Many people think that the terms “miniature horse” and “pony” are synonyms. However, there are distinctive differences between the two. These are different types of animals, and the terms should be kept separate for those who want to describe the specific breeds accurately.
The two animals’ differences come down to their size, temperament, conformation, and overall build. They might look quite similar, but a trained eye will be able to pick out the unique characteristics that set them apart.
If you want to be able to pick out a miniature horse from a crowd of ponies, this is the article for you. We cover what a pony and a miniature horse actually are and discuss the two animals’ predominant differences.
At A Glance
What Is a Pony?
There are more than 350 breeds of horses and ponies globally. They predominantly fall into four primary groups, including the pony. Ponies are typically separated from horses by their size: Adult horses that are less than 15 hands tall, or 58 inches, at the withers are ponies.
Common pony breeds include Shetlands, Exmoor, Fell, and Hackney ponies. Although it is not exact, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a pony as “a small horse, particularly one of a handful of horse breeds that are small and stocky, notable for their endurance and gentleness.”
However, they don’t always have to be stockier than horses. For example, the Galiceno is still a pony but is lighter and has a smoother coat than other pony breeds.
Historically, ponies have been around in the wild since at least the 1600s, and they are typically stockier because they had to survive in rugged terrain and quite harsh climates. They were first domesticated in the 1800s for coal mines and agriculture due to their stamina and brawny build.
What Is a Miniature Horse?
Miniature horses are still classified as horse breeds, but their small height defines them. These horses cannot exceed 34 inches tall and are often even smaller than most ponies. One example of these kinds of horses is the Caspian horse from Mesopotamia, thought to be extinct until 1965 and bred as a wild miniature horse.
Breed registries often indicate that those horses classed as miniature retain horse phenotypes. This classifies them as a horse instead of a pony because the size isn’t everything. That is why some horses, such as the Icelandic and Fjord horses, are considered miniature horses even though they are pony-sized and stocky.
Miniature horses have a fascinating history, having been first recorded in 1650 as one of King Louis XIV of France’s unusual animals kept in his zoo at the Palace of Versailles.
They were kept as an oddity throughout Europe for many years. They were transported to the United States in the 1800s to work in the coal mine. Like ponies, their small stature allowed them to access the minute underground tunnels that miners would dig into.
The Differences Between Miniature Horses and Ponies
Miniature horses and ponies are typically considered to be quite similar. However, several characteristics help differentiate them visually. At times, it merely comes down to memorizing certain breeds and whether they are miniature horses or ponies.
Of course, the primary difference between miniature horses, or horses in general, and ponies is their size. Although ponies are typically quite short, miniature horses are often slightly shorter than their pony counterparts.
Most of the time, ponies have to be under 14.2 hands high, or 57 inches tall. Miniature horses, on the other hand, can only be 34 inches tall from their withers.
It isn’t only about their height but also their overall build, appearance, and stature. Miniature horses are often finer than ponies, with more tiny elegance about them. Ponies are often compact, whereas miniature horses have muscular bodies with slim conformation. Instead of having thickset shoulders and necks, miniature horses have longer necks set above their bodies.
Beyond their build, ponies are also more rugged than miniature horses. They have a rough coat with coarse and long manes and tails. By contrast, miniature horses have smooth coats with finer manes and tails. This is the norm, but it isn’t the case every single time.
For the most part, miniature horses live longer than most ponies due to their old bloodlines. Miniature horses often live about 25 to 30 years, with the average lifespan of a pony edging toward 20 to 25 years.
The uses of a miniature horse and a pony are quite different. Historically, both these horses were used in coal mines in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Their size made them well-suited to the working conditions in the mines. Ponies turned out to be much hardier than most miniature horses and were used more widely than these small horse breeds.
Since they retired from the coal mines, these two animals’ paths have deviated from each other. Miniature horses tend to be used as riding horses for young children and beginners. They are often treated more delicately and are typically kept indoors to protect them.
Ponies, on the other hand, are outdoor workers. They are still associated with labor and are often used on farms and ranches to help with menial tasks. They are broader, more muscled, and hardier due to their wilder upbringing and harsh native climates.
If you are just beginning to get into horse and pony breeds, it might take a while to learn how to differentiate between them. However, we hope that this information has helped enhance your understanding of these two animals and their differences.
Featured Image Credit: Top: Vera Zinkova, Shutterstock Bottom: Mihai Stanciu, Shutterstock