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.

A handsome bay horse stands next to a fluffy gray cat
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.

A miniature horse sniffs noses with a larger horse
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.

Why Are Sloths So Slow?

Sloths have little problem holding still for nature photographers.
Sloths have little problem holding still for nature photographers.
Geoview/iStock via Getty Images

When it comes to physical activity, few animals have as maligned a reputation as the sloth. The six sloth species, which call Brazil and Panama home, move with no urgency, having seemingly adapted to an existence that allows for a life lived in slow motion. But what makes sloths so sedate? And what horrible, poop-related price must they pay in order to maintain life in the slow lane?

According to HowStuffWorks, the sloth’s limited movements are primarily the result of their diet. Residing mainly in the canopy vines of Central and South American forests, sloths dine out on leaves, fruits, and buds. With virtually no fat or protein, sloths conserve energy by taking a leisurely approach to life. On average, a sloth will climb or travel roughly 125 feet per day. On land, it takes them roughly one minute to move just one foot.

A sloth’s digestive system matches their locomotion. After munching leaves using their lips—they have no incisors—it can take up to a month for their meals to be fully digested. And a sloth's metabolic rate is 40 to 45 percent slower than most mammals' to help compensate for their low caloric intake. With so little fuel to burn, a sloth makes the most of it.

Deliberate movement shouldn’t be confused for weakness, however. Sloths can hang from branches for hours, showing off some impressive stamina. And because they spend most of their time high up in trees, they have no need for rapid movement to evade predators.

There is, however, one major downside to the sloth's leisurely lifestyle. Owing to their meager diet, they typically only have to poop once per week. Like going in a public bathroom, this can be a stressful event, as it means going to the ground and risking detection by predators—which puts their lives on the line. Worse, that slow bowel motility means they’re trying to push out nearly one-third of their body weight in feces at a time. It's something to consider the next time you feel envious of their chill lifestyle.

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

Are Any of the Scientific Instruments Left on the Moon By the Apollo Astronauts Still Functional?

Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong left the first footprint on the Moon on July 20, 1969.
Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong left the first footprint on the Moon on July 20, 1969.
Heritage Space/Heritage Images/Getty Images

C Stuart Hardwick:

The retroreflectors left as part of the Apollo Lunar Ranging Experiment are still fully functional, though their reflective efficiency has diminished over the years.

This deterioration is actually now delivering valuable data. The deterioration has multiple causes including micrometeorite impacts and dust deposition on the reflector surface, and chemical degradation of the mirror surface on the underside—among other things.

As technology has advanced, ground station sensitivity has been repeatedly upgraded faster than the reflectors have deteriorated. As a result, measurements have gotten better, not worse, and measurements of the degradation itself have, among other things, lent support to the idea that static electric charge gives the moon an ephemeral periodic near-surface pseudo-atmosphere of electrically levitating dust.

No other Apollo experiments on the moon remain functional. All the missions except the first included experiment packages powered by radiothermoelectric generators (RTGs), which operated until they were ordered to shut down on September 30, 1977. This was done to save money, but also because by then the RTGs could no longer power the transmitters or any instruments, and the control room used to maintain contact was needed for other purposes.

Because of fears that some problem might force Apollo 11 to abort back to orbit soon after landing, Apollo 11 deployed a simplified experiment package including a solar-powered seismometer which failed after 21 days.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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