For anyone with small acreage and a passion for equines, miniature horses have the capacity to make dreams come true. From horse lovers just starting out to senior citizens who’ve retired and no longer keep full-size horses, miniature horses are the perfect solution. “Minis,” as they’re often called, are a height breed. The tallest measure only 38 inches (9.5 hands), at the withers, which is about the size of a Labrador Retriever. The tiniest horses reach maturity at a mere 28 inches, and most foals range from 15 to 18 inches at birth.
The breed has roots going back to the Renaissance. Over the centuries and from many countries, the modern miniature horse has evolved from a blend of several breeds and has been refined into the beautiful, tiny animal we see today. The first documented import of a small horse to the United States was in 1888 when a tiny Shetland pony was discovered in a herd of 140. The pony was 31 inches tall at the withers and was named Yum Yum.
With their diminutive size and sweet nature, today’s miniature equines have taken horse lovers by storm. “Can’t have just one” describes the infatuation with miniature horses. As of 2008, more than 200,000 minis were registered worldwide with the two largest registries: the American Miniature Horse Registry (founded in 1971 as a division of the American Shetland Pony Club, which was founded in 1888), and the American Miniature Horse Association (founded in 1978). Most minis are registered with both organizations. Though most of the bloodlines include selected Shetland breeding, miniature horses have the proportions, disposition, and other characteristics that make them phenotypically “horses,” not ponies. The most popular minis in the show ring today are those that resemble tiny Arabian Horses: fine-boned and delicate, with large eyes and nostrils, and lots of attitude. Breeders have imported bloodlines from England, Holland, Belgium and West Germany, and many breeders have specialized in producing purebred Falabellas – the true miniature horse of Argentina.
Les and Getitia Matheny of Buckeye Walnut Creek Farm in Circleville, Ohio, have been breeding miniature horses since before they became popular.
“As I look back over my 40-plus years of ownership of many different horse breeds,” Getitia says, “the American Miniature horse stands out as the one breed that completely captures not only my heart, but the hearts of our entire family – from ages 6 to 60-plus.”
The horses at the Matheny farm are carefully bred to retain the best characteristics of the breed, and the BWC prefix consistently shows up in the winner’s circle at shows across the country.
Unlike most horse breeds, minis come in every color and coat pattern imaginable. Magnificent, loud pinto patterns are highly favored by many breeders, and several Appaloosa patterns have emerged, including a stunning Leopard Appaloosa gene.
Another significant difference between miniature horses and full-size breeds is the cost of care and the amount of space needed to keep one. A full-grown mini requires only one-quarter of the grain and hay consumed by a mature Morgan or Quarter Horse. Miniatures require less pasture or turnout compared to the recommended ratio of 3 to 5 acres of pasture per full-size horse; one acre of grass pasture is quite adequate for two or three miniatures. Shelter is another area where smaller is better. In temperate regions of the United States, minis can remain outdoors year-round, needing only a small run-in shed to protect them from hot sun, cold rain or snow. Most times, however, they will still stand out in the middle of the pasture, happily grazing and oblivious to the elements. For horses kept in at night or during the winter, a 10-by-10-foot stall is a good size, but even a 6-by-8-foot stall will suffice. Horses kept indoors produce lots of garden compost, but these smaller equines at least produce less to shovel.
What can such a small horse DO?
Many miniature enthusiasts simply enjoy having their horses for companionship. Minis are loving and gentle, which makes them perfect for older adults, small children or disabled individuals. While they cannot be ridden, except by children under 40 pounds, they are wonderful driving horses. With their jaunty trot, a shiny harness and scaled-down carriage, miniature hitches offer a striking attraction to hometown parades. For those interested in showing miniature horses, driving classes are the most popular. Youngsters especially enjoy the costume classes where they can choose a theme and dress up themselves and their horses to compete for prizes.
Pet or livestock
Getitia Matheny believes the miniature horse’s “versatility in disposition, athleticism, height, type and color absolutely make them the ideal breed of horse for any family.”
Before rushing out to purchase a miniature horse, be sure to check your local zoning laws, especially if you live in town. Minis are so easy to keep in a backyard that many zoning committees have struggled with trying to determine what the law says. Is the miniature a pet? Or is it considered livestock, and therefore not legal inside city limits? Unfortunately, in most towns, no benchmark decision allows a prospective owner to know for sure if the zoning laws will fall in his or her favor.
Where miniatures shine brightly is in their service to others. Across the country, these tiny horses bring joy to invalids, shut-ins, the elderly and terminally ill children, confirming the uniqueness of their breed. They visit nursing homes and hospitals in almost every state and charm spectators at parades and charity events. To learn more about miniature horses, visit one of the registry websites. You’ll find farms and ranches near you, as well as how to get involved with the breed.
A word of warning, however – once you’ve experienced the delight of owning a miniature horse, you can’t have just one.
Toni Leland is an Ohio writer and photographer. She writes for several publications and Dave’s Garden, an international gardening website. She can be contacted at www.ToniLeland.com .
American Miniature Horse Registry, www.ShetlandMiniature.com
81 B Queenwood Road, Morton, IL 61550, 309-263-4044
American Miniature Horse Association, www.AMHA.org
5601 South Interstate 35 W, Alvarado, TX 76009, 817-783-5600
Falabella Miniature Horse Association, www.FalabellaFMHA.com
33222 N. Fairfield Road, Round Lake, IL 60073, 847-546-6688
Buckeye Walnut Creek Farm, www.BuckeyeWCF.com
18472 St. Rt. 104, Circleville, OH 43113, 740-474-3569
Small Horse Press, books and DVDs, www.SmallHorse.com