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Is a Pony a Baby Horse? a Physical and Emotional Comparison

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My granddaughter is convinced a pony is a baby horse. Is she correct, is a pony a baby horse? I needed to provide her with the most straightforward explanation possible, so I thoroughly researched ponies and baby horses.

The terms “pony” and “baby horse” are often used interchangeably, but they actually refer to two different things. A pony is an equine, typically 14.2 hands or smaller at the withers (the highest point of the shoulder blades), while a baby horse is a young horse that is still in its developmental stages.

While all foals (baby horses) are small when they are born, they are not ponies. This article will explore the differences between ponies and baby horses, including their physical characteristics, behavior, and breeding.

Comparison Chart

Since my granddaughter’s only four, I usually don’t correct her, but I need to be able to point out differences between ponies and baby horses,” and there are significant distinctions.

PonyBaby Horse (Foals)
HeightUnder 14.2No height restriction
AgeAny ageLess than a year old
DietPrimarily hay and grass (easy keepers) Nursing on mothers milk
ConformationShort legs, a broad chest, dense bones, thick necks, and a small head.Thin long legs and a spindly body
Hair and hoovesStrong hooves, thick coat, mane, and tailTender hooves, thin coat, short, thin mane, and tail
UsesPulling wagons, riding, companionshipToo young to ride or use for equine activities
TemperamentIntelligent, friendly, sometimes stubbornPlayful, childish

Ponies and foals have many differences.

It’s common for people not familiar with equines to mistake a pony for a baby horse. However, they’re notable differences between a pony and a foal.

Picture of a baby horse
Baby horse
Picture of a pony.

A baby horse is a foal under one year old and will grow taller than 14.2 hands and become an adult horse. Ponies can be any age and will never grow up and be a horse. Baby ponies are also called foals.

Baby horses nurse until they are at least three months old. Ponies, unless they are foals, don’t nurse. Ponies are easy keepers and can thrive on a sparse forage diet without supplementing with grain.

Many pony breeds are from rugged regions with cold climates. Shetland ponies originated from the Shetland Islands, a small group of islands off the coast of Scotland.

The summers there are short, and the winters are long, cold, and wet, with very little sunshine during any season. Temperatures don’t vary much, the highs are in the upper 50s Fahrenheit, and the lows are typically near 30 degrees.

To protect against the cold and damp climate, shetland ponies grow a thick double layer of hair. The outer coat comprises long hairs that deflect rain, and the inner layer comprises short hair to insulate the coat.

Thick winter coats are common among pony breeds.

painted.shetland.pony edited

A pony’s conformation is different than a foal’s.

A ponies’ body conformation is different than a baby horse’s. A pony has short legs, a broad chest, dense bones, thick necks, and a small head. Ponies are strong.

When horses are young, not only are they called foals, but they are also referred to by sex. A male foal is a colt, and a female is a filly. As you can see in the picture above, the foal is physically awkward and looks like a gangly spider with long legs and a lean body.

Baby ponies are also called foals. Click here to read a study on the differences in locomotion between ponies and young horses.

Picture of a paint horse decorated for halloween.

Ponies are used differently than baby horses.

Ponies are strong for their size, and many pony breeds can carry a full-sized adult rider comfortably. Some pony breeds are great for trail riding because of their ability to traverse rugged terrain without tiring. Baby horses can’t be ridden and aren’t strong.

In the 1800s and early to mid-1900s, ponies were often used to work in coal mines on the British Isles. Because of their small stature, they were indispensable in bringing coal through low and narrow underground passageways.

And once on the surface at a mine, ponies transported coal and mining materials such as timber for roof support or hauled a cart of coal to town.

Picture of a baby horse.
Baby horse-Emerald

Pony’s and foal’s hoofs and hair are different.

Ponies also have strong hooves, a thick coat of hair, heavy manes, and tails. A foal is born with tender hooves, a thin coat, and a short tail and mane. Click here to read a study comparing the hoofs of horses to ponies.

Picture of a Welsh Pony
Welsh Pony

A baby horse’s coat changes within a few weeks of birth; its initial coat is thin and waterproof but quickly thickens, especially in cold climates. In frigid weather, a foal may need a blanket or a heat lamp in its stall. Ponies tolerate severe cold conditions exceptionally well.

A pony has a different temperament than a foal.

Foals are like children; they spend most of their time napping, nursing, and playing. They’ve not physically or mentally adjusted and are curious about their surroundings.

Picture of a foal in a paddock.

Baby horses will play until they are exhausted and then lie down to nap before returning again. Playtime with other foals or horses helps them socialize by watching and imitating other horses while playing with and learning from them.

Foals will try to nibble or bite people, strike out, or kick. These activities can become dangerous as the foal grows and gets stronger. To curtail this behavior, give the foal a pop on the nose and vocally express your displeasure. To be effective, you have to be firm and consistent.

Ponies are typically intelligent and friendly. However, some pony breeds are known to be cunning and stubborn. Breed characteristics can be a guide for general traits, but animals are individuals and have their own personalities.

A pony’s training and interactions with humans and other animals play a significant role in the pony’s temperament. If a pony is appropriately trained and raised in a suitable environment, they make a great companion.

Shetland Ponies

This little fellow is almost twenty years old and is still very active. He has helped raise a few cowboys. Although Shetlands are known to be stubborn when treated right, they often become children’s best friends and make excellent companions.

Picture of a Shetland pony in a pasture.
Shetland Pony

We had a couple of Shetland ponies that our children and the neighborhood children rode. Sometimes we even took the ponies on extended trail rides, and they proved to be surefooted and calm.

The Shetland breed originates from the Shetland Isles, where the terrain is rocky and mountainous and the climate cold and damp, which is why most shetland ponies have thick coats.

Shetlands are likely the most popular pony breed in the United States. They typically are short, not growing taller than nine hands.

Welsh Pony

Welsh ponies are taller than Shetland ponies, typically 13 hands tall. The Welsh pony originated in the rugged terrain of Wales in Great Brittain. The ground is rocky and mountainous, with very little forage for ponies to eat.

picture of a welsh pony,

The Welsh pony evolved and survived these conditions and is still known for its hardiness and adaptability. Welsh ponies are used for riding and light draft work and are a favorite mount for children and adults.

Some Welsh ponies are exceptional athletes and regularly compete in children’s riding competitions. Recently I went to my grandchildren’s barrel racing show, and the child that won rode a Welsh pony.

Below is a YouTube video of cute foal antics.

What is a baby horse called?

Baby horses are called foals. Male foals are colts, and female foals are fillies. After a baby horse’s first birthday, they are called a yearling. You can learn more about baby horses here: What is a Baby Horse Called? When do They Stand and more Facts

What is the difference between a pony and a baby horse?

Ponies don’t grow taller than 14.2 hands and typically have thick coats and dense bones. Baby horses grow up to be horses over 14.2 hands tall. To learn more about the differences between ponies and horses, you can find helpful information in this article: Ten Differences Between Ponies and Horses: Size, Breeds …

Can ponies and horses breed?

Yes, ponies and horses can breed, and their offspring are typically exceptional. Check out this article to learn more about crossbreeding ponies and horses: Can You Crossbreed a Pony and a Horse?

What do ponies need to eat?

Ponies are typically “easy keepers” and do well on a diet consisting of just forage, hay, or grass. To learn more about owning a pony, check out this article: What do Ponies Eat? Plus Pony Facts Every Owner Should Know