The Difference Between a Pony and a Horse

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.
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  • Wouldn’t 61″ be 15.1 hands?

    • Silk, I was going to write the same thing, 61 inches = 15.1 hands; 15.3 hands = 63 inches.

    • Brian S from Las Vegas

      A “hand” is 4 inches.
      61 inches is 15.3 hands
      61 ÷ 4 = 15.25 or 15 hands and 1 inch
      15.25 rounds to 15.3

      • The subdivision of a hand is in base 4, not base 10. Repeat, base 4. So the number after the decimal point is effectively expressed as inches, not as the percentage of a hand. So one inch over 15 hands becomes 15.1, not 15.25. For example, 63″ would not be expressed as 15.75 hands, although in percentage it would be. It would be 15.3 hands (fifteen hands and three inches), three inches being .75 of a hand. Look up “horse measure hand”, or “definition hand horse”.

  • “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?



  • Thumbelina doesn’t suffer due to her dwarfism. Be careful using phrasing like that.

  • It’s not hands and inches. It’s hands and fingers. Get your terminaology correct.

    • I can’t tell if your being funny. But technically, and I do own a horse, its just called hands.

    • interesting, related factoid: the translation of “Inch” in Italian is “Pollice”, with 2 L’s (not to be confused with “Police”, 1 L). Pollice means “Thumb”.
      I consulted the etymological dictionary on this and it doesn’t look like “Inch” comes from any archaic meaning for finger or thumb.
      However, it strikes me as very coincidental that in the imperial system we use “Foot”, in equine measurements “Hand, and for smaller measurements “inch” and somehow that was translated into “Thumb” in at least one Romance language (I am unaware of French, Spanish or Romanian translations for “Inch” and I am too lazy to look it up).

  • In the article they said that ponies are “They also typically have calmer temperaments”, my friend owns a pony. SHE DOES NOT HAVE CALMER TEMPERAMENTS THAN MY ARABIAN. Just saying 🙂

  • No. It is a size designation only, period. It was started as such and should remain so. The other “points” are errata. A small American Quarter Horse is a Quarter Pony. These other points may describe some ponies but breed registries, searching for a way to designated their ponies as horses, have muddied the definition. Besides, the physical definition would not fit the American Hackney Pony who has “horse” proportions while still fitting the SIZE characteristic of pony.

  • Honestly, the people naming this creatures are confused..why not just call a horse a horse? You saying cuz it measures whateva hand, itz a pony, if it passes it, it’s a horse..what rubbish…it’s like saying..if you 6f then you’re human anything less nd you’re an ape

  • Yes, I agree it should be 15.1 hands for 61 inches…..

  • what is the shortest a pony can be? a pony is NOT a mini so please don’t give me an answer for the height of a mini. since minis are up to 38 inches no higher would a pony be over 38 inches to 14.2hh? I know a pony is 38 inches and shorter, a horse is anything over 14.2 and a pony is 14.2 and shorter but I don’t know the shortest a pony can be again a pony is NOT a mini