Shetland ponies and miniature horses are the two smallest horse breeds in the world. They are popular as pets, riding horses for small children, and fun companion horses. A common mistake people make is not differentiating these miniature horses into different breeds. Luckily, you have come to the right place, as we will break down the main differences between the breeds in terms of appearance, personality, and use.
1. Shetland Pony
The Shetland Pony is a small but stubborn horse breed from the Shetland Islands, located in the Scottish archipelago northeast of the UK. How they originated is relatively unknown, but most likely, they were a product of the Scandinavian ponies brought from Asia by the Keltic’s 200 years BC. These tiny horses were the only breed of horse that could survive the biting cold up in the north, and any larger horses would struggle with keeping their body temperature up with so little food. Shetland ponies adapted well to the harsh climates and developed thicker coats, short legs, and sturdy bodies vital for withstanding the rough, cold weather. Approximately 1500 small ponies still roam freely in the Shetland Isles, which is quite a sight to see.
Shetland ponies are very intelligent and have been used for many jobs. During the 1800s, these little horses were used in the coal mines due to the high demand for labor workers (after women and children were banned from the mines). The Shetland ponies were perfect for the job with their small height – making it possible for them to enter the mines as pit ponies pulling heavy mine carts. Nowadays, Shetland ponies are a popular riding and harness-driving horse found all over the globe. Shetland ponies are large enough for young children to ride and for adults to harness drive.
They are also common companion animals used in therapy as handicap horses. These ponies are usually referred to as the “pony that you never grow out,” and with good reason, because even if your weight exceeds the riding range for this horse, you can still keep your best friend and practice your skills in liberty and trick training, or why not keep it as a pony for future generations? It is essential always to exercise a Shetland pony to keep it in good health, both mentally and physically, since it’s easy for these ponies to become bored and gain too much weight if you only keep them as pasture friends for another horse.
Features and Character
The miniature Shetland ponies are sturdy, durable, and hardworking ponies that love to work. It’s one of the bloodlines with the fewest health issues for small horse breeds, giving you a healthy and brilliant pony with an easy-to-handle but somewhat headstrong temperament. They can be described as “a large horse in a small format” since they’re so helpful for various genres with their full-sized horses temperament-wise.
There are two different variants of Shetland ponies: the mini, with a maximum height of 86 cm, and the normal, with a maximum height of 107 cm. What distinguishes a Shetland pony is its thick coating, compact body, and sturdy, strong legs. They are much like cold-bloods with muscular bodies and thick necks. Small heads, broad chests, and hefty, long manes and tails are all physical characteristics of this pony. The shorter legs they are equipped with could be more suitable for rugged terrain.
5 Quick Facts About Shetland Ponies:
- Color – They come in every color and a variety of coat patterns (except leopard complex)
- Highest Population – As of 2024, the Netherlands has the most Shetland Ponies. However, a fun fact is that in terms of numbers, the Shetland pony is the most common pony breed in Sweden.
- Lifespan – Shetland Ponies usually live to about 20-25 years old, which is a little bit shorter than the average lifespan of regular horses with a lifespan of 30 years. They are considered fully grown at the age of 4.
- Strongest Horse – In relation to its size, the Shetland pony is one of the world’s strongest Equidae.
- Fastest Speed – The exact speed of a Shetland horse is difficult to estimate due to many factors, such as age, terrain, training, and health. These little ponies can run up to 20 miles per hour with the right circumstances.
2. Miniature Horse
This miniature horse breed was created in the United States due to selective breeding. The goal of breeding this horse was to produce a physical and mental breed that is as similar to a large horse as possible but in the smallest possible format. Therefore, they have leaner bodies with longer necks than the stereotypical pony appearance. Miniature horses have existed by our side for a long time, dating back to the 1500s, when royalty used them for exotic animal entertainment. However, in the late 1800s, a solid breeding program took place in America, which created this specific breed.
It started with two men named Moorman Field and Smith McCoy, who separately started to breed miniature horses with very noble features by seeking out the most petite Shetland ponies and crossing them with more aristocratic elements such as Arabian horses and Appaloosas. The offspring turned out to be durable, wise, and beautiful – the perfect companion horse, but on a much smaller scale than usual. The popularity of miniature horses continued to increase, and in 1978, the breed was officially approved, and a studbook known as the AMHA with specific breed standards was created.
Mini Horses look like miniature versions of horses and act like them, but due to their small size and reduced physical strength, adults cannot ride them. The average rule for how much a horse can carry is around 20% of their body weight, but when we apply that to miniature horses, they can only carry a rider and a saddle weighing between 25 and 70 pounds, depending on the size of the horse. This limits the riders to toddlers and small children, causing problems when training an unbroken horse since children usually need more experience.
However, this does not limit the miniature horse’s usage since they are excellent for many other genres. These horses are ideally suited for trick training, agility, companion horses, lunging, harness driving, and long reining. Every year, Miniature horse exhibitions and shows are held worldwide. It is a fun and intense period where you can show off what you have practiced, whether jumping or doing tricks. Here, you can meet other people to share thoughts, ideas, and passion for this breed, leaving you with lots of new inspiration.
Features and character
This pony breed is enjoyable, intelligent, easygoing, and fast-learning. There are two categories of miniature horses: the A category, which is for those under 82cm, and the B category, which is for larger miniature horses with an average height ranging between 82 and 91 cm.
Miniature Horses are small and proportional, like a large horse in miniature format. The body is well-muscled, with tiny, straight legs that can be turned inward. They can have different coat colors, and the features can also vary since miniature horses are not a firmly established breed, but all horses that meet the requirements can be registered. Some specimens look like fine thoroughbred horses, while others are chubby and tougher. Most popular are the mini horses with apparent Arabian or English thoroughbred features.
5 Quick Facts About Miniature Horses:
- Lifespan – Miniature horses live longer, even longer than regular horses, with a lifespan of 25-35 years. The oldest miniature horse was named Angel and was 50 years old!
- No Dwarf gene – Miniature horses cannot be a product of dwarf genes passed on by horses. Sometimes, dwarf horses are sold very expensively as “real miniature horses, ” so beware when buying!
- Versatile use – With their fast learning and easy mindset, they are both popular therapy and circus animals.
- The world’s smallest horse – Thumbelina was the world’s smallest horse, born in 2001 in Missouri. She was a miniature horse with dwarf genes (therefore not considered a pure miniature horse) with a height of merely 43 cm.
- Health Issues – It’s common for the breed to experience issues related to their back and joints because their tiny legs are unsuitable for supporting their large heads and body weight.