Most of the smallest pony breeds originated from native horses from Asia and Europe, and they’ve hardly changed over the years. Whether working in mines, under saddle, hauling loads, or as pets and companion animals, ponies have earned their place in the human world.
The debate on what parameters differentiate a pony from a horse isn’t new. The International Federation of Equestrian Sports (IFES) explains that a horse that’s below 58.27 inches (14.2 hands or 148 centimeters) without shoes is a pony. Yet some horse breeds less than this height earn the “horse” name, instead of a pony. The difference then lies in the use, general appearance, and temperament of the horse. Here are the smallest horse and pony breeds in the world.
Smallest Horse in the World
Thumbelina is the smallest horse in the world. Measuring 17 inches, Thumbelina is even smaller than miniature horses and earns a spot in the Guinness Book of Records as the smallest horse.
She has a small stature caused by a physical condition known as dwarfism. This condition makes her extremely small, though it comes with an unpleasant consequence. Dwarfism often results in conformation issues, such as wider barrels, deformed skulls, and abnormally short legs.
This condition doesn’t make the horse less active or unique. Despite Thumbelina’s small size and some conformation problems, she is relatively sound and healthy. She travels around the United States on tours and has met the tallest living horse, Big Jake.
Smallest Stallion in the World
Although Thumbelina is very small, she has contenders. Einstein, a miniature horse from New Hampshire, was smaller than Thumbelina at birth. But unlike her, Einstein is perfectly healthy and not affected by dwarfism. After some time, he grew taller than Thumbelina but remained the smallest stallion.
Einstein was tiny at birth (standing at 14 inches tall). At two months old, he had a spinal issue and was operated on by a canine vet, since he wasn’t big enough for an equine veterinarian.
Smallest Pony Breeds
The Noma pony is one of only eight horse breeds from Japan and the smallest breed in the country. An adult Noma pony is about 40 inches (10.1 hands) tall. This small pony breed came from Mongolian horses in the seventeenth century. At some point, not more than six ponies were left, though they gradually increased with time.
In the early twentieth century, breeding programs introduced the Japanese horses to Thoroughbred blood, including the Noma horses. After this period, breeding small horses became illegal. This law resulted in Noma ponies becoming almost extinct. Fortunately, a breeding organization founded in 1978 successfully preserved them.
Since the people of Noma don’t crossbreed them with other horse breeds, Noma ponies are slowly increasing in numbers and are a pure breed.
Standing at 40 inches (10 hands) tall, the Guoxia is one of the smallest breeds of horses in China. Their name, translated as “under the fruit tree,” likely came from the usefulness of the pony in orchards. Farmers used them while plucking fruits, as the ponies stood under the trees with baskets on them. They were also famous for entertaining royal mistresses as leisure horses. At a point, the breed seemed to be extinct. However, in 1981, some of them reappeared.
The Guoxia pony has a primitive appearance, with a short neck, a straight back, and small ears and head. The breed comes from Tyanyang, Jingxi, and Debao counties in China, and their colors are mostly gray, roan, and bay. The strength of the Guoxia breed makes them suitable for tasks in rocky terrain and ideal for children riding.
Ponies existed during the Bronze Age in the Shetland Islands of Scotland. Crossbred with Celtic and Norse horses, they endured the harsh conditions and climates in the islands for many years. This endurance ability made them extraordinarily resilient and robust enough for farm work, working in mines, and pulling coal and peat carts.
The Shetland Pony Studbook Society was later established in 1890 to standardize and improve the quality of the breed. The Shetland Pony still retains its strengths, and some consider it the most energetic horse breed throughout the world. These ponies can carry massive weights, even double their weight.
Today, Shetland ponies are famous for driving and riding for children. The breed is also famous for racing. They’re gentle but brave, and highly intelligent, which makes for spirited and cheeky equines. Shetland Ponies have two recognized heights: a maximum of 42 inches (10.5 hands), with ponies more than 34 inches registered as standard and ponies less than that height as miniatures.
Also called “mini horse,” miniature horses are true to their name, as they’re one of the smallest pony breeds in the world. They’re between 34 and 38 inches tall and are popular throughout the world.
They came into existence in the 1600s, when the rich and noble had them as pets, and in the eighteenth century, they worked in coal mines. Vigorous and hardy, miniature horses tend to outlive most full-sized horses, often attaining the age of 35 years.
Due to their small size, they tend to have breeding difficulties, which can result in underbites and overbites. Overfeeding is another risk, which may result in colic. Miniature horses can participate in competitions such as jumping, in-hand showing, and cart-driving.
Falabella Horse Breed
Initially discovered by Patrick Newtall, the legacy of Falabella was continued with Juan Falabella, his son-in-law. Often recorded in miniature horse registries, the pony stands between 21 inches and 34 inches (71 and 86 centimeters) tall—smaller than many miniature horses.
Despite its size, the Falabella breed is considered a horse, instead of a pony. They have the appearance of ancestral breeds, Welsh Pony and Shetland Pony. The Argentinian breed also has influence from Iberian horses in the region, especially the Criollo. Adaptable and hardy, the Falabella ponies survive in any environment, even much better than some larger horses. They’re amazingly gentle and docile, even in rustic situations. Falabella ponies have 17 vertebrae (other horses have 18).