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    5 Pony Horse Breeds

    Authored by Katie Navarra

    Shorter horses can be less intimidating. Plus, smaller horses, known as ponies, make it easier to groom, tack, mount, and dismount - a bonus for riders of any age and experience.

    What is a pony horse

    Pony horse breeds are shorter than full-sized horses. The height limitations varies based on the pony type and affiliated breed or competitive associations. For example, some organizations consider ponies 14.2 hands or less, while others use 14 hands as the cut-off.

    What are the differences between ponies and horses

    Beyond the noticeable height difference between horses and ponies, there are a few other distinguishing characteristics. Ponies tend to be hardier, have tougher hooves, and grow longer coats. There is also a difference in disposition. Ponies are intelligent, often quiet, and docile, but they can also be ornery and are known to look for ways to avoid work.

    Numerous pony breeds exist worldwide. This is just a sampling of common pony breeds in the United States.

    Pony of the Americas (POA)

    Known for their splashy spotted coats, striped hooves, and mottled skin that is flesh-colored or non-pigmented around the muzzle and eyes, the POA was developed as a kid’s horse. POAs grow to 46" to 54" tall and have a gentle, willing temperament that helps instill confidence in young riders in any discipline.

    POAs began with a breeding between a Shetland pony (see below) and an Arabian. The resulting foal had a white coat marked with dark spots across his flank. The unique coloring and size inspired the formation of the POA Club in 1954. Today, POAs are a mix of breeds with heavy influences from Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, Arabians and others.

    Norwegian Fjord: 

    Fjords are one of the oldest horse breeds. Estimates predict they were domesticated over 4,000 years ago. They are instantly recognizable by their two-colored mane. A dark line of hair inside the middle of a white mane. The mane is cut short to stand on end, displaying the dramatic stripe.

    Their stout build, which averages 13.2 to 14.2 hands, and well-developed muscles make them good partners for adults and children. Their versatility creates endless opportunities for enjoyment, from recreational trail riding to competitive events like jumping, dressage, reining, driving, and more.

    Shetland Pony

    One of the most popular pony breeds for kids is the Shetland pony. These hardy, sturdy horses came from the Shetland Islands in Scotland and were often pack horses or work horses in coal mines.

    The Classic Shetland Pony still resembles the rugged characteristics of their early ancestors. Today, many seen in show pens are crossed with Hackneys or Welsh ponies. Shetland ponies are popular for carriage driving and can also be ridden depending on their size. However, the general rule is that the rider should not exceed 20% of the pony’s weight.

    Shetlands are measured in centimeters rather than hands, and their maximum height is 117 cm.

    Welsh Pony

    The Welsh Pony and somewhat bigger Welsh Cob are popular breeds for children, especially those interested in hunter/jumper events. The breed originated in the Wales hills and valleys and was brought to the United States in the early 1880s.

    Dubbed as the breed for family fun, adults enjoy the breed too, which is well-known for its friendly personality. Their adaptability makes them good choice for all types of events, from trail riding to dressage, combined driving, English and Western pleasure, carriage driving, and more.

    Welsh ponies can range in size from Section A, which is no more than 12.2 hands tall, to Section D, where they can exceed 13.2 hands.

    Chincoteague Pony

    Author Marguerite Henry made these ponies famous in her book, “Misty of Chincoteague,” which spotlighted the annual Chincoteague Pony Swim. Visitors from around the world gather to watch the yearly tradition.

    These wild ponies actually live on Assateague Island, which is offshore from the Maryland/Virginia border. Experts think today’s Chincoteague ponies descend from those stranded during a Spanish shipwreck off the Island’s shores more than 500 years ago. 

    The Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company manages the wild herd, and an auction for the foals each year helps keep the herd size in check and supports the cost of caring for the wild horses.

    On average, they grow to 12 to 13 hands, and domesticated ponies are well-suited for carriage driving or endurance events. Enthusiasts can join the National Chincoteague Pony Association and Chincoteague Pony Registry. 

    Don’t overlook grade ponies

    Depending on what you’re hoping to accomplish with a pony, a grade (unregistered) pony might be the right fit for you. Whether the lineage is known or unknown, a grade pony that meets your needs and goals can often be a more affordable option to purchase.


    Learn more about horse breeds

    Shopping for a horse is exciting, especially if you are a beginner. It can also be a little scary. Learn more about what makes the best beginner horse from age and size, to temperament and breed.
    Find out the best horses for showing, no matter what competition you plan to join.