There’s almost nothing cuter than a tiny version of something we already love. That’s why small horses and ponies are so captivating! Just like with their larger counterparts, though, there are a variety of different small breeds. From little ponies to horses that are short enough they sometimes get mistaken for ponies, there are several breeds that stay small. Here are some of the most popular and unique ones.
One of the most common pony types is also one of the smallest – the Shetland pony. In fact, their small size (on average, they max out at about 40 inches tall at the withers) is a big reason they are so popular, as they are excellent mounts for small children.
Despite their shorter stature, Shetland Ponies are quite strong – surprisingly strong for their size!
With a thick coat and short legs, Shetland ponies present a cute, stocky figure. They are hardy and easy to care for, but their thick coats and bushy manes and tails require regular grooming.
They are also renowned for their intelligence and big personalities, making them very popular for children. However, they are also known for being very mischievous!
As with a number of animals, their smaller size also leads to a longer life, with Shetland ponies often living to 30 years, and even beyond.
Pony of the Americas (POA)
These little cuties are a breed that is actually derived from the Shetland pony. They still have some similarities, but this particular breed was developed and refined in America – in Iowa, to be exact.
The foundation stallion was an Appaloosa/Arabian/Shetland cross, making for a versatile and beautiful spotted pony.
Although they are technically classified as ponies, the Ponies of the Americas actually have the phenotype of a small horse, thanks to the Arabian and Appaloosa bloodlines.
POA’s were originally bred for Western riding and are very popular in that arena, although they are also used in other disciplines including English and endurance riding.
The registry for the POAs is an open one. That means there aren’t very strict regulations on bloodlines, and other breeds can be crossed into the breed. However, there is strict criteria for some characteristics to be present for official registration.
Most important is the characteristic Appaloosa markings, along with specified height requirements (between 44 and 52 inches tall – 11 to 13 hands). Other physical qualities, such as having a Quarter Horse body, an Arabian-style dishy face are also valued.
Another popular pony is the Welsh Pony. A British export, they have a characteristically fast and freely moving gait. That, coupled with their hardy nature and good temperament, makes them excellent prospects for a number of competitive disciplines, in addition to pleasure riding.
While Welsh ponies are spirited, they balance that out with soundness, intelligence and a good nature.
There are different types – or ‘sections’ – of Welsh ponies depending on their size and body type. The smallest Welsh ponies start out at around 11 hands and cannot exceed 12.2 hands.
All Welsh ponies are true ponies, under 14.2 hands, but confusingly the Welsh Cob describes ‘ponies’ of the breed that are technically horses and have no upper height limit.
Welsh ponies have strong, muscular hindquarters, sloped shoulders and short backs. They also have the typical large pony eyes, giving them a lot of expressiveness.
Their front legs are straight and short, and their tails are eye-catching in the show ring, as they are high set and thick. They also have a fancy trot, making them flashy competitors.
For their coats, they will always be solid colored. The most common colors are black, grey, chestnut and bay, but you can even find duns and palominos.
Another British export, the Fell pony originated in the North of England. This breed has an extensive history, believed to date all the way back to pre-Roman years.
Fell ponies were even used by Vikings as plow ponies, before more modern British farms and liveries used them for farm work. They were also important components of the Industrial Revolution, being pack horses that would haul copper and iron ore.
As would be expected with their history, the Fell Pony is stocky and hardy and they have a hard-working and cooperative temperament.
They are easy to train and very loyal, and are prized for their sure-footed gait, even in rougher terrain. They’re also true ponies, with a height range of around 13.2 hands to 14 hands at a maximum.
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The result of a cross between a Hackney Stallion and a Fell Pony mare, and the subsequent interbreeding of the offspring, the Hackney Pony was bred to be both elegant and tough and sturdy.
In fact, Hackney ponies were first kept outside all year in the English Fells to selective develop that characteristic toughness.
Due to their natural trotting abilities, they are often a favorite show pony, while their tough nature made them excellent war horses for hauling artillery in World War Two.
After the 1940s, they were again recognized for their nice movement, and they transitioned into sporting disciplines. It turns out this renewed interest in them for competition was a literal lifesaver, as they were very close to extinction as a breed at the time.
Despite the Hackney influence, these are ponies and will never stand above 14.2 hands tall. Their temperament reflects their history, and they remain fearless and fiery yet very friendly – their minds are active and alert and their physical abilities lend themselves well to endurance.
Their famous trot is a standout characteristic of them in any show ring – high stepping and quick, they cut quite a figure!
A less common small breed is the Exmoor Pony, and what is remarkable about them is that some of them are still wild! Rather than your typical, fully domesticated pony breeds, these little horses are still partly feral in certain areas of southern England.
Because of their small wild herd sizes, the Exmoor Pony is listed on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. These wild herds, though, are important as they help with the management and preservation of natural moors and pastures.
Outside of the few wild herds, the Exmoor is also a domesticated pony breed. They are generally dark-colored, with lighter spots around their eyes, muzzle, belly, and flanks. Their backs are broad and strong and their legs short but sturdy.
They have a large head in comparison to the rest of their body, with cute, small ears and a fleshy eyelid that is often called a “toad eye.”
Since they are not far removed from their wild roots, they have coats built for survival, with both a long, thick under layer for insulation and an oily top layer of hair to essentially waterproof themselves.
Like other ponies, they are stocky and quite strong for their size. In fact, they are well-known for their endurance.
They are on the shorter size, even for a pony, standing around 11.1 hands to 12.2 hands tall. Despite their more modern success, they remain the oldest and purest bloodline of the English horse breeds.
Dartmoors are especially good with children, being a perfect combination of small size and a sound mind. They have a cute, small head, alert ears and those typical wide-set pony eyes.
Their short bodies also follow pony conventions, being strong and broad, with equally strong, thick legs. They have angular shoulders and well-muscled hindquarters, and thick, full manes and tails.
Dartmoor ponies are especially kind, with a gentle temperament and a reliable mind.
When it comes to small ponies, too, Dartmoors fit that bill perfectly, ranging usually from 11 hands to 12.2 hands tall – and they should never stand above that 12.2 hand height maximum.
They are found in the basic coat colors of black, bay, brown, chestnut, roan and gray, with no piebald or skewbald coloring allowed.
Though they originate in Britain (on Dartmoor), today they are found all over. They are excellent riding ponies for children, but are strong enough to often also carry small adults.
You can find the Dartmoor in a variety of disciplines, including hunting, jumping, trail riding, dressage, driving and everyday pleasure riding.
The original free-roaming ponies can still be found living wild on Dartmoor, but they are protected by the Dartmoor Commoners and visitors are not permitted to feed them.
With an average height of 13 to 14.2 hands tall, Connemara ponies are a good size for riding for both children and small adults.
When it comes to coat colors, the Connemara can be found in a rainbow of coat colors, up to and including cream coats and palominos.
The only coloring that is not accepted for the registry are pinto markings. That said, the registry didn’t even exist until relatively recently, with the Connemara not even being recognized as a full breed until 1926.
They have pony-like heads, meaning their eyes are wide-set and there is a broad forehead. The eyes themselves are large and soulful, while the jaws and cheekbones are clearly defined and sharp.
Connemara ponies also follow the pony physical conventions when it comes to their adorable small ears. Their legs are short and muscular, with the forearms and gaskins being especially strong and well-defined.
Originally from Galway, Ireland, the original Connemara may have descended from Scandinavian ponies that were brought over by the Vikings during their occupation of the British Isles. Others speculate that a now-extinct pony, the Irish Hobby, was their original ancestor.
Typically, Connemaras are excellent sport ponies, being suitable for both adults and children to ride.
They are excellent competitors in show jumping, dressage, eventing and more. Interestingly, they are often top jumping prospects, competing against larger horses in international venting and show jumping.
Though a lesser known pony, the Welara is still a standout, being a combination of the Welsh pony and the Arabian horse.
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The breeding qualifications are so strict, that only Welsh and Arabian bloodlines can be considered for pure breeds. The coat colors allowed are less stringent, with pretty much all but Appaloosa markings being allowed.
The Welara is also a newer pony breed, officially established only in 1981 in the USA, but is gaining popularity fast. Since they are the perfect mix of energy and trainability, they are often used as jumpers and eventers.
American Quarter Pony
A good transition from a pony to a first small horse for young riders as they grow, the American Quarter Pony is a popular choice.
They stand up to 14 hands tall and have bodies and builds similar to that of a Quarter Horse. They are quite literally the pony-sized version of the American Quarter Horse, making them Western show favorites.
They are a good all-around ponies; small enough and quiet enough for younger riders and beginners, but not too small that they can’t be ridden by adults.
They are also intelligent and can be trained for a variety of disciplines, making them equally well suited for more experienced riders.
Another horse and pony cross, this smaller equine is gracefully proportioned – and that’s because the Sportpony is not just one distinct bloodline.
Related to American Warmbloods, the Sportpony was developed with the goal of having a horse that was competitive and intelligent like the Warmblood, but smaller and much more compact for younger, smaller riders.
They stand 13.2 hands to 14.2 hands tall and they are bred to look truly like a smaller version of a horse, as well as possess the physical characteristics to be able to compete in a variety of disciplines.
They will not look stocky and sturdy like a pony, but more streamlined like a horse – simply shorter and more compact. They’re built for speed and agility!
They have bloodlines that include the Thoroughbred, the Arabian, the Quarter Horse, the Morgan, the Connemara Pony and the Welsh Pony, ensuring a diverse genetic pool.
They also can’t trace their lineage back to a single founding sire like most other breeds, as they originated as an aesthetic breed versus a genetic one.