The Difference Between Ponies vs Horses Explained

Ponies and horses are both the same species and from the same family. Many people consider ponies as baby horses due to their smaller size. Yes, they may be smaller, but they aren’t the same as horses. So what other things differentiate ponies from horses?

Differences Between Horses and Ponies


The easiest way to distinguish a pony from a horse is by size. For English riders, ponies are less than 14.2 hands high and usually more muscular than horses; for Western riders, ponies are less than 14 hands tall. Also, ponies have thicker tails, coats, and manes than horses. Ponies have a distinctive stature — with proportionally shorter legs, a thick neck, wide barrels, denser bones, and shorter heads.

Life Span

Although most horses live for as long as 20 to 30 years, ponies can age much longer. This attribute makes them useful even when they become old, as they’d still be able to drive and ride far beyond horses. Some live up to 40 years, possibly 50 years. Ponies hold several records as the oldest equines.


A pony can survive on pastures where a horse might starve. A pony can easily overfeed—that’s why they’re more prone to laminitis or founder than horses. While ponies are ‘easy keepers’ because they can easily add weight by eating almost anything, most horses are the direct opposite.

Characteristics & Behaviors

Spotting some differences between ponies and horses isn’t as easy as noticing the size. They have distinct temperaments. Ponies are more brilliant and stoic than horses. It would be an error to consider this quality as docility. Ponies are wilier; that’s why horses are more reliable for children. Also, ponies tend to avoid work more and can withstand the consequences.

They’re also more potent than horses. They can carry or pull heavier loads, depending on their size. They can equally endure more extreme temperatures than horses. They grow thicker coats during the winter, which only shed off in the hottest summer days.

ponies vs horses

Pony Breeds

There are several pony breeds scattered around the world. Some popular ones include the Hackney and Shetland breeds. Some equines are considered as horses regardless of their height, such as the Morgan Horse, American Quarter Horse, and Arabian Horse. Some pony-sized equines are categorized (by their registries) as horses, such as the Fjord and Icelandic Horses, which stirs debates.

Are All ‘Ponies’ Really Ponies?

There are several breeds with the word ‘pony’ attached to their name. While this is correct for most of them, the term sometimes refers to the agile nature of a horse (regardless of being a pony). For instance, despite its name, the Polo Pony is a horse. While some horse breeds are called ponies, there are no pony breeds referred to as horses.

Can Ponies Mate with Horses?

It might be surprising to know that ponies and horses can mate, and it’s not as rare as you imagine. Unlike donkeys and horses, which are distinct species, ponies and horses are of the same family. Hence, their offsprings will inherit both characteristics. It doesn’t, however, imply that breeding ponies with horses is always a great idea. So if you’re looking to breed them together, there are some things you should first consider.

Complications are less likely for the mare (female) if the stallion (male) is a pony. But if it’s a stallion horse, then it is essential to consider their different heights. Ponies cannot foal horse sizes, as this can result in birth complications if the foal is big.

It’s safer to use a female horse and a male pony to minimize the risk of birthing complications for the mare. This way, there’s more likelihood of a small foal. But studies show that there may be birthing complications if there’s too much difference in height.


Offspring of a Pony and Horse Cross

Regardless of who the dam (the female parent or mare) or the sire (the male parent or stallion) is, a few characteristics distinguish them from a pony foal or horse foal. They are usually more robust than horses but are shorter, and their temperament is more similar to a horse’s.

A few breeds like the American Walking Pony and the Hackney Pony originate from crossing a pony and horse breed. Christopher Wilson developed the Hackney Pony by breeding a Hackney stallion with some Fell pony mares. Hudson Brown developed the American Walking Pony when he bred Tennessee Walking Horses and Welsh Ponies.

The Differences Between Ponies and Miniature Horses

Although miniature horses are typically smaller (at 8.5 hands high) than ponies (at 14.4 hands tall), they’re still considered horses instead of ponies. This classification is primarily due to the bone proportions and structure. They have the lean build associated with horses as opposed to the sturdy build of ponies. They’re not as strong as ponies and can’t carry too much weight. So only a child weighing less than 70 pounds can ride or use them for driving.

icelandic horses

Similarities Between a Pony and a Horse

Having discussed the differences between ponies and horses, let’s talk about the similarities they share. Since they’re from the same family, they have similar looks, save for the height difference. Although ponies are more stubborn, both ponies and horses have calm and willing attributes, which make them trainable. Also, their digestive systems are the same, which implies that both ponies and horses can consume the same food and suffer the same illness, such as colic.

Are Ponies and Horses Different From Donkeys?

After learning the differences between ponies and horses, it’d also help to understand the differences between them and donkeys. Although donkeys are from the same family (Equus) as ponies and horses, they are two separate species. Ponies and horses belong to the Equus Ferus Caballus family, while donkeys belong to the Equus Africanus Asinus family. Hence, they are different, both physically and genetically. Donkeys have 31 chromosomes, while horses have 32.

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