What Is A Pony? (A Definitive Guide)

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What Is A Pony?

In a way, ponies are simply smaller horses, and height is the major difference between horses and ponies. They are both of the species equus caballus, and they share many of the same characteristics. 

Although definitions vary somewhat, in general, a pony is a horse that is less than 14.2 hands high.

Shetland Pony

Characteristics

Ponies are smaller than horses in stature, although there are some breeds that are called horses and are only the size of ponies, such as Miniature Horses and the Icelandic Horse, as well as the Caspian Horse. These generally have pony ancestors and are simply called horses. 

Equally, some ponies may get bigger than 14 hands, and yet they are still ponies because that is what their breed is, and because there are a few other characteristics that tend to define ponies, which we will look at momentarily. 

Though confusing, the distinction is generally made to prevent small horses from being competed against larger horses. There are gray areas, but it is still a useful term in the equine world.

They tend to have thicker coats than horses. They also have a thick mane and thick tail. 

Their skeletons are different too, with ponies having wide, broad heads, shorter necks, and shorter, stockier legs. They usually have thick hooves and don’t shed their dense coats until late in the summer.

They are better at dealing with both the cold and the heat than horses are, adapting to a wide range of climates. Ponies are often stronger (for their size) than horses, making them desirable workhorses on farms.

However, ponies are also stubborn and very intelligent and can be difficult to manage. Many ponies are good at avoiding work, and an inexperienced handler will struggle with them. 

Large horses tend to be much more docile and easy to train, while ponies are clever but strong-willed.

Diet

Ponies eat much the same diet as horses, but they are known as “easy keepers” and do not need nearly so much rich food. Like horses, they tend to get most of their food by foraging, grazing the pasture, or field down.

Ponies can also eat hay and pellets, but it is easy for ponies to become overweight so feeding should be done with care. They do not need a lot of calories in their diets, and will suffer if they end up with too much to eat.

Ideally, Horse Racing Sense says that hay for a pony should only have about 10% carbohydrates and 10% protein. Hays that are much higher in either could lead to problems with weight.

Breeding And Uses

Ponies are often bred because of their resilience and ability to pull heavy loads, but they can be interbred with horses as well. According to Horse Fact Book, this can cause birth complications if there is a significant difference in the height of the two parents.

It is less likely to do so if the mare is the larger of the two, but on the whole, small ponies should not be bred with very large horses. However, because a pony is essentially a small horse, apart from the potential height issue, the two can interbreed without problems. 

They tend to be used for heavy farm work and for pulling carts and other horse-drawn vehicles. They are very strong, and also often very pretty creatures, with their shaggy coats and thick mane and tail hairs.

Ponies are sometimes used to help young children learn how to ride because of their small stature, and some larger ponies can be used for adult riding as well. However, it should be remembered that ponies are not as docile as horses, so may not prove very easy mounts to control.

Size

Ponies are generally smaller than horses, and this is the main distinction between the two. A pony should not usually be taller than 147 cm, or 58 inches, but as we have already seen, there are some exceptions to this rule.

Certain horse breeds are so small that they might otherwise be classed as ponies, and yet they are still called horses because they don’t share the pony’s bone structure. For example, the Caspian horse only averages about 110 centimeters, and yet it is a horse, not a pony.

Similarly, some pony breeds are taller than the standard height when they are fully grown.

What Breeds Are There?

There are many breeds of ponies, and Pony Mag lists several. 

For example, there is the Dales Pony, which is native to the UK. 

They are a tall breed that is usually black in color, and has traditionally been used in mining. They are now considered endangered.

There is also the Welsh Pony, which is another British pony, and can get to be very large – up to 16 hands (though this puts them in a slightly different category to the smaller ponies). They can be any solid color with some markings.

Next, the Connemara Pony, originating in Ireland. These are often show ponies and are large ponies known for having a particularly good disposition. 

They are highly popular ponies and can be ridden by both children and adults. They are often used in show jumping and endurance riding.

Shetland Ponies are another famous breed of pony, perhaps the hardiest of the many breeds. They are small and shaggy and were usually used for mining operations. 

They originate from Scotland and have short legs. Several other pony breeds come from the Shetland, such as the American Shetland Pony.

Highland Ponies, also from Scotland, are among the largest mountainous breeds, and are often used for driving and trekking. Like the other highland breeds, they are hardy, easy to keep, and strong. 

Gotland Ponies are a breed from Sweden, and according to Horse Breeds Pictures, they are a very ancient breed. They were bred by the Goths, who were nomads and used the ponies to help them travel.

Colors

They can come in any color, essentially. Although some ponies are more likely to be one color than another and certain breeds do not accept markings, ponies can be almost any color and pattern.

A few common colors include:

Roan: white hairs mixed in equal measure with the pony’s base color, e.g. “chestnut roan.”

Gray: anything from near-black to off-white. Gray ponies can be steel, silver, dappled, etc.

Chestnut and liver chestnut: reddish bodies with no black, and darker red with no black respectively. The mane and tail will be the same color as the body.

Palomino: a sandy pony with white or cream mane and tail.

Dun: a sandy pony with black legs and a black mane and tail.

Skewbald: patches of white and any other color (such as chestnut) except black. This patterning will cover the pony’s body and tail and mane.

Piebald: patches of white and black all over the pony’s body, mane, and tail.

Ponies can also have markings, just like horses, including stars, blazes, stockings, socks, snips, etc. Pets 4 Homes discusses these markings and colors in more detail.

What Do They Look Like?

Ponies look much like small horses, except that they tend to be stockier and heavier. Their bodies are often round – especially as it is easy for them to put on weight – and they can be a little barrel-shaped at times.

They have broad heads and short necks, and usually short, stocky legs as well. This shortness makes them robust and strong but can mean that they are less suitable for riding than horses.

What Are They Used For?

Ponies are traditionally used for working in harsh conditions. They are very well adapted to cold environments and heavy work. 

Many farmers used them as they were stronger than a horse of the same size, and they are easy to keep, having lower food requirements.

They were frequently used as “pit ponies” during the Industrial Revolution, hauling coal around in the mines. Some of these ponies never saw daylight.

Many were also used as mounts for children, as they are usually friendly, if stubborn. They are also popular mounts for adults if tall enough, and can be used to pull carts or carriages. 

Today, many ponies are used in riding schools.

While originally a creature intended for work, ponies today are popular pets and are often kept for pleasure rather than work. However, ponies need plenty of exercise and mental stimulation, so they are demanding pets.

If you have heard of polo ponies, you might be wondering about this use too; however, these are not actually ponies. Polo ponies are horses that are used in games of polo, but while they are referred to as ponies, they are horses.

Most polo ponies (there are not specific breeds) are around 15 hands high, excluding most ponies from the category.

Where Do They Live?

Ponies live all over the world. Traditionally, they come from cold, harsh environments and their double-coats and thick manes and tails are a reflection of this.

Many ponies originated in Britain, but today, they tend to live all over the world and are bred in lots of different countries.

How Long Do They Live?

According to Helpful Horse Hints, ponies often live longer than horses, as they are smaller, and smaller breeds tend to have somewhat better longevity. 

How long a pony lives will depend enormously on its genetics and how well it is treated throughout its life, but some ponies can live as long as 40.

Many ponies are still capable of work by the time they are 30, at which point most horses – especially larger ones – will be retiring.

How Fast Are They?

Ponies, perhaps surprisingly, can sometimes run as fast as horses (around 25-30 mph). However, it’s unlikely that they will be able to sustain that sort of speed for as long as horses, and with shorter legs, they are often not as quick.

Ponies are not really built for speed, but for endurance – but some ponies are entered into running competitions and they can hold their own against the smaller horses.

How Much Do They Cost?

You might expect a smaller creature to cost less, but ponies can cost as much as horses. A good, trained pony may start at around $1000 or more, depending on the breed and age of the pony, according to Spruce Pets.

You should always spend time looking into the circumstances of the pony and get its health checked before purchasing. Ask about its age and any medical problems, and see how well trained it is.

Are They Good For Beginners?

Ponies can be good for beginners, but it is very important to choose a pony carefully. They are friendly, but often stubborn, and they can be sly.

They do not tend to kick or bite (though of course some can), and are potentially less likely to buck off their young riders. However, inexperienced riders may find it difficult to get the pony to do what they want.

A small horse may provide easier to handle than a pony for a beginner rider, although ponies are less easily frightened and can be more stoic.

FAQs

Is A Pony A Different Species Than A Horse?

No, both ponies and horses belong to the same species.

Does A Pony Grow Into A Horse?

No, ponies are specific breeds and do not grow past a certain size.

What Size Is Considered A Pony?

Below 14.2 hands, although there are exceptions to this rule.

Is A Pony A Baby Horse?

No, although the word pony once meant foal, its modern meaning does not. The word came from the French poulenet, which meant a young, immature horse, but now, the word is never used to refer to baby horses, and only to the specific type of horse, the pony.

Conclusion

Ponies, therefore, are a small horse, generally shorter than 14.2 hands high, with a particularly stocky build, and thicker manes and tails. They are usually double-coated and can withstand temperature variations better than many horses.

They are clever, sometimes mischievous animals, but they are also very friendly and gentle, and make excellent companions.

They can be long-lived and hard-working, and remain popular across the world. Many organizations and societies are working to help keep up population levels, particularly in the threatened species such as the Dales Ponies, ensuring these magnificent creatures stay part of our world.

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