Horses come in a variety of colors and sizes. Some are massively beautiful like the Clydesdales that pull grand carriages and others can be relatively tiny. And while some smaller breeds of horses are not big enough to ride, they can make for wonderful companions.
Smaller horse breeds can also be very hardy and strong creatures. They inherit their physique and constitution directly from primitive horse breeds. In ancient times, it wasn’t uncommon to see small and agile horses. Ponies and small horse breeds are much more closely related to the horses of old than most of the larger breeds today.
And due to their massive strength in such a small package, small horses can be extremely utilitarian. They can haul heavy loads, help in mines, and even carry saddled individuals. They also make excellent pets and service animals.
How is a Small Horse Breed Classified?
A horse breed is considered small when it stands 20-57 inches — or 5-14.25 hands in horse measurements — from the ground to its wither (the junction between a horse’s neck and saddle dip).
However, there are cases where a small breed horse grows taller than its maximum breed standard. When this happens, the horse is no longer considered a “small breed” and becomes a regular-sized horse.
The 10 Smallest Horse Breeds
1. Shetland Pony
The Shetland pony has been known for generations to be a hardy and strong horse. Its powerful physique was a direct developmental result of the harsh living conditions of the Shetland Islands. It has small ears that stick out, widely-spaced eyes, and a small head. They also have thick muscular necks with portly bodies. And although their legs are rather stout, they are exceptionally strong.
Although it is not officially confirmed how the Shetland pony first appeared, it has been discovered that this small horse breed was domesticated early. The early people of the Shetland Islands used the pony’s hair to make fishing nets and lines.
2. Miniature Horse
The Miniature horse has become more popular in recent decades. They are widely used for driving, racing, pulling carts, showing, and jumping. Miniature horses also make for great pets and companion animals.
The first Miniature horses were bred in Europe in the 1600s. They were primarily kept as house pets for upper-class society. Today, they are still considered great companions especially to elderly and disabled individuals.
Because of the small size of their jaws, miniature horses are known to be a difficult breed to raise. They can develop serious dental issues that may cause colic. However, if a Miniature horse is properly taken care of, it can live healthy and happy for a long time.
3. Icelandic Horse
There are actually multiple types of Icelandic horses. Their differences in characteristics depend on their individual breeding. Some Icelandic horses are bred to work, while others are bred for their beautiful coat colors for showing. And even more of them are bred as livestock for their horsemeat.
This breed is known to be strong, compact, and robust. Even though it is considered a smaller horse breed, its height only makes the “small horse standard” by 3 inches. As a working horse today, Icelandic horses are widely used for controlling and managing animal flocks and sheepherding.
4. Noma Pony
The Noma horse is an endangered pony from Japan. This horse breed is now considered one of the rarest in the world. According to historical accounts, the Noma pony was an important animal in the second World War where it was used as a pack animal. Because of their stout and strong body, they were ideal for carrying heavy loads on their backs.
While their numbers are still critically low, breeding efforts are hoping that the breed will rebound and thrive once again.
5. Fjord Horse
The Fjord horse–also known as Norwegian Fjord Horse—is another small breed known for its incredible physique and appearance. They are distinguished by their dun coat and unique markings. Fjord horses also have a mane that stands peculiarly erect.
Originally bred in Norway for agricultural purposes, the Fjord horse spent their lives living in rough, mountainous conditions. Today, they are still being used as farm animals, but the breed also serves a second purpose: to pull coaches for tourists due to their smooth natural gait.
Haflingers—also known as Avelignese—are very strong horses that were bred as working animals in the mountainous terrains. This horse breed is extremely hardy as they can survive on scarce amounts of food. It also has strong lungs and a heart that can survive the thin mountain air.
This horse breed is popular for its friendly temperament and personality. This is why they make excellent family horses. Haflingers are also big and strong enough for most family members to ride on.
The Falabella is known to be the smallest horse breed in the world. The first-ever Falabella horse was registered in 1940 in Argentina by Julio Falabella which is how the breed acquired its namesake. The Falabella family developed these miniature horses through crossbreeding with Shetland and Welsh ponies.
One of the most interesting things about the Falabella horse is that its body is perfectly proportional, allowing it to breed naturally.
Nowadays, the Falabella horse is used for driving carts for small children. And if you’re looking for a house horse, this is definitely the breed to consider.
8. Yonaguni Horse
The Yonaguni—also known as Yoganuni Uma—is a Japanese horse that is critically endangered. In 1968, there were only 210 Yonaguni horses left on an island in Northern Japan. As of now, there are less than 200 surviving horses of this breed.
Even though it is now an endangered horse, the Yonaguni is known to be extremely friendly, intelligent, and hardy. And although they currently live semi-wild, they like to be around people and are known to have a wonderful personality.
9. Class B Kentucky Mountain Horses
The Class B Kentucky Mountain Horse is the second category of the Kentucky Mountain Saddle horse. They are considered “Class B” because they stand shorter than Class As and meet the criteria to be considered a small breed.
These horses are found in solid colors and have white markings on their legs, face, and belly.
The Class B Kentucky Mountain Horse was originally bred to be used as a riding and working horse. They are exceptionally sturdy and can withstand long travels over difficult terrain with ease.
Very few facts are known regarding the Guoxia horse. Despite this, it is believed that this breed of horse was found in China more than 2,000 years ago.
The Guoxia horse is considered a native Chinese horse breed. It is popular for its short neck, small head, small ears, and straight back. They can have multiple coat colors including bay, roan, or grey. Unlike many other Chinese horse breeds, the Guoxia is considered to be a purebred pony.
Its small stature makes it a very popular horse for petting zoos and children’s rides throughout southern China.
Featured Image: Graham Kemp, Pixabay