What’s The Difference Between A Horse And A Pony?

While there are very clear differences between a horse and a pony it’s easy to see why people think that a horse is just a fully grown pony. After all, they’re not only both part of the same Equus ferus caballus species but are in fact even from the same branch of the family tree yet both horses and ponies are both very different.

Most people when asked what the difference between a horse and a pony will say that their size is the only difference and yes there is an element of truth in the fact that their size can (sometimes) be a distinguishing characteristic it’s not always the case. The common rule is that a pony is not taller than 14.2hh while a horse is not smaller than 14.2hh but there will always be an exception to every rule. Yes, it’s true that size does play a part but behind that, the main difference between the two is bone structure and proportion as well as the structure of their muscles but temperament can also be a distinguishing characteristic.

  • Bone structure and proportions – Horses, as a rule, will have longer, leaner legs when compared to ponies while ponies have thicker heads with broader foreheads and shorter necks. 
  • Temperament – It’s said that ponies are more intelligent (although I’m sure a lot of people would disagree with that) but they are certainly more stubborn than horses. Horses, on the other hand, tend to be placid and in some cases more willing.
  • Maturity – Horses develop more slowly than ponies, around seven years for horses but only up to six for ponies.
  • Strength – In relation to their size ponies are much stronger than horses.
  • Hardiness – Often having thicker winter coats and tougher hooves, ponies generally are hardier than horses.
  • Mane and tail – A horse’s mane and tell is usually softer and thicker than that of a pony.
  • Feeding – Most ponies are easy keepers and as a direct results of this are more likely to suffer from laminitis.
  • Longevity – While it can be true of many horses too most ponies will live into their thirties and continue working well into their twenties.

Is a pony always a pony?

There are many different breeds around the world that have the word ‘pony’ in their name and most of the time that is true but sometimes the word pony is referring to the horse’s agile nature rather than whether it’s a pony or not. This is especially evident in the Polo Pony, despite their name they are most definitely horses. While there are cases of horse breeds being referred to as ponies (as with the Polo Pony) there aren’t any pony breeds that are called horses so the vast majority of times a pony is a pony.

Typical Polo Ponies

Can horses mate with ponies?

You might be surprised to know that not only can horses and ponies mate but it’s not as rare as you might think. Unlike horses and donkeys which are different species’, horses and ponies are from the same family so the resulting offspring inherit characteristics. That’s not to say though that it’s always a good idea for the two to breed and if you are thinking of doing so then there are a few things that you need to take into account first.

If the stallion is a pony then there are less likely to be complications for the mare but if the stallion is a horse there it’s important to take their different heights into consideration. Ponies haven’t evolved to be able to give birth to horse-sized foals which can cause problems during birth if the foal is too big.

In order to reduce the risk of producing a foal that the mare could have problems giving birth to its better to use a male pony and female horse. This is more likely to result in a foal that isn’t as big, but studies have shown that if the height difference is too great then this can also cause birthing complications, albeit a lower risk.

If you do want to mate a pony with or horse or vice versa then it’s important to speak to a vet beforehand. He will be able to help advise you of the best way of doing this for the results you’re after.

What would a horse and pony cross look like?

A Hackney Pony

Regardless of who’s the sire (the stallion or male parent) or who’s the dam (the mare or female parent) there are some features that will distinguish them from horse foals or pony foals. They are likely to be stockier than horses yet be smaller in height and have a temperament that is more comparable to that of a horse than a pony.

There are a few breeds, such as the Hackney Pony and the American Walking Pony, that where created by crossing a horse breed with a pony breed. In the case of the Hackney Pony, it was developed when Christopher Wilson bred a Hackney stallion with Fell pony mares. The American Walking Pony, on the other hand, was developed in the state of Georgia by breeding Tennessee Walking Horses with Welsh Ponies. 

What’s the difference between a pony and a Miniature Horse?

While a Miniature Horse is certainly a lot smaller (standing at no more than 8.5hh (34 inches)) than the 14.2hh threshold for most ponies it is still a horse rather than a pony. This is because of their structure and proportions of their bones, rather than having the sturdy build you’d expect from a pony they have the same lean build associated with a horse. This means that it’s not as strong as a pony so it can’t carry as much weight and therefore can only be ridden by a child weighing less than 5 stone (70lbs), although they are often used for driving.

What are the similarities between a horse and a pony?

We’ve talked a lot about the differences between horses and ponies but to really understand what’s different between them it’s helpful to know what similarities they share. Being from the same family they obviously look pretty similar, albeit with an often noticeable height difference but they actually have a lot more in common than just appearances. Yes, ponies are known for being more stubborn but both horses and ponies have gentle, willing natures that make them easy to train. They also have the same digestive system that means while ponies have a tendency to be more greedy both horses and ponies can eat the same things but also can suffer from the same conditions such as colic.

Are horses and ponies the same as donkeys?

It wouldn’t be right to talk about the differences between horses and ponies without mentioning the differences they share with their close cousin, the donkey. I say cousin because although they’re all from the same Equus family, they are in fact two separate species, horses and ponies are from the Equus ferus caballus family while donkeys are from the Equus africanus asinus branch. This means that physically they’re very different, even on a genetic level they’re different with horses having 32 chromosomes and donkeys only having 31. 

Conclusion 

Yes horses and ponies do have a lot of things in common and yes they do come from the same family tree they are sill two different animals. A pony will never grow into a horse and no matter how small it is a horse is still a horse and will never be classed as a pony.

Further reading

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