FAQ Horse Care

The Peculiar, Precious, and Petite World of Ponies

Written by Holly N.

Sometimes, The Best Things Come in Pony-Sized Packages

I’ve been riding ponies since I was six years old. I still own and ride one regularly–40 years later. I have great respect for ponies. They’re strong, hardy, and know their own minds. They’re also great fun to ride and extremely versatile.

To some, ponies may seem like little horses, but they are so much more than that! Ponies may be small, but they’re often tougher and stronger than their larger relatives. They are generally easy keepers that require less food than horses, but excel at a multitude of disciplines. They can also be stubborn and a little cheeky, which many of us find endearing.

girl hugging pony with mountain backdrop

What Makes a Pony

Ponies are primarily differentiated from horses on the basis of height, with a pony measuring under 14.2 hands at the withers. Conformation is also used, however, to distinguish between the two. Ponies are broader and rounder, with shorter legs.

This second point helps to distinguish ponies from miniature horses. Although miniature horses measure less than 14.2 hh, they are still considered horses due to their build.

A few breeds follow slightly different rules:

  • Connemara ponies can measure up to 15 hands and still be considered a pony
  • Icelandic horses are less than 14.2 hands tall, but yet are considered to be horses

The Physical Description of a Pony

Ponies are usually stocky with thick manes and tails, and have small ears. They are smaller than horses and have proportionately shorter legs. They also have round bodies and well-sprung ribs.

Pony vs. Horse

A pony is smaller than a horse, with shorter legs and a stockier build. Ponies grow thicker coats than horses, have smaller ears, and bushier manes.

Ponies are stronger for their size than horses and are generally hardier, surviving in harsh habitats and climates, and requiring less food.

However, ponies are more susceptible to weight gain than most horse breeds.

Pony vs. Foal

A foal is a young horse or pony measured by age rather than height. Both ponies and horses are foals for the first year of their lives, after which they become fillies or colts, depending on their gender.

Pony vs. Miniature Horse

While ponies can measure up to 14.2 hands, miniature horses mustn’t exceed 8.5 hands at the withers.

Not only that, but miniature horses must have the same build and proportions as a full-size one. That means their legs and necks are longer than those of ponies, and their bodies are more streamlined.

black miniature horse

Source: Canva

Pony Registration and Organizations

Several organizations in the U.S. either register ponies of a specific breed or support pony riders and owners, providing educational tools to improve their welfare.

These organizations include:

  • North American Sportpony Registry
  • United States Pony Club
  • Pony of the Americas Club
  • International Quarter Pony Association
  • American Draft Pony Association
  • Fell Pony Society of North America
  • Welsh Pony & Cob Society of America

Pony Personality

Ponies are intelligent and curious creatures known for their wily ways. They seem to love causing trouble and are adept at avoiding work. They can be stubborn and use their strength to get the upper hand.

Despite those potential shortcomings, ponies are great fun! They have strong, often quirky, personalities that make them entertaining and good company.

If you develop a strong bond with a pony, he’ll be endlessly loyal and determined to achieve whatever you ask of him.

Pony Jobs

What Ponies Are Good At

Many pony breeds were developed with specific jobs in mind. They were widely used on farms to pull heavy loads, carry packs, pull plows, and numerous other tasks. Shetland ponies were among several breeds used to carry heavy loads of coal from the pits.

These days, ponies excel in almost every imaginable discipline. They pull carts, go on trail rides, perform in the showing ring, and even race! Ponies are also used for cross-country, dressage, showjumping, western riding activities, and gymkhana.

With their strength and agility, there’s very little a pony can’t do well if he puts his mind to it.

Common Breeds of Ponies

There are hundreds of pony breeds, including a few you’ve probably never heard of. In South Africa, we get a curious animal known as the Basuto pony, which is classified as a horse, despite being widely used as a pack animal and never standing higher than 14.2 hands.

You might be familiar with some of the more popular breeds, like:

Pony of the Americas

A Pony of the Americas is a muscular animal with loud Appaloosa-like coloring visible from 40 feet. They measure between 11.2 and 14 hands and share some characteristics with the Quarter Horse and the Arabian.

You can’t be a Pony of the Americas unless you have Appaloosa coloring that includes mottling around the eyes and striped hooves.

Fun Fact: The Pony of the Americas isn’t really a pony! The breed’s characteristics are consistent with the phenotype of the American Quarter Horse and the Arabian.

Shetland Pony

The Shetland pony is the stereotype of ponies, with its short legs and stocky frame. The smallest of all the native pony breeds in Britain, standing no taller than 11.2 hands. Shetland ponies may only come in one size, but they come in a rainbow of colors. They have thick coats, require little extra nutrition, and have longer lifespans than most horses.

Everything about the Shetland pony is short–from its legs to its neck, its head to its ears. They do have quite long tails, though!

Fun Fact: The Shetland pony is the strongest equine in the world, capable of pulling twice its own body weight!

Welsh Pony

There are four types of Welsh ponies and cobs, but they all have characteristic dished faces, long necks, and muscular build.

The Welsh Mountain Pony, or Section A, is the smallest, at up to 12 hands, while the Welsh Section B is slightly larger. Both types of Welsh Cob, Sections C and D, come in pony sizes but have heavier builds, making them more suitable for larger riders.

Welsh ponies are known for their friendly natures, intelligence, and willingness to learn.

Fun Fact: In the early 1900s, Welsh ponies would only be accepted into the studbook if they could trot from Cardiff, the capital of Wales, to Dowlais village, 35 miles away.


The Haflinger evolved in the foothills of the Alps over 150 years ago and are hardy, healthy animals with long lifespans. They are intelligent yet calm ponies that succeed in numerous disciplines and are frequently used for therapeutic riding.

All Haflingers are chestnut, although the shade varies from light gold to rich chestnut. Haflingers also have white or flaxen manes and tails.

Fun Fact: All Haflingers are descended from a single stallion – 249 Folie.

Quarter Pony

Similar to the Quarter Horse, the Quarter Pony has many of the same characteristics, including a straight head, broad chest, sloping shoulder, and powerful hindquarters.

The breed was developed to accommodate Quarter Horses that measured less than 14.2 hands – the American Quarter Horse Association’s specified height requirement.

Quarter Ponies should be smaller versions of the Quarter Horse and have a similar nature, being calm, intelligent, and easy to train.

Fun Fact: The average Quarter Pony stands 13.2 hh and weighs around 800 to 900 lbs.

Chincoteague Pony

The Chincoteague Pony originated on the barrier island of Assateague off the coast of Maryland and Virginia. Descended from wild stock, it’s a small, stocky pony with short legs, a large belly, and a thick mane. Although Chincoteague Ponies are small, they’re strong enough to carry both children and small adults.

The Chincoteague Pony is friendly, outgoing, and surprisingly fast.

Fun Fact: Chincoteague Ponies consume up to twice as much water as most horses and ponies due to the high salt content of their natural diet.

Hackney Pony

The Hackney Pony is a small version of the Hackney Horse and is a popular show pony due to its showy action and high head carriage. Hackney Ponies compete in numerous disciplines and are shown under saddle and in harness.

Hackney ponies are known for their impressive trotting action, which includes a high knee and hock action.

Fun Fact: In 2021, a Hackney Pony named Flash became the smallest equine to complete the 100-mile Tevis Cup endurance ride. Flash stands at just 11.2 hh.

Exmoor Pony

Exmoor ponies are strong and stocky and were widely used by farmers throughout the 1930s. Although they only stand between 12.2 and 12.3 hh, they are strong enough to carry an adult and have become popular riding ponies in recent years, excelling in a range of disciplines, including trail riding, showjumping, dressage, and driving.

All Exmoor’s have the same dun coloration, with dark points and a lighter muzzle and underbelly.

Fun Fact: The Exmoor is the oldest breed of native pony in Great Britain.

Connemara Pony

The Connemara pony is a versatile breed that’s athletic enough to excel at showjumping and dressage but has the stamina to compete successfully at endurance. Connemara Ponies are predominantly grey and stand between 13 hh and 15 hh.

Connemara Ponies are intelligent, easy to train, and have calm temperaments that make them excellent children’s ponies.

Fun Fact: In 1961, a crossbreed Connemara pony called Stroller became the smallest horse to compete at the Olympics. Ridden by Marion Coakes, Stroller won the Individual Silver Medal at the 1968 games in Mexico.

Fun Pony Facts

  • Shetland pony racing is a popular sport in both the UK and the US. These stocky little ponies compete both on the flat and over fences. In the UK, there’s even a Grand National event exclusively for Shetland ponies.
  • The oldest pony in the world was a 10hh Shetland-Exmoor gelding named Sugar Puff. He lived for 56 years.
  • Mongolian horses might be classified as horses, but they have the size and conformation of ponies. These little equines also have the distinction of competing in the world’s longest and toughest race–the Mongol Derby, which sees them traverse 1000km of the Mongolian Steppe in just seven days.
  • There are over 200 breeds of pony in the world, with the most popular being the Shetland.
three ponies with heads over fence board

Source: Canva

Pony Care

Ponies might be hardy and healthy, but they need the same care as a standard-sized horse.

The most challenging thing about owning a pony is controlling their body weight. Ponies evolved in harsh environments and are prone to obesity and related conditions such as insulin dysregulation and laminitis.

As they are herd animals, ponies need company, preferably in the form of another equine, although they also get on well with goats and other livestock. Ponies also need a constant supply of fresh water, a balanced diet, shelter, and regular maintenance in the form of grooming, dentistry, and hoof care.

Feeding a Pony

Ponies generally require less supplementary feeding (think–grain) than horses and often thrive on forage alone.

Ideally, they should consume around 1 to 2% of their body weight in forage each day, depending on their activity level. Ponies may need additional minerals and vitamins to support their digestive and immune systems.

When feeding a pony, less is generally more, as they are susceptible to obesity.

Riding a Pony

Ponies are small, but they’re strong and can carry up to 20% of their body weight, making them suitable for small adult riders as well as children.

Riding a pony can be quite challenging because they’re small and quick, which means they can disappear out from underneath you in a single, breathtaking maneuver. Horses are generally considered easier to ride than ponies because they have a longer, smoother stride that is easier to sit.

Riding a pony requires excellent balance as their shorter backs make them more agile and capable of fast, unexpected movements.

Buying a Pony

Ponies might be smaller than horses, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re cheaper. A pure-bred, registered pony that’s been professionally trained could cost anywhere between $6,000 and $25,000 (or more) depending on its breeding and achievements.

Of course, the purchase price is only the beginning, and you’ll need to factor in the cost of keeping your pony, bearing in mind that he could live a good deal longer than your average horse.

Like horses, ponies need company, shelter, fresh water, food, and space to roam. They also will need tack and other equipment, such as brushes, buckets, and other barn-related paraphernalia.

When looking for a pony, be specific about what you want to use it for. If you’re buying a pony for a child, you need an older, well-trained animal that’s proven to be safe and reliable. If you want to compete as an adult rider, you’ll be looking for something with a little more spice and athleticism.

girl riding black and white pony English

Source: Canva

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What are ponies known for?

Ponies are known for being strong, hardy animals that can be a little too headstrong at times. They are versatile animals that excel in almost every equestrian discipline and are enjoyed by children and adults alike.

Q: Are ponies hard to take care of?

Ponies are arguably more challenging to care for than horses because they tend to gain weight. On the other hand, they require less supplementary feeding, can withstand harsher climates, and live longer than horses.

Q: What do ponies eat?

Ponies eat almost anything you put in front of them and generally have very healthy appetites.

Unfortunately, that appetite also makes them prone to weight gain, so ponies generally do better on a low-sugar, low-starch diet that consists primarily of grass or hay. High-protein feeds like alfalfa can cause excessive weight gain in ponies and should be avoided unless your pony is working hard.

Q: How are ponies made?

Ponies originally developed in the wild, evolving to survive in harsh conditions on limited or poor-quality grazing.

Generally, breeding a pony to a pony results in a foal that will grow up to be a pony. Sometimes two smaller-sized horses may reproduce and produce a pony. The size of pony and horse offspring will depend on both genetics and nutrition.

Q: Where are ponies found?

Ponies are found all over the world, although the number of wild ponies is dwindling at an alarming rate. Many of today’s popular pony breeds originated in the UK and Europe, but you can also find wild ponies in North America, Mongolia, and Africa.

Q: Are ponies mean?

Ponies are generally friendly and inquisitive, but they will defend themselves if they feel threatened. Ponies may also bite to establish their dominance, but this doesn’t make them mean. With the correct training and handling, ponies can be calm, affectionate animals.

Q: Where can you find a pony for sale?

You can find ponies for sale on numerous online marketplaces and horse classifieds pages. Craigslist often has a selection of ponies for sale, and there are also Facebook groups dedicated to buying and selling ponies.

You could also approach individual breeders and trainers and ask them about available ponies.

girl and miniature horse foal

Source: Canva

Parting Thoughts

Ponies are strong, healthy, and versatile. They have long lifespans and tough hooves, and are hardy enough to survive in harsh conditions. More importantly than that, they’re great fun to ride!

I’ve always thought ponies are underestimated, with so many riders clamoring for ever bigger horses. I ride a pony because it means I can do so much more than I could with a horse. A pony can zoom around a showjumping course, head out on a solo trail ride, do a little dressage, or even pull a carriage.

Ponies are versatile and intelligent, and I have no intention of giving them up. As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to equines, the best things come in small packages.

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The Shetland pony: a small, strong pony that can pull twice its own bodyweight

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About the author


Holly N.

Holly started riding as a six years old in the UK and competed regularly in local events, including showjumping, cross country, showing, working hunter, and gymkhana. She now lives and rides in South Africa, working as a trail guide with Wild Coast Horseback Adventures. Her interests are primarily in the areas of DIY horse ownership, trail riding, barefoot horses, endurance, competitive trail riding, and South African breeds.