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 the most straightforward explanation possible, so I thoroughly researched ponies and “baby horses.”

ponies are not “baby horses”; they are equines under 14.2 hands. A “baby horse” is a foal that will grow into a full-sized horse, an equine over 14.2 hands tall. Typically ponies and baby horses also differ in their conformation, coat thickness, and dietary needs.

Since my granddaughter’s only three, 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.

Comparision Chart

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 pony running in a field,

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 the need to supplement with grain.

Many pony breeds are from rugged regions with cold climates. Shetland ponies are originate 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 Farenheith 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 is made up of short hair to insulate the coat.

Thick winter coats are common among pony breeds.

picture of a baby horse (foal) standing in a paddock,
foal

A ponies conformation is different than foals.

Ponies’ body conformation is different than a baby horse. 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, 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, long legs, and a spindly body.

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

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 supports or haul a cart of coal to town.

Ponies and foal’s hoofs and hair are different.

Ponies also have strong hooves, a thick coat of hair, with 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.

A baby horse’s coat changes within a few weeks of birth, it’s 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 their stall. Ponies tolerate severe cold conditions exceptionally well.

A pony has a different temperament than a foal.

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

Baby horses will play until they are exhausted and then lie down to take a nap before starting back again. Playtime with other foals or horses, helps the foal become socialized by watching and imitating other horses while playing with and learning from them.

Foals will try to nibble or bite people, strikeout, or kick. These types of 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 personality.

A ponies 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.

  • If you would like to read another article about baby horses that includes some interesting facts, click this link.
  • We also have an article about pony horses used in the horse racing industry, click here to read the story.
  • Click on this link to find out if baby horses are born with teeth.

Popular Pony Breeds

Shetland Ponies

picture of a shetland pony in a pasture,

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

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; they are 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.

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 yearlings. 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 some 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, read out this article: What do Ponies Eat? Plus Pony Facts Every Owner Should Know

Miles Henry

I love animals! Especially horses, I've been around them most of my life but I am always learning more and enjoy sharing with others. I have bought, sold, and broke racehorse yearlings. I have raised some winning horses and had some that didn't make it as racehorses, so we trained them in other disciplines. Miles Henry

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