is unclear exactly when the Shetland Pony was developed, as the natives on the Isles have kept ponies since approximately 3300-1200 BC.
These ponies have been hard workers throughout their long history, originally used for the transportation of both people and goods. They were exported to the United States and Britain during the Industrial Revolution to work in the coal mines.
Shetland Ponies reach a maximum height of 42” at the withers and are strong, stout animals. Today, most of the ponies are used as riding horses for children, to pull carts and small carriages, and are used as therapy animals and as attractions, though there are still those ponies that live on the Shetland Isles, working by hauling peat.
Smallest Horse Breed #4: Guoxia
The Guoxia is a very old breed of pony from China. The pony reaches only a maximum of 11 hands and is believed to share the Mongolian horse as an ancestor.
The name “Guoxia” can be literally translated as “under the fruit tree horse” because it was commonly used to carry baskets of fruit in the orchards. Once thought to be extinct, a large population was found alive and thriving in the mountains of southwest China in 1981.
Smallest Horse Breed #5: Baise
Also known as the Guangxi, the Baise is another small horse breed native to China, but this pony lives in the southeast regions. The average Baise is between 11 and 11.2 hands with a strong build and a willing temperament.
They are used mainly for riding and hauling but are also used for meat in the country. Baise ponies enjoy roaming free in the mountains while they are not actively working.
Smallest Horse Breed #6: Yonaguni
One of eight horse breeds native to Japan, the Yonaguni horse hails from the Yonaguni Island. The average height of the Yonaguni is between 11.2 and 11.3 hands.
These small horses were traditionally used to haul rice and sugarcane across the island, but their numbers have dwindled to approximately 130 ponies today. They currently enjoy popularity with tourists and are often used for rides along the shore, though they generally roam freely on the beach (what a life!).
Smallest Horse Breed #7: Faroe Pony
If you’ve never heard of the Faroe pony (or the Faroe Islands, for that matter), you are not alone. The Faroes are a small group of islands under the territory of Denmark, and the ponies that are native to these islands are generally restricted to this part of the world.
The ponies, standing at 11.1-12.1 hands, were once used on farms to both haul loads and herd sheep and like their friends in China and Japan, were allowed to roam freely when not working. The Faroe pony is another endangered breed, and there are currently fewer than 100 individuals left on the islands. While that is a small number, it should be considered an accomplishment, as there were only five Faroe ponies left in the 1960s.
Smallest Horse Breed #8: Exmoor Pony
The Exmoor pony originated in England and generally remained there until they were exported to other countries in the 1950s to bring new blood into the breed. They are considered to be a rare breed, with only around 330 left throughout the world.
Exmoor ponies stand between 11.1 and 12.3 hands and are stocky and well-muscled. They’re also quite rugged and hardy, thriving in the harsh moorlands on poor grazing. Today, the ponies are used for showing, pleasure riding, and driving. They are also used in conservation and management grazing (similar to how contracted goats are used in my neck of the woods).
Smallest Horse Breed #9: Caspian Horse
In 1965, American expat Louise Firouz developed the Caspian horse while living in Iran. To create the breed, he used the small feral horses that roamed the Elburz Mountains. Today, the breed is considered to be endangered, with fewer than 2,000 left in the world (approximately 500 of those living in the United States).
Caspian horses are on average 11.3 hands in height and are known for their hardiness. It is believed that the ancestors of the Caspian horse are among the oldest domestic horses in the world, with Caspian-like horse remains found in a cemetery dating back to 3400 BC.
Smallest Horse Breed #10: Welsh Pony
There are actually four “types” of Welsh ponies – two of them are considered “pony types,” and the other two are considered “cob types”. They are generally considered to be the same breed, though they may also be considered four separate but closely related breeds.
The smallest and oldest of these is the Welsh Mountain Pony, which stands between 11 and 12 hands high (the largest “type” can stand over 16 hands high). Welsh ponies are believed to have existed in Wales since at least 1600 BC, with the Welsh Mountain Pony most likely evolving from the prehistoric Celtic pony.
Smallest Horse Breed #11: Przewalski’s Horse
The Przewalski’s horse is unique in this list as it is the only truly wild breed of horse left in the world. They originated in the steppes of Central Asia, and can today be found in Mongolia, China, and Kazakhstan.
These horses are not at all domesticated and have retained some of their ancestral features, including primitive markings, short manes, and a lack of forelocks (the bangs of the mane). Przewalski’s horses are stockier and shorter than most domesticated horses, typically standing between 12 and 14 hands in height.
Their behavior is similar to feral horses, and they live in either family groups or bachelor herds. This is a truly ancient breed, and It is believed that these horses have shown up in cave art dating as far back as 20,000 years.
The Benefits of Small Horses
Many of the smallest horse breeds have dwindled in number as most preferences have changed to larger riding horses. There are still many benefits to smaller horses, however, including the training of children – our youngest riders.
Ponies are much less intimidating for children than larger horses, as they are closer to the ground should a rider fall. Ponies are also generally hardy, have long lifespans compared to larger horses, and require less feed. It’s no wonder the majority of these smallest breeds have been around for centuries – some of them for millennia.
While there are not as many jobs for ponies to perform now as when horses were used more regularly for agriculture, forestry, and coal mining, there are still many advantages to having a small equine friend on the farm.