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At some point, every child dreamed about having a horse or pony. The lucky few who get to experience owning a horse are not only in for a big adventure but also some important life lessons.
As for the parents, such a commitment comes with great cost and responsibility. Ultimately, it all comes down to three factors when choosing the best horse breeds for kids: size, type, and temperament.
As a general rule, children up to 12 years old ride 12.2 hh ponies. From 12 to 16, they can move towards 14.2 hh ponies. From 16 years onwards, children usually ride 14.2+ hh ponies or horses.
The best horse breeds for kids are the Shetland Pony, Haflinger, Morgan, Mustang, and Miniature horses. These horse breeds are small, docile, and versatile, making them ideal breeds for children to learn the horse basics while staying safe.
Parents should also avoid choosing high-spirited horse breeds such as Arabians and Thoroughbreds. An ideal child’s pony should always be calm and easy to handle.
Here are the 10 best horse and pony breeds for kids:
American Quarter Horse
The Quarter Horse is the number one most popular horse breed in the United States, with over 3 million horses registered worldwide.
Loved by children and adults alike, these intelligent horses are easy to handle. Although Quarter horses dominate the rodeo circuit due to their natural “cow-sense”, they are suitable for almost any discipline.
If you want a reliable all-rounder for your older child, the Quarter horse is an excellent choice. Because of their gentle nature and versatility, they are one of the best horse breeds for kids and adult beginners.
Quarter horses range between 14-16 hh in height and occur in every possible color. They have a compact, well-muscled body with a refined head and powerful hindquarters.
The breed’s name comes from its ability to outrun any other horse breed on a quarter-mile distance. The American Quarter Horse originated in the 16th century when imported Thoroughbred stallions were crossed with the eastern United States’ local ranch horses.
The Shetland Pony is one of the most loved breeds in the world. Its curious nature, hardiness, and compatible size make the Shetland one of the best pony breeds for young kids.
Shetlands are also great schoolmasters and are often trained to be guide horses. They are even raced by young jockeys at the Shetland Pony Grand National in the United Kingdom. There’s just nothing these cheeky ponies won’t do!
The Shetland Pony’s maximum height is capped at just over 10 hh. Breed characteristics describe a compact body with short legs, small ears, and a thick mane and tail. Shetlands can be of any color except spotted.
These adorable ponies originate from the Shetland Isles in Scotland, where they lived for thousands of years. Their initial role was in agriculture and transportation. From the mid-19th century, Shetlands became an essential workforce in Britain and the United States’ coal mines.
The Shetland has also contributed to the foundation of other pony breeds such as the Pony of the Americas or the Falabella.
Welsh Pony and Cob
With a good temperament and loveable nature, the Welsh Pony is a suitable horse breed for kids of all ages, and even small adults. All Welsh Ponies and Cobs have a refined head with large eyes, strong hindquarters, and free-moving gaits. These are all qualities of a good all-round pony breed.
The modern Welsh Pony and Cob is an excellent ride and drive a pony and performs well in most classical disciplines. Welsh breeds also compete successfully in endurance and western pleasure events.
The Welsh Pony encompasses four subsections (A, B, C, and D) that differ in height and type. Section A (max. 12.2 hh), Section B (12.2 – 14.2 hh), and Section C (max. 13.2 hh) are ideal for children, whereas the Section D (min. 13.2) can carry an adult with ease.
Since the Middle Ages, the Welsh Pony and Cob developed from native ponies that have roamed the Welsh countryside. Over the centuries, the breed has had an Arabian influence that is especially well reflected in the elegant Section A and B types. Traditionally, these horses have served in the cavalry, the mines, and also in agriculture.
Pony of the Americas
The Pony of the Americas is one of the best kids pony breeds because it was specifically bred for children. Small, calm, and affectionate, Pony of the Americas are ideal first ponies, companion horses, and pets.
Although originally intended for Western riding, kids also compete on the ponies in endurance, driving, and English disciplines.
Its resemblance to an Appaloosa/Arabian cross is not a coincidence. It was the vision of the founder to create a miniature version of the combo.
Every registered Pony of the Americas must have clear Appaloosa coloring and not be taller than 14 hh. The breed aims to retain the Arabian’s fine features and the muscle and bone structure of the Quarter Horse.
The founding stallion of the breed was an Appaloosa/Arabian/Shetland Pony cross sire. The Pony of the Americas has an open studbook, allowing crosses with other breeds to be registered so long as they meet the physical requirements.
Since it became an official breed in 1954, the Pony of the Americas has demonstrated exponential growth in numbers. Its breed registry is one of the most active and youth-oriented registries in the United States. They even have rules against adults showing horses older than four years old under saddle!
The Miniature Horse is an ideal horse breed for small children. Due to its small size and docile temperament, a Miniature horse is ideal for kids to practice everyday horse care such as grooming, leading, tacking up, and handling.
Included in our smallest horse breeds guide, the maximum height for a Miniature Horse is 38 inches (97 cm) at the last hairs of the mane. Despite its size, the breed is not considered a pony as it resembles the conformation of a regular-sized horse.
The Miniature Horse originates in 17th century Europe, where it soon became a highly valued pet of the royalty and nobility. Similar to Shetlands, they too worked in the coal mines of Britain and the United States all the way until the second half of the 20th century.
Luckily, today’s Miniature Horses have a much better life than their ancestors did. Many countries have even developed their own versions of the breed. Such examples are the Argentinian Falabella, the South African, or the American Miniature Horse.
Breed registries around the world regularly organize shows dedicated to the Miniature Horse. Children and adults alike have the opportunity to compete their horses in halter, driving, liberty, in-hand hunter/jumper, and many other classes. Miniature Horses can also work as service animals for people with disabilities.
Extremely versatile, the Morgan horse has all the qualities you’d expect from a fantastic horse breed for kids. Due to their intelligence and smooth gaits, Morgans are ideal for therapeutic riding and often participate in Pony Club events.
Morgans have a refined but muscular body and usually stand between 14 and 15.2 hh. They occur in various colors and are famous for their steady gaits, with a few horses able to perform special gaits.
One of the first horse breeds ever created in the United States, the Morgan Horse has a fine appearance and gentle nature.
All Morgans existing today trace back to one foundation sire called Figure featured in the book Justin Morgan Had a Horse. The Morgan Horse has influenced other major American breeds, such as the Standardbred, Quarter Horse, or Tennessee Walker.
Morgans have a history of serving in the US cavalry and were also popular driving and riding horses. Today, the breed has gained recognition competing in many English and Western disciplines as well as driving.
Being an incredibly versatile breed, Haflingers are a good all-round horse breed for children in almost every discipline there is. Haflingers are sociable, caring, and gentle horses, which is why they are so great to have around children.
Riding schools and therapeutic centers are also fond of the breed’s kind nature and naturally smooth gaits.
Haflingers are always chestnut in color with a flaxen mane and tail. They have the build of a light draft horse and generally stand between 13.2 and 15 hh.
Also known as the Avelignese, the breed is native to the South Tyrol region of today’s Austria and Northern Italy. Its ancestors have roamed this Alpine terrain for hundreds of years and eventually developed into hardy and sure-footed foundation stock. With the addition of Arabian blood, the Haflinger gained its refined and elegant outline still seen today.
The idea behind the Haflinger was to create a breed equally suitable for both riding and draft work. Indeed, the breed still retains some of its old uses, such as serving as packhorses over rough terrain and forestry work.
With its gentle and elegant temperament, the Connemara Pony is popular pony breeds for kids in the UK and Ireland. Short yet strong and with superb stamina, Connemara ponies are ideal for more advanced kids who wish to compete at a high-level.
The modern Connemara is a high-quality sports pony that is easy to handle for children and suitable for a variety of disciplines. Connemara Ponies are a good horse breed for amatuer show jumping, dressage, eventing, and driving.
Once confined to the Ireland, the Connemara is now bred worldwide to produce an athletic sports pony able to carry children and adults alike.
Also read: 5 native Irish horse breeds you need to know!
The breed standard for the Connemara is a pony type head with small ears on top of a well-arched neck, strong back, and relatively short legs. They can be of any solid color and average between 12.2 and 14.2 hh in height.
There’re many different theories about how exactly the Connemara Pony came to be. Some claim they developed from the Vikings’ ponies; others believe they are the descendants of Spanish horses set loose in western Ireland.
Regardless of their origin, the Connemara Ponies have gained incredible hardiness and strength from surviving on the harsh Irish lands for hundreds of years.
The breed has also influenced Arabian, Thoroughbred, and Hackney bloodlines. To preserve and improve the original Connemara, a breed society opened in 1923.
The Icelandic Horse is easy to handle and docile yet energetic, making it a fabulous horse breed for kids of all ages. An inherently healthy and hardy breed with a remarkable weight carrying capacity, ideal for larger children or small adults.
This unique gaited horse breed is a common riding horse for many riding clubs and societies throughout Scandinavia, western Europe, and North America. Icelandic Horses are usually between 13 to 14 hh tall and occur in a variety of coat patterns.
Click here to read more on what a gaited horse is and other common gaited horse breeds.
The national and only horse breed of Iceland, the Icelandic Horse developed around 900 AD from the Norse settlers’ ponies. Centuries of natural selection on the harsh Icelandic climate has shaped the breed into what it is today. Although the Icelandic horse resembles a pony, it is traditionally called a horse because of its spirited nature and relative strength.
Besides the usual walk, trot, and canter, these horses can perform two additional gaits: the pace and the tölt. Both of these special gaits are very comfortable to sit and can achieve a surprisingly high speed.
New Forest Pony
New Forest Ponies are an ideal riding pony breed for kids due to their good temperaments and narrow back. Due to it being very short footed and agile, the New Forest Pony is a great pony breed for kids to compete with on gymkhana, English riding, or driving events.
The New Forest Pony is small, standing between 12 and 14.2 hh, making them a good height for taller children. They are usually bay, grey, or chestnut in color.
The ancestors of the New Forest Pony have lived in southern England since the last Ice Age. Feral herds still roam freely in the New Forest today and are gathered yearly for a vet checkup. Because of their declining numbers in the early 20th century, various other breeds were added to refresh the core breeding stock.
The Rare Breeds Survival Trust declared the New Forest Pony as a minority breed in 2014. Efforts to preserve the breed are currently ongoing.
Also read: 10 best horse breeds for beginner riders