I met my first miniature horse in 1996. He was a sorrel gelding at the boarding stable where my two full size horses lived. I remember thinking, “He’s so cute, but what would I really do with a miniature horse?” Well, a couple of years later, I met and drove a little stallion. That was it! I knew then I’d love having a mini, but still thought there was no way I’d enjoy one as much as my riding horse. Almost ten years later, I still have a full size horse, but it’s my 17 miniature horses that have really captured my heart and most of my free time.
What makes a mini?
Minis stand under 38” tall. They are measured from where the last hair grows from the mane, rather than from the top of the withers as with other breeds. An “Over” or “B Division” miniature measures over 34” but is no taller than 38”. An “Under” or “A Division” miniature is no taller than 34”.
Minis exist in all body types and each has its own admirers. The major types are often referred to as Arabian, thoroughbred, quarter horse, and draft. They come in all colors and patterns, including loud appaloosas of all varieties, wonderful spotted pintos in tobiano, overo and tovero, and rich solid colors. There is also an unusual prevalence of the silver dapple gene in minis. This gene has an interesting effect and can be a bit mind-boggling to people new to the rainbow of mini colors. It may or may not cause dappling of the coat, will usually “mute” the color of a horse’s lower legs, and often results in flaxen manes and tails. The presence of this gene can turn what would have been a basic bay animal into one with a rich, bay-red coat, soft gray lower legs and a platinum blonde mane and tail!
Miniature horses on average are very smart animals. They are inquisitive and learn quickly. They can also be quite manipulative. Some become master gate openers while others learn exactly how to behave to get what they want. While they may be the same size as some breeds of dog, they are horses and should be treated and handled as such.
Miniatures are an extremely hardy breed, generally healthy and easy keepers. They require the same level of care and attention as any full size horse, although they do consume less feed and water. Minis require approximately 20% to 25% as much feed as a full size horse.
Miniatures are very rarely shod but should receive hoof trims every six to eight weeks. Their hooves have the tendency to grow very steep and upright if not trimmed correctly or frequently enough.
Just as with any other horse, dentistry is also required; this includes annual exams and work when needed. If the bite doesn’t line up well, dental work will probably need to be done more frequently.
What can you do with them?
Almost every time someone hears I have miniature horses, they ask, “What do you do with them?” You can do anything you would with a full size horse, except ride them.
Many people with miniature horses enjoy driving them. A fit, average-sized miniature horse can easily pull two adults on a flat surface for a period of time. One thing a lot of people appreciate about driving miniatures is that it’s a “horsey” activity that can include friends or family who don’t know how to ride. Tacking up is much faster with a mini, and the view is a lot better too!
Another popular activity among miniature enthusiasts is showing their horses. Miniatures are shown in a range of classes, including halter (conformation), color, jumper, hunter, liberty, obstacle, showmanship, costume and driving. All but the driving and liberty classes are done with the horse in hand.
The hunter class is based on the horse’s even pace between jumps as well as his form over jumps. The jumper class is a height competition; first place goes to the horse that can clear the highest jump cleanly (without knocking the rail). The obstacle class is essentially “trail in hand”, where your horse may go over a bridge, side pass some ground poles, walk through water, etc.
In addition to miniature breed shows, minis are also being seen more often in local, open shows competing in halter and showmanship against the ‘biggies”. They are even successfully competing in combined driving events with larger horses, completing the full-length marathon of up to 7.5 or 8 miles just as well as the full size horses. What’s more, most of them do it barefoot!
Another area where miniature horses excel is as therapy animals. They delight nursing home residents and hospital patients, and their small size makes such visits relatively easy to accomplish. These horses have a wonderful ability to relate to people who have special needs, and can be especially gentle and loving in these situations.
Little horses offer big bonuses
Because of their small size, miniatures can be less intimidating to some horse enthusiasts. They make a great option for older horse people who no longer feel confident handling full size horses but do not want to give up the horse life. Additionally, their small size minimizes the space needed to happily house them, when compared to a full size horse. This makes horse ownership a realistic possibility for people who have limited room or resources.
Miniature horses are becoming more and more popular. They bring much joy and laughter to the lives of their fortunate families. I’ve yet to meet anyone who “got into minis” and later wished they hadn’t. They are a wonderful breed with affectionate, intelligent personalities and can be an excellent choice for many horse enthusiasts. The next time you want to add a new equine companion to your life, consider this special little horse. You won’t regret it!
There are two main registries for miniature horses: the American Miniature Horse Registry (AMHR) and the American Miniature Horse Association (AMHA, www.amha.org). The AMHR recognizes both height divisions, while the AMHA recognizes only the Under or A Division. Many miniature horses that measure 34” or less are registered with both organizations.