Ponies versus Horses – so what is the difference? It seems to be a common misconception that they are a different species, or that ponies are simply horses that haven’t fully grown yet. First things first, neither of these is true…
The main defining factor of pony vs horse is their height…
A pony is classed as 14.2hh and under, and a horse is over 14.2hh (for western disciplines the change over is 14hh). There are a few exceptions to this, but to prevent confusion I’ll discuss these later on!
Horses and ponies are the same species (Equus Caballus); even two equines from the same parents could end up with one being a horse, and one a pony, depending on what height they grow to (especially if the dam and sire are close to the 14.2hh mark). Once an equine has grown to full maturity, they can be measured.
So how do we measure height?
‘hh’ stands for hands high, and is measured at a horse’s or pony’s withers. The withers are the highest point of the body, at the base of the neck, between the shoulders. One hand is 4 inches (or 101.6mm); a measurement which originated from the average width of an adult male’s hand.
So 14.2hh is 14 x 4 inches, plus 2 inches, which equals 58 inches (about 4 feet 10 inches, or just under 148cm).
To measure height, the horse needs to be stood square, and on flat ground. Then a measuring stick is usually used, which is basically a very long ruler with a sliding attachment that can be lined up to the withers. As mentioned, a horse’s or pony’s life time height can’t be established until they are fully matured. To get an accurate measurement, remember to take into account the thickness of the shoes if they are shod.
Pony vs Horse Stereotypes
There are several stereotypes when it comes to the difference between horses and ponies. They are just generalisations, so I’ll break them down and explain them below…
- Temperament – people regularly seem to be under the impression that the smaller a horse or pony is, the easier, or more docile, they’ll be. From experience, I’d say this can be the opposite from the truth! Ponies can sometimes be a lot more ‘savvy’ and cheeky than their larger counterparts. However, when it comes to temperament, breeding, type, age, routine, and the level and quality of training are usually the biggest factors. I had a lovely laid back cob in my teens who you could trust with your granny, but after a week of no turn out due to flooding he turned into a wild thing!
- Feeding – ponies are often more prone to weight gain and laminitis than horses as many have hardy/native breeding lines in them. Having said that, one pony I owned had to be fed loads during winter to stop him turning into a hat rack, while a horse I owned only had to look at grass in the summer to double in size! Usually, the stamp/type and breeding can influence how much of a ‘good doer’ a horse or pony is, as much as whether it falls into the horse or pony bracket; native/‘cold’ blood types will usually keep weight on easier than thoroughbred/‘hot’ blood types.
- Cost – in general, ponies can be cheaper to buy and keep. If you spend a little time browsing through websites with adverts for horses and ponies for sale, the trend seems to be that ponies are a bit cheaper than an equivalent horse trained to the same level. And, as mentioned, ponies tend to require less feed, so day-to-day costs can be fractionally cheaper too. However, a ‘schoolmaster’ or ‘mother’s dream’ type pony will be pricier due to their experience, but they are worth their weight in gold!
- Longevity – much like small dogs in comparison to larger dogs, ponies do have a tendency to live longer, and have longer ridden careers than horses. That’s not to say horses that have been well managed can’t have long careers too!
So is a Pony or a Horse Right for you?
Your experience, ability, and size will be the main factors in making the decision of whether to buy a horse or pony – it really is such a common mistake for people to ‘over horse’ themselves when buying a horse or pony. As mentioned in Buying a Horse – The Ultimate Guide these are some the questions to ask yourself…
- What size and type of horse are you used to, and comfortable riding? How tall and heavy are you? An old guide for a suitable height horse or pony is that their withers should be no lower than your shoulder, and no higher than the top of your head; though this can be taken with a pinch of salt – shorter/rounder horses and ponies can ‘take up more leg’.
- Many people make the mistake of thinking, the taller the horse, the more weight it can carry. However, weight-carrying is usually calculated on the ‘bone’ (measurement around the cannon bone of the leg) and there are some 13.2hh cob type ponies that could easily carry more than a 16.2hh Thoroughbred!
- For children, unless they are super tall, it’s usually wise to stick to a pony, 14.2hh or under, as many shows split horse and pony classes. Juniors in affiliated competitions and showing are usually restricted by height classes too (although some, such as the BSJA, do run ‘children on horses’ classes) – this will be less of a factor if you don’t intend to compete.
For more in depth information about finding and buying your perfect horse or pony, check out… Buying a Horse – The Ultimate Guide.
Okay, so we’ve covered pretty much all you need to know about Pony vs Horse, except the confusing bit…
The Exceptions to the Pony vs Horse Height Rule
Okay, so we’ve established that height is pretty much the universal way to categorise pony vs horse – however, just to confuse things, there are some breeds and types that are don’t fit this. Some examples are the Icelandic Horse and Miniature Horse, which are referred to as horses, but are both under the 14.2hh threshold (especially the Miniature Horse, which as the name suggests, can be absolutely tiny!). There are also native pony breeds such as the Connemara Pony and Fell Pony, that often grow over 14.2hh.
Some equestrian sports and disciplines also throw a spanner in the works. For example, in polo, regardless of the height of the animal, the ponies/horses are always referred to as ‘Polo Ponies’ (even though most of them would technically be classed as small horses if you were to go by the height measurement). And in showing classes, some ‘pony’ classes (such as the working hunter pony) go up to a height measurement of 153cm, which is just a fraction over 15hh.
So there you have it – hopefully, you feel a bit clearer about the pony vs horse puzzle, even with some of the exceptions thrown in!
If you’d like to learn more horsey things, browse through this site and check out these articles…