What Is The Difference Between Horses & Ponies? Differences Explained


People often get horses and ponies mixed up and don’t realize that a pony can be classified as a horse or a horse can be classified as a pony. These are the similarities and the differences between horses and ponies explained.

What Is The Main Difference Between Horses And Ponies?

Horses and ponies have several traits that set them apart from each other, but the main difference between the two is their height. A horse is defined as an equine that stands over 14.2 hands high. Any equine that stands below 14.2 hands high is considered a pony. It is not rare for smaller horses, such as the Arabian, to be classified and registered as a pony because they only reach 14.2 hands high or lower. This goes for large pony breeds like the Haflinger as well, where they are classified and registered as a horse because they are taller than 14.2 hands high.

The Difference Between Their Coats, Manes, And Tails

Coats

Horses typically have thinner coats that lie flatter against their bodies. Even a horse’s winter coat lies flatter than a normal pony coat. Ponies on the other hand have thicker coats that rarely lay flat. Ponies are known to be very fluffy and they grow even more hair in winter.

Manes

Horse breeds, especially the Thoroughbred, have thin manes that are hard to grow out or thicken up. Even some saddlebreds and other breeds of horses have thin manes. Coldblooded draft horses have very thick manes, but most warmbloods and hot bloods have thin manes as compared to ponies. Ponies almost always have very thick manes whether they are large or small.

Tails

When looking at the tails of horses, it is evident that ponies have much thicker tails. Horses sometimes can’t grow out their tails even with supplements like flax seed or biotin. Most pony breeds are known to have exceptionally long and thick tails that are really difficult to manage.

When comparing the hair for horses and ponies, it is evident that ponies have more hair all over than horses do.

The Main Differences In Their Conformations

When looking at the difference in these animal’s conformation, it is clear that there is a difference.

Neck

Horses have longer necks than many animals, but their necks are long even when being compared to their cousin the pony. Horses’ necks are wide at the base and narrow out at the top, and ponies’ necks are so short and thick that they don’t narrow out very much before connecting with their head.

Horses have a more arched neck than ponies. Because their neck is longer, it is more able to curve and arch than the short compact neck of a pony.

Horses often will get a “cresty” neck which basically means they have a higher fat deposit on their neck than ponies can ever get. This increases the arch of their neck and makes their neck appear thicker.

Legs

The legs of horses are long and narrow and make up most of their height. When looking at a pony, their legs are shorter and often appear stumpy and they can take up only half of their height.

Ponies have stronger legs than horses in relation to their size. Horses with long narrow legs are more prone to injury than the short compact legs of a pony.

Belly

Ponies are naturally heavier built so they have a large barrel. Horses may have a wide barrel but it isn’t as round. Their wide and deep barrel offers extra room for their lungs to expand making them have great stamina, whereas the large barrel on ponies may just be an indicator that they’re overweight.

Hindquarters

Ponies have small and round hindquarters. Some horse breeds have very round hindquarters such as the Quarter Horse, but ponies naturally have round hindquarters.

Because ponies are more prone to obesity, ponies will often be seen with large fat deposits on their hips.

Where Did Ponies And Horses Come From? Which Came First?

When I ask people, “what came first, the pony or the horse?” I get a lot of different answers. Some people think that ponies are small because people selectively bred small horses. Others think that the horse came about because people selectively bred large ponies.

Actually, to tell the truth, it was the ponies that came before the horses. Wild ponies were then selectively bred to get larger. Even the wild mustangs that roam across North America are noticeably smaller than domesticated horses.

The Arabian, one of the oldest breeds of horse in the world, actually was derived from the small Oriental horses as well as other small types of horses. The Arabian is actually a very small horse and has influenced numerous pony breeds including the Hackney and the Welsh pony.

Difference In Personality And Temperament

Ponies are known to have a lot of energy, be very stubborn, and very difficult to handle. Because mostly children are only able to ride these animals, they tend to get away with a lot of behaviors.

Horses, especially warmbloods and cold bloods are much calmer than ponies typically are. There are some exceptions to the ponies’ fiery reputation like the Connemara and the Haflinger ponies. Those breeds are usually easier to control and have a calmer disposition, but overall horses have a better temperament than ponies do.

FAQs On Horses And Ponies

Are horses or ponies better for children to ride?

Many parents who want their children to experience horses and learn how to ride think that ponies are a better option for their child because ponies are smaller and more ‘portioned’ for children to ride them. Though their size may be perfect for a child, their fiery temperament may be better suited for a more advanced child rider. Most ponies are hard to control so horses might be the better option when looking at what a child should ride.

Older horses are often great starter horses for children. My first horse was 23 when I got her and she was absolutely perfect for me.

If you are thinking of getting a horse or pony for your child, I would recommend getting a horse older than 10 years and a warmblood if possible. This way the horse has already had a lot of life experience so it isn’t as spooky or excitable, they already have a job so they know how to do the discipline they were trained in, they have many years left in them, and they are usually gentler than their younger relatives.

For children’s pony breeds I would recommend the Connemara pony, the Welsh pony, and the Haflinger pony. All of these breeds are calmer than others.

For horse breeds, I would recommend the Quarter Horse, the Missouri Fox Trotter, or an older Arabian.

Hailey Johnson

Horses have been my passion ever since I can remember. At school, I was known as that weird horse girl, and I would read horse encyclopedias for fun. Over the years since those days, I have only learned more. My experiences with horses of a variety of breeds have taught me a lot. Now I want to share what I know with you!

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