Small Yet Mighty… But Just How Mighty?
When I think about ponies, I think of Mikey. Mikey was a spunky paint pony who had an attitude when he wanted to, but also took careful steps with a timid beginner. He was a huge part of my formative years as an equestrian.
Learning the differences between a horse and a pony can help you decide what type of equine a rider is most suited for. Since ponies are smaller than horses, it is important to understand what their carrying capacities are and make appropriate choices when pairing horses with riders.
Feature photo credit: The Posh Equestrian
Ponies: A Definition
A pony is a small horse, specifically one that is under 14.2 hands (see next). Conformationally, ponies tend to have shorter legs and a wider barrel. They also tend to have thicker manes and coats and can have broader heads—which may contribute to their stereotypical stubborn personalities!
How are ponies measured?
Ponies are measured just like horses—the unit of measurement is in hands, and they are measured at the withers. The withers are considered the tallest point on the body of a horse.
1 hand = 4 inches, so a pony has a maximum height of 56.8 inches.
What are some common pony breeds?
Common pony breeds include:
- Shetland Ponies
- Welsh Ponies
- Dartmoor Ponies
- POA (Pony of the Americas)
- Quarter Ponies (these are simply quarter horses measuring less than 14.2 hands)
- Fell Pony
- Connemara Pony
- Chincoteague Pony
How Much Can a Pony Carry?
While ponies are smaller than horses, they also tend to be stockier.
The general rule is that a horse or pony shouldn’t carry more than 20% of its weight.
That said, a well-balanced rider who is light in the saddle and weighs more than 20% of their horse’s weight is more effective and safer for the horse than a rider who is less than 20% but unable to balance.
Tip: Remember, the weight of tack factors into the 20% rule!
How are weight limits established for horses and ponies?
The 20% rule has been around since 1920, but in 2008 it was put to the test at The Ohio State University. There, researchers worked with eight horses and had them carry between 15% and 30% of their weight with a rider.
They found the maximum amount for the best outcome for the horse was 20%.
Though the horses were able to carry 25% and 30%, it caused more muscle fatigue and soreness lasting for longer periods of time. Therefore, if a horse weighs 1200lbs, the maximum weight would be 240, including tack.
How much weight can a 12-hand pony carry?
12 hand ponies typically weigh between 530-815lbs. So based on the weight, a rider and their tack should weigh a maximum of 100 to 160 lbs.
How much weight can a 13-hand pony carry?
13 hand ponies typically weigh between 620-880lbs. So based on the weight, a rider (and tack!) should weigh a maximum of 120 to 170 lbs.
How much weight can a 14.2-hand pony carry?
14 hand ponies typically weigh between 880-990lbs. So based on the weight, the most this size pony should carry would be a maximum of 170 to 200 lbs.
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Pulling vs. Riding
Scientifically, a horse or pony is capable of pulling more weight than they can carry. This is because of the physics of carrying a direct load or pulling a load behind you (on wheels).
Think about being able to carry a friend during a piggy back ride vs. pulling them behind you in a wagon. You can pull the weight easier than you can carry it.
How much weight can a pony pull?
Ponies can pull double their body weight safely. This could be anywhere between 1000 and 1800lbs!
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can ponies carry adults?
Absolutely–many ponies carry adults all the time! You just need to be sure the weight is appropriate.
Trainers must prepare their client’s mounts, so it is common for adults to ride ponies of varied sizes. It is important to know that fitness/balance is an important factor of riding a pony as an adult.
Q: How heavy is too heavy for a pony?
Though balance and fitness in the saddle factor in, a person who weighs 20% of the horse’s weight would be the maximum weight for a pony. Don’t forget tack is also part of this weight percentage.
Q: Can a horse carry a 300-pound person?
Depending on the horse, yes! Stockier breeds like the Clydesdale or draft crosses definitely weigh more than 1500lbs and would be able to carry a 300lb rider based on the 20% rule.
Q: How much weight can a Welsh pony carry?
The average weight of a Welsh pony is 500lbs, so a rider should be around 100lbs. Again, tack and the balance/lightness of a rider in the saddle impacts which ponies you should ride.
Having a pony as part of a lesson program or as your first mount will definitely teach you a lot about riding and resilience in the saddle! Just remember, like any animal, ponies should be treated with respect.
P.S. Enjoy this article? Trot on over to:
- What to Pack for Pony Club Camp (Rider Edition)
- What is Pony Club, and why should you join?
- Say Yes to the Horse: 11 Best Breeds for First Time Horse Owners
- Friendly and Fun: 4 Best Horse Breeds for Beginners
- Stay Calm and Ride On: 5 Calmest Horse Breeds
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