Horses are beautiful, intelligent animals who have fascinated people for hundreds of years with their strength and fortitude. These lovely creatures come in many colors and breeds and even a miniature size! One of the exotic breeds of horses, miniature horses are a joy to own, and are even kept as pets by many people.
HISTORY AND APPEARANCE
Although miniature horses can be found in many countries, they are more prevalent in Europe and the Americas. To be classified as a miniature, a horse must be shorter in height than 34 – 38 inches, measured from the last hair of the mane near the withers to the ground. Miniature horses are the result of breeding select breeds gradually down in size while still making sure to keep intact all the characteristics and perfect conformation to their full-sized cousin. The Shetland Pony and Dartmoor Pony are two of the main sources used to breed miniature horses.
Miniature horses were originally bred as pets for European nobility in the 17th century. You can even find miniature horses in paintings dating back as far as 1765. England’s Lady Estella Hope continued the miniature breeding program begun from English bloodlines well into the mid-nineteenth century. Although many of the earlier miniatures were bred as pets for royalty, some were actually used as work horses in Wales, and in Northern European coal mines as pit ponies. Breeding of the miniature horse in the United States was refined in the 20th century, adding bloodlines from the Hackney Pony and the Pony of the Americas. South Africa developed the South African Miniature Horse in 1945, by Wynand de Wet of Lindley, who was actually able to produce a mare only 26 inches high. The Falabella miniature was developed in 1868 by Patrick Newell who included bloodlines from Welsh Pony and small thoroughbreds.
There are two main registries for miniature horses found in the United States; the American Miniature Horse Registry (AMHR) established in 1972, and the American Miniature Horse Association (AMHA) which was established in 1978. There are also dozens of miniature horse registries worldwide. Some registries place emphasis on maintaining full-sized breed characteristics, while others require greater focus on pony characteristics. The American Miniature Horse Association states that a photo of a miniature horse with no visual reference to scale should be identical with regard to characteristics, proportion and conformation to that of a full-sized horse. The American Miniature Horse Registry indicates that a miniature be small, well-balanced and give the same impression of strength and agility as that of a normal-sized horse.
Like full-sized horses, these animals compete in horse shows locally, regionally, nationally and internationally with many of the same classes, such as halter, jumping, driving and costume, as well as obstacle and showmanship.
CARE AND HOUSING
Requiring nearly identical care as that of a full-sized horse, miniature horses are easier simply because they literally require less space to house. Although many people do keep miniature horses as pets or companion animals, which means they spend a great deal of time indoors; they are happier and healthier if given an ample amount of time outdoors and sufficient space to run and exercise outside. Many people automatically think that because of their small size, that miniature horses can be kept in backyard settings and in residential areas; however, a small yard will limit their ability to run and roll around, which could result in some behavioral problems. Even miniature horses need to interact with other horses and have ample space to move around and “be a horse”. If you cannot provide an adequate-sized yard, you should board the horse at a quality facility which will allow your horse a proper environment to stay strong and healthy.
Feeding miniature horses is similar to full-sized horses, with a daily diet consisting of a good mixture of alfalfa hay and grass hay; adding grains (about 10% of daily feeding) if they are a working horse. You can check with your equine veterinarian for any recommendations regarding additional supplements or vitamins. It is important to maintain an adequate but no over abundant amount of food, as miniature horses are prone to overeating. If you are allowing your miniature horse access to a pasture that is well developed and lush, make sure you limit the amount of time allowed in the pasture in order to prevent founder (a painful and sometimes crippling condition of the feet). Fresh, clean water should be available every day in ample amounts with easy access, in order to keep your horse well hydrated and healthy.
Although miniature horses do not require shoes, their hooves will still require trimming approximately every 6 – 8 weeks. Your equine veterinarian will recommend worming your horse to prevent parasite infection of your horse’s intestinal system. There are daily wormers which can be added to daily feedings or those which can be given in single doses monthly, or whatever regimen your equine veterinarian recommends. Your miniature horse will require annual vaccinations against flue, rhino and tetanus, as well as dental checkups and cleanings. Stallions and geldings will need their sheath (area covering the penis) cleaned every few months.
As with any full-sized horse, the stall and living area need to be checked daily and all feces and any harmful debris removed; with a thorough cleaning every couple weeks, including fresh bedding and washing down surfaces to remove any parasites and minimize flies. Housing for a miniature horse needs to be open and airy and allow a good amount of airflow, as miniature horses are lower to the ground and need the added ventilation. Make sure your horse can look out over the stall door in order to get the full benefit of the barn’s airflow.
Regular brushing and combing will keep the coat soft and shiny and clear of debris. Don’t forget to comb the mane to help keep it free of mats and tangles. You can apply a light coating of fly spray to help in areas where fly season is exceptionally difficult. Bathing is only needed occasionally, especially if the miniature is not a work horse. Excessive or unnecessary bathing will deplete your horse’s coat of important oil, so make sure you do not bathe more than needed.
Do you or anyone you know have a miniature horse for a pet? Tell us about it in the comments!