Horse people are fanatics whose hobby becomes a lifestyle. There is little that can match the pleasure, joy, and fun to be had from owning horses. Some people may not have enough space for a regular size horse and wish to know if there are small horse breeds. The wonderful news is that there are many different small breeds of horses from which to choose.
Many of the small breed horses in the world are not well known, but others may be widely popular. Small equines come in a host of different colors and body shapes, capable of performing some astounding feats of strength.
The Falabella holds the title of the smallest horse breed in the world. The breed was developed with the express purpose of breeding a tiny equine and did not develop as a natural breed. The Falabella family created the breed in Argentina.
Small Thoroughbred horses, Criollos, Arabs, and Shetland ponies were bred to small Argentinian horses. The smallest progeny were selected to continue the lines, although inbreeding was used extensively. They are classified as a horse with the horse’s conformation, character, and temperament.
Falabellas cannot carry heavy loads as many diminutive ponies can. Inbreeding and the selection of small specimens to further the breed have led to genetic problems that breeders worked hard to correct.
Falabellas stand at 24 to 28 inches (61 to 71 cm) or 6.1 to 7 hh. They truly could be popped into the back seat of your car. Bay and black are predominant colors, but some rarer colors such as pinto, palomino, and leopard-spot may also be found.
Falabellas are docile, even tempered horses, which make ideal pets. They are primarily used as pets and bred as a hobby by miniature equine enthusiasts. The starting price for Falabellas is $1200.
Owning a Falabella is a lifelong commitment as most of them live for 40 to 45 years.
Miniature horses come in two different types. A refined Arab-type miniature horse with slender legs, delicate facial features, and a short, smooth coat.
The second type of miniature horse is stocky with short, big-boned legs and a thick, blocky head. They are inclined to have longer coats that become especially furry in winter.
Many people think that miniature horses are a modern trend, but they have been in existence for over four hundred years. Miniature horses had their origins in the coal mines of Britain and Northern Europe.
Small horses were bred to pull ore carts through cramped mine shafts. This tiny breed was brought to the USA in the late nineteenth century to be used in mining operations. As mechanization became more economical, the use of horses in the mines was abandoned.
Throughout history, royalty and other wealthy nobles have chosen to keep unusual animals, including miniature horses. This was particularly common in the seventeenth century in England, France, and other European countries.
Miniature horses come in various colors, including solid and mixed colors. Most appaloosa registries now have a section for miniature appaloosa horses with the full range of appaloosa colors available.
Miniature horses are known for their gentle, friendly nature with a strong desire to interact with people. They are usually stalwarts when facing unknown situations and may be kept as companions for skittish regular-sized horses.
Driving miniature horses in carriage has become a popular sport. They are popular with equine enthusiasts who might not have the space or finances to afford a regular-sized horse.
How Big Are Miniature Horses?
There are four registries for miniature horses.
- American Miniature Horse Association (AMHA)
- American Miniature Horse Registry (AMHR)
- NMPRS – A Dutch miniature horse registry
- South African Miniature Horse Association
Each of these registries has its classification and height requirements, but there are generally two height categories. The first division is for horses under 34 inches (86 cm). This is roughly 8.2 hh. The second division is for horses over 34 inches with a maximum height of 38 inches (96.5 cm) or 9.2hh.
Shetland ponies originated on the Shetland Islands in the north of Scotland. The islands have an extremely inhospitable climate, but these little ponies have managed to survive despite the adversity. They adapted to overcome freezing cold and poor grazing for most of the year.
The average size of a Shetland pony is 36 to 40 inches (90 – 106 cm) or 9 to 10 hands high. They are characterized by short, thick legs, a thick heavy mane and forelock, and a heavy coat in cold climates.
Shetland ponies are the ultimate good doers and need little food to stay fat. Owning a Shetland pony requires ensuring that the pony does not become overweight on rich grass. They seldom need concentrates, except perhaps a vitamin and mineral balancing ration.
The immense strength of these small ponies is quite mind-blowing. They are known to carry adult men. One 36 inch (91 cm) pony is reported to have carried a man weighing 168 lbs (76kg) for a journey of 40 miles (64 km). A genuinely astounding feat!
This strength made them popular as pack animals, and they were used extensively to pull loads of coal in underground mines. These ponies were abused in many ways, and fortunately, this reprehensible practice was abandoned.
Most Shetland ponies are independent-minded dominant equines that can be quick to bite and kick. Despite their small size, they are not generally suitable for children due to their temperament. Occasionally a Shetland pony with a good character is bred, and these are worth their weight in gold.
Shetland ponies are popular as companion horses to large regular-sized horses that are highly strung and excitable. These little ponies act as stabilizing influences, and many a top equine athlete is accompanied by a little Shetland on their travels.
Noma ponies are extremely rare Japanese horses that developed in the Noma area. Japanese horses were thought to have originated from Mongolian horses taken to Japan in the sixth century. The ponies developed into eight different breeds, and the Noma pony was one of them.
People of Noma county did not mix the bloodline of their ponies. This resulted in a unique population with clear characteristics. Noma ponies are the smallest of all Japanese ponies.
They have a maximum height of 48 inches (122 cm) or 12 hh, but the majority are much smaller than this. They have a cylindrical or barrel-shaped body with slim legs, thick joints, and durable hooves. Noma ponies are gentle, amiable equines that cope well with minimal feeding.
Noma ponies were used as pack animals in agriculture. Their popularity declined, and eventually, their numbers dropped to only six animals. In 1978, a dedicated effort was made to save the breed. The numbers have grown, but the Noma pony remains an endangered breed.
The Yonaguni is another breed of Japanese horse. It developed on Yonaguni Island, and they currently roam freely on the island. They are also known as Ryukyu horses or Shima Uma, which means island horses. They were introduced to the island approximately two thousand years ago.
Yonaguni horses stand at 43 to 47 inches (110 to 120 cm) with a maximum height of 11.3hh. Most Yonaguni horses are chestnut, and they have a slender light bone structure with a short neck.
They were used primarily in agriculture and suffered the same fate as the Noma pony when industrialization resulted in mechanization on farms. A count in 2020 revealed that there are only 120 Yonaguni horses in the free herds and about another 80 domesticated animals, classifying them as an endangered breed.
The Japanese people on Yonaguni island are proud of the horses, and they are cherished as a natural heritage. These equines are revered for their historical role as pack animals, plowing horses, and a means of transportation. They are believed to have been crucial to the survival of the island culture and are now protected.
Although most herds roam free, some of the Yonagunis have been domesticated. Their gentle nature makes them ideal as therapy horses.
People on the Yonaguni island use a unique single reined bridle as tack for the horses. Children are encouraged to interact with Yonaguni horses, and riding one is on the Yonaguni people’s bucket list.
Guoxias are found in the Debao, Jingxi, and Tianyang counties in the area of Baise, Southern China. Their name means “under the fruit tree horse,” which describes their function aptly. Guoxias were used as pack horses to carry ripe fruit as it was harvested.
They differ genetically from other Asian equines and are considered a pure horse breed. They reach a maximum height of 44 inches (111.8 cm) or 11 hh. Their small size makes them perfect for winding along the rows of an orchard.
They have ideal temperaments for working alongside people. They are dependable, friendly, good-natured, and have a willingness to work, which is often missing in small horses. This temperament also makes them ideal as children’s mounts. They are easily trained for harness work.
They have been documented in Chinese history and were first discovered in southwest China during the reign of the Song dynasty. Royalty and other wealthy citizens were attracted to these pretty petite ponies. They were often used to entertain rich or royal women.
It was thought that Guoxia ponies were extinct. In 1981, scientists were delighted to discover a herd of one thousand ponies in southwestern China. They enjoy protection from the government, and a breed association was formed to ensure their survival.
Although they are a rare breed, they are not endangered, and their numbers have remained constant.
Guoxias are compact ponies with a substantial headset on a short, powerful neck. They have hard feet and can cope with rough, rocky terrain. Their coats are gray, bay, or roan.
The Baise horse is another Chinese equine. This one hails from the province of Guangxi in southeast China. Baise horses are sometimes called Guangxi horses.
Guangxi is a mountainous region, and these tough little horses thrive at high altitudes. They are used extensively in tourism as both pack and riding horses. Baise horses have also been used in agriculture, although their use in this sphere is declining. Unfortunately, they are also butchered for meat in this area of China.
Baise horses play an important part in the wedding culture in Guangxi. Their friendliness, willing attitude, and docile demeanor ensure they do not upset the ceremonies and celebrations at a wedding.
Their height ranges between 44 to 46 inches (112 to 117 cm) or 11 hh – 11.2 hh. Their colors are usually black, gray, chestnut, and bay. Baise horses have a thick, luxurious mane and tail.
They are allowed to roam the mountains during winter but are rounded up to work during harvest time and summer when the tourists arrive.
Welsh Section A Pony
Welsh ponies originated in Wales. There are four different divisions, labeled as Sections A, B, C, and D. Section A Welsh ponies fit into the category of smallest horses in the world.
Welsh ponies have been documented in history since 1600 BC. Their heritage lies with Celtic ponies that were bred to Arabs, Thoroughbreds, and Hackney horses to improve the breed. The first studbook for Welsh ponies was established in 1901.
During the early twentieth century, the ponies were mostly semi-feral. They developed into tough, hardy ponies able to survive extreme conditions. Some horses were tamed and used for agriculture and as pit ponies in the mines.
Welsh Section A ponies are also known as welsh Mountain Ponies. The British regulations state that Section A ponies may not exceed 50 inches (127 cm) or 12.2 hh. In comparison, the American Welsh Association limits the height for Section A ponies to 48 inches (122 cm) or 12 hh.
The Section A Welsh ponies are refined, pretty ponies with delicate features. They commonly have a dished face, large eyes, and small pointed ears inherited from their Arab ancestors. They have outstandingly gentle natures and are generally compliant, easy ponies.
Their traditional colors are black, gray, chestnut, and bay but palomino, dun, smokey black, and double cream are also found. Tobiano and leopard spots are never seen and are not accepted in breed registries.
These attractive ponies are used in modern times as children’s mounts. They are often shown in hand by hobby breeders, and you may find them pulling small carts.
Exmoor ponies are one of the native pony breeds. Their origins have been linked to prehistoric Ice Age equine fossils found in Alaska. At the termination of the ice Age, these ponies moved across the Bering land bridge, through Siberia, and across Europe. They crossed into southern England as the English Channel did not exist at that time.
The ponies flourished in the heavily forested areas and moors of Exmoor. These hardy, wild little horses became sought after by farmers and wealthy nobles. There are still a few wild herds, but dedicated breeders mainly perpetuate the breed.
Exmoor ponies are sturdy, strong equines with slender legs and a wiry mane and tail. They are known for their rounded, solid feet and thick short ears. Their eyes are sometimes described as toad eyes as their eyelids protrude slightly to protect the eyes from the rain.
Exmoors are generally around 12 to 12.2 hh, with some stallions reaching 12.3 hh. They are usually bay or dun with a black mane, tail, and forelock. These hardy hardworking ponies are trustworthy and honest, making them suitable safe mounts for child riders.
Although Exmoor ponies are suitable for children, they can also carry adult riders up to 168 pounds (76 kg). Their dependable mindset makes them extremely popular in cross country riding or hunting.
Kerry Bog Pony
The Kerry Bog Pony originated in the mountains and moors of County Kerry in Ireland. The origin of these ponies is unknown, but historians are sure that herds of similar horses were found in this Irish area prior to 1600 AD. Some people believe they are descendants of the Irish Hobby Horse, a now extinct breed.
Kerry Bog mares usually stand at 10 to 11 hh while stallions are a smidge taller at 11 to 12 hh. They are sturdy, compact ponies with well-rounded shoulders and a large kind eye.
They have an unusual walking pattern. Their hind feet track to the outside of the forefeet. This movement pattern and their low weight to height ratio make them able to negotiate wet boggy ground.
These little ponies are hardy and disease-resistant. Their intelligence and willingness to work, combined with a quirky, entertaining character, make them very popular with their owners. Kerry Bog ponies are remarkably easy to keep, and care must be taken to ensure they do not become overweight.
They are found in all the solid equine colors, including palomino and other dilute colors. The breed registry accepts white markings on the coat.
They were initially used to transport kelp and peat. Currently, they are used for carriage driving, equine therapy, and as companion animals.
Appaloosa Miniature Horse
Appaloosa Miniature Horses follow the height guidelines for miniature horses established by the AMHA or the AMHR. They are registered with the Appaloosa Societies under the miniature Section.
These appealing little horses come in all the appaloosa colors, from blankets to leopard spot and near spot. They may also be solid colors or roan. Generally, they are kept as pets or bred by hobby breeders that compete and show them in hand.
The M’Par or Mpar is a small horse found in the Cayor area of Senegal. Their origins are murky as historians did not document any arrival of horses or how the breed developed. The M’Par is sometimes known by its French name, Cheval de Cayor.
M’Par horses’ heads appear too large for their bodies. They have a long back, flat chest, and often poor leg conformation. They often look thin and malnourished, which they may well be, considering the conditions they must survive. These ponies are 12.3 hh to 13.3 hh.
They are used as draught horses, pulling carriages and carts, and are not often given good feed rations. They survive on the scrub and grass they can find. Use of the M’Par is dying out, and as a result, the numbers are decreasing.
Heck horses were deliberately bred by two German zoologist brothers, Heinz and Lutz Heck. They aimed to recreate the Tarpan horse, which became extinct between 1879 and 1909. They used several small European equines that they combined with Icelandic horses, Konik, Gotland, and Przewalski horses.
They are grullo or dun horses which may display some white markings. They have a dark dorsal stripe with horizontal stripes on the legs reminiscent of primitive horses. Their height ranges between 50 to 54 inches (127 to 137 cm) or 12.2 hh to 13.3 hh.
Heck horses have hardy hooves and a high-stepping gait. They are commonly used as carriage or riding horses. They have a calm, intelligent and friendly disposition making them easy to manage, train, and handle.
The Faroe pony or horse lives only in the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic Ocean. They are 45 to 49 inches (114 to 124 cm) or 11.1 hh to 12.1 hh. Although this equine’s height classifies it as a pony, it is referred to as a horse on the Faroe Islands due to its admirable strength.
They come in chestnut, bay, and black with occasional white markings. They are sure-footed, steady horses that seem to enjoy interacting with people. They have a tölt gait similar to Icelandic horses.
Faroe horses grow a thick, long, shaggy water-repellant coat in winter, which they shed as summer approaches.
They were used to haul loads on the islands, and some were trained to herd sheep. They are primarily kept by hobby breeders in this modern era, with some being used as children’s mounts.
The Faroe breed is endangered, and a breed society was established to rescue and manage a breeding program to increase numbers.
Giaras are equines found on the island of Sardinia. They have an extensive height range from 45 to 53 inches (114 to 135 cm) or 11.1 hh to 13.1 hh. Although it is of pony size, it is considered a horse due to its conformation, movement, and genetic structure.
The most common colors found in Faroe horses are bay, chestnut and black. They have a thick, strong cannon bone with hardy feet that make them very sure-footed in uneven terrain.
Giaras are an endangered horse breed, and their herd numbers are low. They are used as riding or draught horses in agriculture.
There are a surprising number of small horse breeds in the world. Some are classed as ponies, while others are defined as horses. The people associated with these small horses are often proud of these little equines’ part in cultural history. Many small horse breeds are at risk of extinction, and breed societies are working hard to establish the populations once more.