Guests to our Colorado dude ranch who have not ridden before, or spent much time around horses, can find it much easier to quickly become confidant about their time in the saddle by being more familiar with these magnificent animals. After all, they are a main part of your focus for horseback riding vacations.

Unlike many pets, horses and ponies do not use their tails to communicate their feelings as much as other parts of their body. Dogs wag their tails when they’re happy or excited. Cats have happy and irritated feelings they express with their tails. For the equine world, that tail is basically there as a fly swatter. The longer the tail is, the more comfortable that horse’s summer months will be.

When you say you want a pony to ride, we might end up giving you a small horse to head out onto the trails astride. Depending on the actual breed, the difference between a horse and a pony is only about one inch. Obviously, that won’t get you closer to the ground by much. Additionally, when gauging the height of a horse, the measurement is taken at a slightly higher point on the animal than where you’ll be sitting.

In the equine world, height is measured in hands. This comes from the days in the far away past when the only instrument available for the task was a man’s hands. This naturally varied a bit in bygone eras since the width of a hand comes in small, medium large and extra large. Today it is based on a standard of a hand being 4 inches and a portion of a hand stated in single digits behind a decimal.

The largest difference between a horse and a pony is their height at the withers or the point where the mane ends and the back begins. This spot just offset from the ‘shoulder’ of their front legs and is covered by the saddle horn when your mount is tacked up and ready to ride. A pony stands shorter than 14.2 hands or 58 inches tall. Horse heights begin and 14.2 hands and taller. If you’re standing beside a horse that is 16 hands tall, you know this is a big animal with his withers heading for 6 feet off the ground.

This is only a rule of thumb distinction though, as some breeds of horses can actually produce animals that are under and over 14.2 hands. There are some distinct differences between ponies and horses, such as their appearance. Horses tend to be sleeker and ponies more fuzzy with thicker manes and tails. Ponies also have a stockier build with thicker bones and shorter necks in scale compared to the dimensions of a horse.

Some guests arrive on our dude ranch with the notion that their first horseback riding vacations will be safer or less intimidating if they chose a pony for their week’s trail companion. This is all wrong! Temperament has nothing to do with the size of these animals. There are ponies that are sweet as pie and those that are not. The same is true of horses, there are highly spirited and docile as a lamb personalities in every herd.

No matter how big or how small the horse is, showing it you want to be friends is a great step in the direction of sharing a wonderful week in each other’s company. Don’t worry about getting the wrong horse … or pony. Our dude ranch wranglers are well schooled on matching your personality to your trail partner’s temperament. Tuck a carrot into your suitcase, and we’ll see you when you arrive for your week of a horseback riding vacation’s adventures here in Durango at Colorado Trails Ranch.