How to Tell a Horse from a Pony

Two Parts:Assessing the Animal's SizeIdentifying Other Differences

Horses and ponies are closely related animals but they are not exactly the same.[1] Luckily, if you unsure whether you have a horse or a pony there are specific ways you can make a determination. You will need to assess the animal's size, breed, age, body proportions, and temperament to determine whether it is a horse or a pony.

Part 1
Assessing the Animal's Size

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    Determine the age of the animal. A horse that is very young, and thus small, may be mistaken as pony. However, a pony is not simply a young horse. Instead, it is a different type of equine.
    • A horse is usually fully grown once it is five to seven years old. However, it will grow very rapidly in its first year, reaching about 90% of its fully grown height in that year.[2]
    • The age of a horse is usually determined by inspecting its teeth. To definitively determine the age of a horse, take it to a veterinarian. Your veterinarian will inspect the horse's teeth and determine its age.
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    Determine the size of the animal. The biggest difference between a horse and a pony is the size. Equine animals are measured from their withers down to the ground. Horses and ponies are measured in hands. Each hand is the equivalent to 4 inches (10.2 cm), which is the approximate size of a grown man's hand. The abbreviation for a hand is "hh." It stands for "hands high."[3] Technically, a horse has to be 14.2hh or higher when it's full grown to be considered a horse. Anything below that is a pony.[4]
    • To measure an equine, place the end of a tape measure on the ground next to your horse or pony. Extend the tape measure up to the level of the withers. Once you get a measurement from the tape measure, you should divide it by 4. This will give you the number of "hands high" your horse or pony is.
    • The withers is the point on a horse or a pony where the neck and the back join.
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    Determine if a small equine is a miniature horse. Some small horse breeds are exceptions to the rule about horse size versus pony size. A good example are miniature horses. Miniature horses were originally bred as pets and, while very small, they are still categorized as horses. A miniature horse is no taller than 34 inches from the ground to the base of the last hairs of the mane.[5][6] They come in either an Arabian build or a stockier quarter horse build.
    • In addition, they come in a wide variety of colors, such as appaloosas and pintos, just as non-miniature horses do.[7]

Part 2
Identifying Other Differences

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    Consider the breed. Usually, if you know what breed the equine is, you can tell whether it's a pony or a horse. Some breeds have the word "pony" in the name, for instance a Shetland pony. This means that all equines in that breed are ponies, even if a few happen to be a bit taller than 14.2hh.
    • Quarter horses are all horses, even though some of them are shorter than a horse should be.
    • Finding out the breed of a horse may be as easy as asking its caretaker what breed it is. You can also ask the animal's veterinarian what breed it is.
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    Assess the proportions of the animal's body. A pony's body tends to be stockier than a horse's body. Stockier proportions usually mean ponies have better endurance for work tasks.[8] Their bones are thicker, their necks are shorter and thicker, and they have thick heads with broad foreheads.[9]
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    Inspect the animal's coat and mane. Ponies usually have thicker coats than horses. Thicker coats make ponies more resistant to cold weather.[10] In addition, a horse's mane is usually smooth and relatively thin, while a pony's mane and tail are usually thick and course.
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    Determine the temperament of the animal. Spend some time with the animal, either walking it around or petting and brushing it. Ponies tend to be calmer than horses. They are also very smart, just as horses are. Perhaps this combination of calmness and intelligence is why they are so good with children.[11]
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    Determine the animal's strengths. Horses and ponies also differ in what they are good at doing. Ponies, because of their strength, hardiness, and tough build, are good at working on a farm. They can pull twice their weight, while a horse can usually only pull half of its weight.[12] Horses, on the other hand, can work on a farm but their strength lies more in carrying people. They are not as strong as a pony but they have good stamina and can be more skillful animals.


  • You can estimate the height of an equine animal by comparing it to your height. Compare where the withers of the animal are compared to your body standing up. 14.2hh is the same as 4 feet (1.2 m) and 10in. This means that if you know that you're 5 feet (1.5 m) tall and the animal's withers come to about your shoulder, it's probably a pony.
  • Since most ponies can't be ridden by adults because they're too small for an adult to comfortably fit on or the adult's feet would touch the ground, you can be pretty sure an animal that is too short is a pony. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but odds are that it's a pony.

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Categories: Buying and Owning a Horse