What's the Difference Between Horses and Ponies?

Height isn't the only difference between horses and ponies.
Height isn't the only difference between horses and ponies.
AsyaPozniak/iStock via Getty Images Plus

A horse is a horse, of course of course—except when it’s not. Horses and ponies are members of the same species, Equus caballus. The creatures share a lot of similarities. In general, you can ride them, drive them, and most importantly, pamper them like spoiled pets. Horses and ponies alike have shaped human society, letting people make agricultural and industrial advancements and helping civilizations wage wars and fight battles.

They aren’t quite the same, though. As any barn rat will tell you, the main difference between a horse and a pony is height. Horses are measured in hands, with one hand equaling 4 inches. An equine that measures 14 hands, 2 inches at the withers (the ridge between their shoulder blades) is considered a horse, whereas those that fall below this threshold are known as ponies.

"The height of an individual horse or pony will always determine whether or not the animal is a horse or pony, regardless of the name of their breed or the stereotypical standards," Emily Thomas, museum assistant at the International Museum of the Horse in Lexington, Kentucky, tells Mental Floss in an email.

This 16-hand Morgan gelding is well above the minimum horse height.Courtesy of Kerry Wolfe

But despite the strict height distinction, how people refer to certain horses and ponies is a bit fluid. This is where the semantics can get muddier than a spring paddock. Take the Arabian Horse, for instance: According to the Arabian Horse Association, the standard height for this elegant breed ranges from 14.1 to 15.1 hands, with some individuals standing under or over the average [PDF]. This means that some Arabian Horses are pony-sized, even though they’re often still called horses. And then there’s the Connemara Pony, which is still widely considered a pony even though its average height clocks anywhere between 13 and 15 hands.

Miniature horses are the most confusing example. The American Miniature Horse Association only registers minis that measure 34 inches (the breed is so small, they’re measured in inches rather than hands) or below. Yet despite their pint-sized proportions, these tiny equines are still called horses rather than ponies. This is because, as Horse Illustrated reports, a breed’s conformation can also influence whether we consider something a horse or a pony. Minis were essentially designed to resemble their much-larger counterparts, just drastically smaller, as if they'd been shrunk in the evolutionary dryer.

Despite the size difference, both equines in this image are commonly referred to as horses.Abramova_Kseniya/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Tradition can also play a role in whether an animal is called a horse or a pony. The Icelandic Horse averages a height of 13 to 14 hands and has a heftier build. But breeders and registries still refer to the thick-maned Nordic steeds as horses. It’s said this is not only because of the animals' strength and weight-carrying abilities, but also because the centuries-old, Viking-era breed has always been called a horse. As Élise Rousseau writes in Horses of the World, the concept of a pony in places with shorter breeds doesn’t exist at all; equines in these areas, no matter how small, are simply known as horses.

Tradition is also why all polo mounts are called ponies. As The Horse Rider's Journal reports, the Manipuri Pony of India was considered the original polo breed. But today, a variety of horse breeds are used in the sport, though all polo mounts—regardless of height or type—are still referred to as ponies.

Basically, nailing the difference between when to call something a horse or a pony can be as tricky as naming one. One thing a pony is not, however, is a baby horse—that would be a foal. A person may call their horse a pony in the same way the owner of a full-grown dog may refer to their pooch as a puppy, but it’s a term of affection rather than an acknowledgement of age.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Amazon's Under-the-Radar Coupon Page Features Deals on Home Goods, Electronics, and Groceries

Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Now that Prime Day is over, and with Black Friday and Cyber Monday still a few weeks away, online deals may seem harder to come by. And while it can be a hassle to scour the internet for promo codes, buy-one-get-one deals, and flash sales, Amazon actually has an extensive coupon page you might not know about that features deals to look through every day.

As pointed out by People, the coupon page breaks deals down by categories, like electronics, home & kitchen, and groceries (the coupons even work with SNAP benefits). Since most of the deals revolve around the essentials, it's easy to stock up on items like Cottonelle toilet paper, Tide Pods, Cascade dishwasher detergent, and a 50 pack of surgical masks whenever you're running low.

But the low prices don't just stop at necessities. If you’re looking for the best deal on headphones, all you have to do is go to the electronics coupon page and it will bring up a deal on these COWIN E7 PRO noise-canceling headphones, which are now $80, thanks to a $10 coupon you could have missed.

Alternatively, if you are looking for deals on specific brands, you can search for their coupons from the page. So if you've had your eye on the Homall S-Racer gaming chair, you’ll find there's currently a coupon that saves you 5 percent, thanks to a simple search.

To discover all the deals you have been missing out on, head over to the Amazon Coupons page.

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The Reason Supreme Court Justices Wear Black Robes

Judge Thomas Patrick Thornton (left) is sworn in as a federal judge by Judge Arthur F. Lederle (right) on February 15, 1949.
Judge Thomas Patrick Thornton (left) is sworn in as a federal judge by Judge Arthur F. Lederle (right) on February 15, 1949.

Professional attire can go a long way in communicating the level of respect you have for your occupation and the people around you. Lawyers don’t show up for court in shorts and politicians don’t often address crowds in sleeveless T-shirts.

So it stands to reason that the highest court in the country should have a dress code that reflects the gravity of their business, which is why most judges, including judges on the Supreme Court, are almost always bedecked in black robes. Why black?

As Reader's Digest reports, judges donning black robes is a tradition that goes back to judicial proceedings in European countries for centuries prior to the initial sitting of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1790. Despite that, there’s no record of whether the Justices went for a black ensemble. That wasn’t officially recorded until 1792—but the robes weren’t a totally solid color. From 1792 to 1800, the robes were black with red and white accents on the sleeves and in the front.

It is likely that Chief Justice John Marshall, who joined as the fourth chief justice of the Supreme Court in 1801, led the shift to a black robe—most likely because a robe without distinctive markings reinforces the idea that justice is blind. The all-black tradition soon spread to other federal judges.

But according to former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, there is no written or official policy about the robes, and the Justices are free to source them however they like—typically from the same companies who outfit college graduates and choir singers. It’s certainly possible to break with tradition and arrive on the bench without one, as Justice Hugo Black did in 1969; Chief Justice William Rehnquist once added gold stripes to one of his sleeves. But for the most part, judges opt for basic black—a message that they’re ready to serve the law.

[h/t Reader’s Digest]