Ponies vs Horses: Four Ways to Tell Them Apart

Written by AZ Animals Staff
Updated: September 18, 2022
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Key Points

  • It’s mainly a question of size with ponies being smaller than horses.
  • The former also tend to be more robust compared to the latter.
  • Ponies’ reputation for being mild-mannered compared to horses does not necessarily hold true, all the time.

To understand the key difference between ponies and horses, you first need to understand how equines are measured. The traditional method used to measure a horse or pony is in hands. One hand is equal to 4 inches. The tradition developed because the average width of a man’s palm is 4 inches.

Horses and ponies are measured from the ground to the highest point of their withers, the rounded area at the base of the neck that connects with the back. A pony is 14.2 hh (hands high) or smaller, while a horse is anything taller than 14.2 hh. So, a pony is any equine 58 inches at the wither or shorter, and a horse is anything taller than that.

While size is the main difference between horses and ponies, there are some other differences you can expect. Ponies typically have thicker, bushier manes and tails. They also grow a heavy, long winter coat. While horses do grow a winter coat, they are not typically as long as that of a pony.

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Comparing Ponies vs Horses

PoniesHorses
Height14.2hh or shorter14.3hh or taller
ConformationCoarseRefined
TemperamentGenerally calmVaries
Dietary NeedsGain weight easilyVaries
CoatCoarse mane and tail, long winter coatFine and smooth

The Four Key Differences Between Ponies vs Horses

Ponies vs Horses: Size

The most obvious difference between a pony and a horse is the size. Many people assume anything larger than a Shetland Pony or other small breed is a horse, but a pony’s back can be over 4 1/2 feet tall. Large ponies can easily come up to the average adult’s chest.

Ponies vs Horses: Temperament

Ponies, in general, have a more docile nature than horses, but that isn’t always true. One issue with ponies is, due to their smaller size, it can be a challenge to find an adult small enough to train them. Ridden mostly by children, they may develop bad habits.

It’s also worth noting that ponies can be a case of deceiving appearances. Their relative strength and sturdiness notwithstanding, they occasionally love to shirk their duties and can be somewhat crafty – conduct which is at odds with that cute, adorable exterior.

And once their minds are made up, getting them to budge can be an uphill task.

Horses have a range of temperaments as well. Many horses bred for generations to work, such as quarter horses, have a very steady temperament and are a great choice for beginners. Horses who are known to be sensitive and spirited, such as the Arabian, are often referred to as hot-blooded.

Ponies vs Horses: Metabolism

Ponies have a slower metabolism than horses. This means many ponies easily maintain their weight on little food, and foods like rich spring grass or grains can cause weight gain. This can also lead to health problems, such as laminitis, which is a serious metabolic condition that affects the pony’s feet.

Some horses also have slower metabolisms, but most require more feed than ponies. A horse that gains weight easily and doesn’t need much, if any, grain to maintain its weight is known as an easy-keeper. A horse that needs more, higher-quality food to maintain its weight is called a hard-keeper.

Ponies vs Horses: Build

Horses are generally more refined than ponies, with longer legs and necks, and finer bone structure. Among different horse breeds, there is a range of builds, but even stockier riding breeds, such as the quarter horse, are generally more refined than a pony.

Ponies are typically stockier, with sturdy bones and hooves, and chunkier necks with a less-refined head. Many ponies have conformation more similar to draft horse breeds, such as Clydesdales, than riding horses, although they are much smaller.

Up Next…

Keep reading these posts for more incredible information about key animal facts.

  • Elk vs Reindeer: In spite of a close resemblance and a shared love of cold weather, they aren’t quite the same. Find out what features differentiate these cervids from each other.
  • Guanaco vs Llama: They’re both camelids, but one’s smaller than the other, has finer fur, and is less accustomed to human company. Read about how to tell them apart, right here.
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Pony vs Horse
Pony vs Horse
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About the Author

AZ Animals is a growing team of animals experts, researchers, farmers, conservationists, writers, editors, and -- of course -- pet owners who have come together to help you better understand the animal kingdom and how we interact.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Is a pony a different species than a horse?

Both ponies and horses have similar ancestry and are the same species, Equus caballus.

Does a pony become a horse?

No, ponies and horses are very similar but have several key differences. The main difference between horses and ponies is their height.

Can a horse give birth to a pony?

Size is the determining factor about whether an equine is considered a horse or pony. If a smaller horse is bred to a pony, the offspring may mature into a pony as well.

Is a miniature horse a pony?

Miniature horses and ponies may seem similar, but they are different. While a pony’s conformation is uniquely different from a horse’s, a miniature horse is built like a horse, only smaller.

While a pony has a wide barrel, stocky legs, strong hooves, and a sturdy build, a mini-horse has a more refined build. Also, while a pony can be as tall as 58″, a mini-horse is always 34″ or shorter.

How are ponies and horses different?

The most significant difference between a pony and a horse is the size. Both can be great riding animals and companions. Ponies are not limited to children only, many petite adults feel more comfortable riding a large pony than a horse.

Ponies can also be more affordable to own, as they generally require less feed and their tough hooves make it possible for many to go barefoot. Both horses and ponies have been bred for generations to work alongside humans and both make excellent companion animals.

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