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Equestrian Lifestyle

What’s the Difference Between Miniature Horses and Ponies?

To the layperson, Miniature Horses and ponies may appear to be one in the same. Both are just little horses, right? Not exactly. Learn the difference between Miniature Horses and ponies and what sets them apart.

The Definition of Miniature Horse vs. Pony

Merriam-Webster defines pony as “a small horse; especially one of any of several horse breeds of very small stocky animals noted for their gentleness and endurance.”

The same dictionary defines Miniature Horse as… nothing, actually. There is no listing for “miniature horse.” Commence the head-scratching…

Size and Appearance Matters: How does the horse industry differentiate them?

Ponies are distinguished from full-sized horses based on size and stature. Ponies are smaller—under 14.2 hands—and usually stockier than horses. Ponies also often have thicker coats, manes, and tails than horses. They are proportioned differently than a full-sized horse, with shorter legs, wider barrels, and a thicker neck. There are dozens of breeds characterized as ponies, from the popular Shetland and Hackney breeds to the lesser-known Fell and Exmoor.

Connemara Pony

In comparison to ponies, the difference with Miniature Horses is that they are currently bred to resemble a full-sized horse on a smaller scale. A much smaller scale. According to the American Miniature Horse Association, (AMHA), they must be under 34 inches up to the last hairs at the base of the mane at their withers (Minis are measured in inches rather than hands). The current miniature horse is bred to be more refined than the pony, with a long, flexible neck, straight legs, and a short back.

The American Miniature Horse Registry (AMHR) also registers Minis between 34” and 38”.

Historical Influence

The roles ponies and minis have played in history have contributed to their current size, appearance, and temperament.

The earliest appearance of Miniature Horses is recorded to have been in 1650 at the Palace of Versailles where King Louis XIV kept a zoo with unusual animals, including tiny horses. Miniature Horses were originally brought to the United States to work in coal mines, as their small size enabled them to access underground tunnels. They have also been bred in South America over time to develop the current petite and proportional ideal standard, epitomized by the tiny Falabella.

Ponies are stockier and hardier than most horses; they had to survive in harsh climates and on rugged terrain. They first appeared as domesticated stock in the United States the 1800’s to be used in coal mines and for agricultural work and driving. However, they have been in the wild in the U.S. since at least the 1600’s on Assateague Island, off the coasts of Maryland and Virginia.

What Do You Do With a Miniature Horse or Pony?

Both little equines have their fans.

According to the AMHA, “today’s American Miniature Horse is among the fastest growing and most beloved of equine breeds.” Miniature horses shouldn’t be ridden because of their small stature, but they are popular for driving and in-hand classes. The AMHA says, “Miniature Horse owners come from all walks of life. Some Miniature Horses are owned as companions by families with small children or by retired adults with a passion to enjoy life, while others are purchased solely as investments.” Minis have also become increasingly popular therapy animals.

Ponies come in a wide variety of breeds, and they are especially popular children’s mounts, competing in just about any type of equestrian sport, whether it be jumping, eventing, driving, and more. In some communities, ponies are still used for farm work because their strength enables them to pull heavy equipment.

Though there may always be some wiggle room when it comes to classifying and defining horses, ponies, and Minis, hopefully this clears things up a bit for our petite equine friends.

Learn About: A Guide to Miniature Horse Care and 5 Fun Facts About Miniature Horses

This article about the difference between miniature horses and ponies is a web exclusive for Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

Julia Arnold

Julia Arnold is a writer living in Minnesota with her husband and two young children. She has always loved horses and is thrilled to have officially rejoined the horse world as an adult. She rides whenever she can at Hardwood Creek Farm in Hugo, Minn.

View Comments

  • Well the difference between mini horses and ponies are that mini horses are shorter than ponies that's the difference between mini horses and ponies

    • Mini horses make great service and therapy animals. Their lifespans are considerably longer than that of dogs, which is an advantage given the expense of service animals.

  • I have owned, trained, and competed with a grade-stock mini horse for 14 years and sorry to say you can't tell me there is not "pony blood" in their background to be so small and/or tthat there is much differnece between ponies (defined as 39 plus inches to 14'2 hands) and a mini horse (defined as under 38 inches.) As an owner of one of these animals I find it very discriminating how unregistered stock can not be shown at some shows, and are barred from some competitions. However, all that being said, they are GREAT animals! My little guy is 36 inches and we have done open shows in driving and in hand classes. We have also done winter sleigh festivals and parades, and more recently have started doing therapy animals. Not bad for a mini out of an abusive home where I got him!

  • I agree, Nancy Souer. Horses have not been bred down in size. All the mini horses are really Shetlands. However, it's marketing! American Miniature Horse Registry came into being because some felt that their little ones were getting a bum rap because of the connotation that "pony" holds, such as being ornery and having an attitude..ponytude! And, Shetlands were being bred smaller. So, another registry was formed for the littles. And, yes, AMHR recognizes two height divisions: "A" or under 34" and "B" up to 38". Here's more good info:

  • Minis are as the article described, as "miniatures" of full-sized horses, with the same conformation. As a great example, in "Gone With the Wind", Bonnie's mount was an elegant Mini, looking like an exact small dupilcate of Rhett's gorgeous black mount (Saddlebred?). It's the best example I have ever seen- the girl is definitely not riding a Shetland!
    Years ago I overnighted at a Mini breeding farm, and was impressed with how delicate they were and completely mirrored full-sized horses. I took a picture of on by itself, then with a person standing next to him, and in the first photo you cannot tell he was 34 inches, but in the second you certainly can see it. You cannot do that with a pony, even to thinking draft with their thick joints and coats. They explained it was the conformation that rules, and that a short pony cannot just be considered a Mini.
    Another example, in human genetics, is the difference between midgets (very short people who look like big people) and dwarves, who have distinct physical differences (bent legs, arms and fingers, enlarged heads) from most big people.
    So just blanketly calling all small ponies Minis is just not right. Follows is a link to Bonnie's Mini.

  • minis are now recognized by the US government as "service" animals as opposed to companion. They are being used as guides for the blind! Airlines cannot refuse to take them. Great article in that regard on YouTube

  • A mini horse has the phenotype of a horse and is the size of a small pony. If a "mini horse" has the phenotype of a pony, then it is not a mini horse no matter the size, it is a glorified pony. Mini horses are not Shetland ponies. They are the product of especially small horses being bred to Shetland ponies then the offspring of those breedings being interbred and selected for the horse phenotype and shetland size and thus, the mini horse was created. They are related but this does not make them the same thing. It does not matter if your pony is 34". It's still a pony if it has short stubby legs, a long barreled body, a short thick neck and a short head. It can only be classified as a mini horse if it has the elegant proportions of a horse.

  • I have a pony, a cross between a Welsh and a Shetland, that is 42" in height. She resembles a horse in her conformation, "the elegant proportions of a horse", could she be considered a mini horse? No. She is a pony. I agree with Nancy Powers. It is marketing. Anything smaller in size than 58 inches is a pony. I think it is silly to call them miniature horses.

    • What percent of pony pregnancies result in live healthy births?
      What percent of miniature horse pregnancies result in live healthy births?

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