Horse vs Pony – What is the Difference?
At some point in your childhood, you may have raised eyebrows when asking your parents for a pony. And if you were among the few lucky kids whose wishes were granted, you may already know that ponies stay small throughout their lives.
But is the height the only difference between a horse and a pony? Are ponies just miniature horses or something else entirely? How are horses and ponies related?
While they’re both of the same species, Equus Caballus, horses and ponies have very different temperaments and even different uses.
These are some of the aspects I’ll be discussing in this article to help you understand the difference between a pony and a horse.
Size & Weight
The most obvious difference between a horse and a pony it’s their size or their height. Horses are measured in hands with a hand being the equivalent of 4 inches.
The threshold that divides horses from ponies is set at 14 hands and 2 inches at the ridge between the shoulder blades. This means that an equine that’s below this threshold is a pony and one that’s above it, is a horse.
However, some horses may fall below this threshold and still be considered a horse. And vice versa, a pony may be over this threshold and still be considered a pony.
An often-cited example is an Arabian horse, whose height may easily fall under 14, yet it’s still a horse, even though by all measurements it should be a pony.
But there are also ponies that by height alone should be considered horses, but they’re not. Take the Connemara pony, whose height may vary between 13 to 15 hands.
Therefore, the height difference isn’t such a strict measure by which equines are categorized as horses or ponies.
Besides their size, the weight of ponies and horses is also something that distinguishes one equine from the other.
Depending on their breed ponies can weigh anywhere between 400 pounds to 1,100 pounds. Horses, on the other hand, can weigh anywhere from 790 pounds to a whopping 2200 pounds.
As you can see, even when it comes to weight, there can be an overlap between the weight of a pony and that of a horse.
Take the Dales Pony, for instance. It has an average weight of 880 to 1,100 pounds. But it’s not categorized as a horse. But there are also examples of horses weighing 795 to 990 pounds like the Arabian or the Haflinger, which averages a weight between 770 to 1,320 pounds.
Ponies are also stockier than horses. They tend to have thicker manes and coats, which grants them a better cold tolerance.
Therefore, while both weight and height are important elements in telling the difference between a horse and a pony, they’re not the only metrics that matter.
Compared to horses, ponies are notoriously stubborn and feisty. They’re known troublemakers, and despite their otherwise cute demeanor, they may not be the wisest choice for a pet if you’re looking for a docile and calm equine for your child.
Ponies are very intelligent, but they’re not as docile and calm as horses are. Therefore, if you’re looking for an obedient and calm pony, you’d be better off getting a horse instead.
You may think that horses are stronger than ponies based on size alone, you’d be surprised how strong ponies actually are considering their small stature.
Relative to their size, ponies can carry more weight than some horses. Their endurance is helped by their stronger bone structures, wider chests and shorter legs. Their hooves are also thicker.
Both horses and ponies are fit for pulling, racing or riding. And even companionship, but only shorter riders or younger riders should be riding ponies, with the caveat that a calm and docile demeanor may not be guaranteed with a pony.
Diet & Nutrition
Horses and ponies have similar diets, with pasture grass, hay, grains on occasion, making up the staples of their diet.
Ponies tend to put on weight and keep the weight more easily than horses. And that’s because ponies take longer to eat the same amount of food as horses. But because of their digestion, they can actually get more energy out of it.
Therefore, with horses, the challenge may be to keep their weight on and making sure their daily calorie needs are met. With ponies, the challenge is to keep the excess weight off.
Ponies are more prone to obesity and therefore, are more likely to develop obesity-related illnesses such as EMS, laminitis and insulin resistance.
Are Ponies and Donkeys Related?
It’s undeniable that ponies and donkeys have a range of physical similarities, but are they related?
While ponies and donkeys both belong to the genus Equus, they’re different species. They’re different on a genetic level, having a different number of chromosomes, and they’re different in terms of physical features as well.
Besides these, donkeys tend to pair off and form strong bonds with their own, while ponies and horses are herd animals, preferring to live in larger groups.
Donkeys are also calmer and harder to startle compared to ponies and horses.
Can Horses and Ponies Mate?
Yes, horses and ponies can crossbreed, and they often do. When horses and ponies mate, the resulting offspring can be an excellent equine both in temperament and health.
That is if they’re carefully selected based on a variety of factors. Breeders must account for temperament, physical traits, size and overall physical structure to prevent irregularities that can negatively impact the health of the offspring.
While usually, size is the cut-off metric by which horses and ponies are distinguished, there’s often overlap in height because some horses may be below their average and some ponies may be above what’s considered as average for them.
Besides height and weight, horses and ponies are different also with regard to their temperament, digestion, and their uses.
Ponies are also genetically different from donkeys. Even though horses and ponies can mate, they should be carefully selected for breeding to avoid health problems in their offspring.