When people visit our facility, we often hear comments that sound like – “These are ponies. Aren’t they too small for my 13 year old?” or “You call yourself Pretty Pony Pastures, but these are horses, not ponies.”
There are a lot of misconceptions when we talk about horse and ponies. And to make it even more confusing, some words are used interchangeably. We talk about the “polo ponies” but they are typically Thoroughbreds, which is a horse breed.
So, if a Thoroughbred can be called a “pony” then what is a pony and what is a horse?
Looking at height, a pony is 14’1” hands high or 57 inches tall or less. And it’s the less part that confuses most people. At the fair, kids ride ponies in a circle. These ponies are often smaller Shetland ponies which can be as short at28 inches. That’s half the size of our Haflingers! If that is the size you think of when you hear “pony” then you will think our horses are truly horses.
Ponies also tend to have a thicker mane and coat which makes them more resistant to cold weather. They look stockier because they have wider chests, thicker necks, and shorter heads. These features make them very suitable to doing work around the farm. Many ponies can be used to pull a wagon as well as being ridden under saddle. Ponies can be playful and tend to be intelligent, so people often think they are stubborn. Even though some horses can be a smooth ride, many have a very choppy gait.
Because of their short stature, most people consider them a child’s mount thinking that if they fall, a short fall is better than one from a higher horse. That is not always the case. But, I do agree that it is easier to work with the child on a pony, provided that the pony is properly trained. Many aren’t because they are too small for an adult to sit on them and they aren’t properly ground trained to be safe for a child.
A horse is over 14’1” hands high (57 inches) if we are going strictly by height.
Horses tend to have a sleeker body, some have a thinner mane, and some need to be blanketed in the winter. Horses come in different categories. The draft horse can be 16 to 19 hands (64 to 76 inches) tall. A sport horse is typically 15 to 17 hands (60 to 68 inches) high. Each breed has its own standard as to the ideal height of that breed. Most people enjoy riding a horse that is around 15 hands (60 inches) high.
Because of the horse’s build, its gait can be smoother than a pony. Horses come in different temperaments and personalities. Some make better driving horses and some should only be ridden. Most can do either depending on their training and the owner’s preferences.
Big horses tend to be gentler than shorter horses. Most people would not feel comfortable putting a child on an 18 hand draft horse because they are further from the ground. True, but that draft is probable calmer and less likely to run or buck than the 12 hand pony!
So where do our Haflingers and other similar breeds like the Paso Fino, Fjord, and Icelandic fit in? They are considered horses. All of these breeds fall into the high end of the pony height. But their build, their movement, and their disposition make them a horse. They can carry an adult as well as a child and are shown in a variety of competitions including dressage and jumping.
So you might just say, we have to best of both worlds. Horses that a small enough for a child to feel comfortable but with the strength and ability to be ridden by adults.