The Difference Between a Pony and a Horse

Terynn Boulton 3
F. Morse asks: What is the difference between a horse and a pony?

HorsesPonies and horses are both equines. In general, a horse is an equine that stands about 14.2 hands high or more  and a pony is an equine that stands under that mark, give or take depending on region; for instance, in Australia the dividing line is 14 hands rather than 14.2.

That being said, although the main distinction between the two is size, size is not the only determining factor. There are some horses smaller than a typical pony size that are not ponies but horses. For instance, breeds such as the Falabella horse, which stand no taller than 7.5 hands, are considered very small horses, not ponies.  Further, Caspian horses almost always are under 12 hands, yet  aren’t considered ponies.

What? Why?  In a word, phenotypes.  In more words, the answer lies in their temperament and physical makeup. Ponies are typically much stockier than their horse relatives. They also have thicker manes, tails, and coats, so are better able to endure cold weather. They have proportionally shorter legs, wider barrels (body of the pony that encloses the ribcage and all major internal organs), heavier bones, shorter and thicker necks, and short heads with broader foreheads. They also typically have calmer temperaments and a high level of equine intelligence which can be used to a human handler’s advantage. Children love getting pony rides don’t they?

So that’s it. Horses and ponies are both equines. Size typically determines whether or not they are considered a horse or a pony, but their temperament and other aspects of their physical make-up also count.

Now, you might at this point be wondering what exactly a “hand” is and how horses and ponies are measured.  The height of ponies and horses is measured from the highest point of the withers, which for you non-equestrian connoisseurs is the point where the neck meets the back. The withers is used for measurement since it is a stable part of the anatomy, unlike the head and neck which move up and down with the body of the horse. Their height is measured in hands and inches with one hand equivalent to 4 inches. When written, a pony or horse’s height is written in the number of hands, followed by a decimal and then the number of inches. For instance, if a horse is 61 inches tall, its height would be written as 15.3 h for 15 hands and 3 inches.

If you liked this article and the Bonus Facts below, you might also enjoy:

Bonus Horse and Pony Facts:

  • The modern domestic horse can live about 25-30 years. Some have lived to be 40 years old and some even older but that is very uncommon.
  • For your reference, a foal is a horse of either sex less than one year old. Foals who are nursing are called sucklings and those who have been weaned are called weanlings. A yearling is a horse of either sex that is between one and two years of age. A colt is a male horse under four and a filly is a female horse under the age of four. A stallion is a non-castrated male who is four years or older. A gelding is a castrated male of any age. A mare is a female horse four years or older.
  • The oldest verifiable record of the longest living horse was that of “Old Billy”, a 19th century horse who lived to the age of 62. According to the Guiness Book of World Records the record for the “world’s oldest living pony” died in 2007 at age 56.
  • The largest horse in recorded history was a a Shire Horse called Mammoth. He was born in 1848 and stood 21.2 hands high (86.5 inches) and weighed 3,300 pounds!
  • The world’s smallest horse is named Thumbelina. She is a fully mature miniature horse, however she suffers from dwarfism. She is 17 inches tall and weighs only 57 pounds.
  • The world’s smallest pony was named “Little Pumpkin.” He stood 14 inches and weighed only 20 lbs!
  • A horse’s teeth take up more space in their head than their brain.

Expand for References

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3 Comments »

  1. Silk May 14, 2014 at 3:27 pm - Reply

    Wouldn’t 61″ be 15.1 hands?

  2. IBikeNYC September 18, 2014 at 10:08 pm - Reply

    “The withers is used for measurement since it is a stable part of the anatomy, unlike the head and neck which move up and down with the body of the horse.”

    Get it? “Stable part of the anatomy;” get it?

    LOL!

    ;-)

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