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Best Horse Breeds For Small Riders

by Wendy Sumner

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Riding horses can be a challenge for someone small. If the horse is very tall, getting on without a mounting block can require a lot of effort. With that being said, any horse breed can be good for small riders, if you have the right teamwork. But some breeds tend to have heights more suitable for short riders. Read on to find out how horses are measured and what are the best horse breeds for small riders. 

What is a Hand Measurement in Horses?

Before the 1500s, a horse was measured by the width of a man’s hand. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica King Henry, the VIII of England made a statute that a hand was equal to 4 inches. 

To measure the height of a horse, they need to be standing on level ground with their legs directly underneath them. Then measure from the ground to a position level with the withers. Make sure the tape is perpendicular to the ground and not laying against the horse. 

Once you find out the total amount of  inches, divide that by four. Sixty inches would be considered 15 hands. Any extra inches are named for how many there are. For example, a 63-inch measurement would be a 15.3 hand horse. This is said fifteen, three hands. 

If you have seen a horse listed as being 15.5 hands, it is probably not a typo. Instead, the .5 refers to ½ hand or two inches. So, a 15.5 hand horse would have a total measurement of 62 inches. 

Is a Pony a Good Idea?

When considering a pony for yourself or a child it is important to remember that ponies need as much, if not more, proper attention and training as other breeds of horses. With the correct leadership and teamwork, ponies can make wonderful equine partners. 

Miniature Horses

The average height of miniature horses is 8.2 to 9.2 hands. Too small to carry a rider, even a small child, they are good companions and can be taught to pull a small cart. 


Shetlands can not be more than 11 to 11.2 hands in height to be registered. They are a sturdy breed used for everything from farming to racing. They make up for their short stature in stubbornness and determination. They can be a good start for the right child. However, it takes a special type of relationship with a firm and loving leadership for the friendship to flourish.      

Welsh Pony

If you are looking for a horse that your child can grow up with and not outgrow, the Welsh Pony might be a good match. The Welsh Pony also referred to as the Welsh Cob, can be anywhere from 11 hands to 16 hands. They tend to be smart, athletic, and hardy. 

Pony of the Americas

This breed was developed in the Americas specifically for young and small riders. An Arabian-Appaloosa mare was crossed with a Shetland Stallion to start the breed. The resulting offspring have the stamina, durability, and intelligence of all three breeds. They can be very patient with children, or at least my sister’s POA pony was with her. They grow from 11 hands to 14 hands and can weigh anywhere from 450 to 950 pounds. Their muscular build will usually have an Appaloosa patterned coat.  

best breeds for smaller riders

Breeds That Have Shorter Horses

Wanting a shorter horse does not mean you have to go with a pony breed.  Several other breeds have horses that are short enough to be easy to mount and comfortable to ride. 

Quarter Horse

Quarter horses first got their name from being the fastest horse in a ¼ of a mile race. Since that time, they have become prized for their level head and athletic abilities. They can be found wandering along the trail, working cows on a ranch, or competing in various events in both English and Western disciplines. The shortest height allowed on the registry is 14 hands (56 inches). They can get as tall as 17 hands, but the average size is 15 hands.  The weight range is from 800 to 1200 pounds. 


The Appaloosa breed was developed in the 18th century by the Nez Perce Indians. In addition to being prized for their colorful coats, they are also valued for their strength and endurance. The registry is classified based on color genetics, rather than conformational features. The standard height is 14 to 16 hands. Like the Quarter Horse, they are very versatile athletes that can be used in any number of disciplines. 


Paints are another breed that is classified based on color genetics. They can be very similar in temperament with the Quarter Horse and Appaloosa breeds.  They also have the same height and size range. 

best breeds for smaller riders


The Morgan breed started in 1789 by a man named Justin Morgan. His horses became so popular for their athletic abilities and temperament that the breed was named after him. They can be found working in all riding disciplines. They grow to heights of 14.2 hands to 16.2 hands.  The average, like other breeds, is around 15 hands.    


Arabians are considered one of the oldest, if not the oldest breeds in the world. They are prized for their beauty, temperament, speed, and endurance. The skeleton of an Arabian horse is different than other breeds. They have one less vertebra. The results are a smaller, more compact horse with a height range from 14 hands to 16 hands. The most common height is around 15 hands. 

Final Thoughts

Any horse breed can be suitable for small riders with the right kind of leadership and training. But a shorter horse can be more comfortable to mount and ride for some. The list above is just the tip of the iceberg on the best horse breeds for small riders. 

Now that you’ve learned all about the best breeds for smaller riders, check out this next article on iHeartHorses.com to learn all about the best breeds for larger riders.

9 Best Horse Breeds For Small Riders

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