As the Keyboard Clicks...
The Collected Writings of Lori Roets Valone
Miniature Horses

Originally published in Salt Block Gazette, April 2007

Think Small...Think Fun:  The Miniature Horse
by Lori Roets

Nothing draws attention like a pint-sized horse.  Whether at a horse show, equine expo, or visiting a school or retirement community, where there is a mini there is sure to be a crowd.  The smaller packaging makes them much more easily approachable that their larger brethren.  But make no mistake – these little guys are absolutely 100% horse!

History

Miniature Horses first appeared in the United States about 1888.  Historians believe they were the product of several hundred years of selective breeding, blending a variety of larger breeds.  It is commonly thought they were imported to the US to work in the Eastern coal mines; however, it does not appear the general public was really aware of the Miniature Horse prior to the 1960s.  Smith McCoy of West Virginia started to raise tiny horses commercially in 1956.  In 1967, he held the world’s first Miniature Horse sale – then referred to as “Midget Ponies” -  in Tazewell, Virginia.  People came from across the US to buy McCoy’s small horses to start their own herds. 

The first registry was not established until 1972 – but used records going back as far as 1940 where they were available.  There are 3 primary miniature horse registries.  This initial registration organization - The American Miniature Horse Registry (AMHR) - has two divisions in which horses can be registered.  The "A" division is for those horses 34" and under.  The "B" division covers horses Over 34" to 38".  The American Miniature Horse Association (AMHA) was founded in 1978 and registers only those horses 34" and under – the equivalent of the AMHR “A” Division.  The third registry - a recent addition founded in 1995 - is the World Class Miniature Horse Registry (WCMHR).  WCMHR uses the same division structure as the AMHR with an A and B division.  Each registry maintains separate records and conducts its own sanctioned shows, leading to a national or world show.

Characteristics

Miniature horses have the conformation and mannerisms of a full size horse, rather than that of a pony, simply put together in a smaller package.  Miniature horses are measured in inches rather than hands, and are measured to the last hair of the mane. There are two classes of miniatures horses.  A mature “A" sized Miniature Horse must not exceed 34".  A mature "B" sized Miniature Horse is between 34" and 38".   They typically weigh between 150 and 250 pounds at maturity.   Miniature horses live as long as full size horses or longer.  Most well-cared for miniatures live to be 28-30 years or older.  In rare cases, miniatures have been as old as 40 years of age.

Miniature Horses come in all colors and all patterns full sized horses come in -- appaloosa, paint or solid; black, sorrel, buckskin, palomino, dun, silver dapple, and all of the other possible colors. 

Although Miniature Horses require regular hoof trims every 6-8 weeks just like a full sized horse, Miniature Horses do not normally wear shoes.  Most farriers can do miniature horses as well as full sized horses.  Due to their small size some owners learn to trim their own hooves, but most owners still choose to have a farrier do their trims.

There have been rare instances when regular horseshoes have been put on a miniature horse.  Bella Vista’s Bulls Eye used to have shoes when he lived in Pennsylvania and was driven extensively on rough surfaces.  His young owner was good friends with an Amish blacksmith who had to custom fit his tiny shoes.  Most owners don't have access to such a wonderful resource, however, and fortunately, most Miniatures have wonderful hooves to begin with.

Other exceptions are cases where a miniature is being used for therapy or visitation in nursing homes or schools or is being used as a seeing-eye horse.  In these cases, the miniature is usually fitted with boa boots or sneakers to prevent them from slipping on linoleum or tile floors. 


Perhaps the best feature of the Miniature Horse is their outstanding personality.   As a result, they are a good choice for children, retirees, and individuals with special need where full size horses may not be appropriate.  Many people mistakenly consider them to be ponies, rather than horses.  However, these small equine have a temperament much more like that of a full-size horse than a pony – they do not typically have the classic "pony attitude".  As a general rule, miniatures are very easy going, friendly, and highly intelligent.  Trainers are pleased to discover in most cases they can train miniatures in much less time than it typically takes a full size horse to learn the same task.

Miniature horses do not require as much pasture space as a full size horse.  One acre of good pasture will support 3 miniature horses.  Therefore, one miniature horse could be easily cared for on a 1/2 acre.  HOWEVER, it is very important for you to check your local zoning restrictions to determine if there is a minimum acreage per horse restriction in your area. 

Fun…Fun…Fun!

The first question most people new to miniatures ask is:  "Yes, but what can you DO with them?"    There is plenty to do with a miniature horse, for both adults and children. 

They are an excellent first horse for children as kids typically do not feel as threatened by a miniature horse’s smaller size.  Children can learn all the proper safety, handling and grooming techniques on a horse they can easily reach and manage.  All these skills are immediately transferable when the child is ready to begin working with a larger horse.

Miniatures are shown in a variety of events.  Halter is, as expected, the most popular show event.  However, they are a number of performance classes at which miniature horses excel, including driving, hunter, jumper, and halter obstacle.  Miniatures can compete in shows sanctioned by the AMHA, AMHR, and WCMHR based on their registration status, and can compete in any open show, subject to local show restrictions. 

Most folks are very surprised to learn that miniature horses can jump and actually seem to really enjoy jumping.   There are two jump related events at shows -- hunter and jumper. Hunter is based on form and pace over the course with maximum height of jumps of 24".  Jumper, on the other hand, places less emphasis on pace while continuing to increase the height of the jump -- 32" in AMHR, 44" in AMHA - taller than many miniatures! 

Miniature horses can also be saddle trained for English or Western riding.  Some have even been used for barrel racing.  Most miniatures can handle up to 70 pounds but it depends on the build of the miniature and the child.

Driving is the pastime many adults particularly enjoy with their miniature horse.  Miniatures can pull 1 or 2 adults in a cart.  Miniatures can be hitched in teams to pull larger loads. Many older adults discover driving as a means to continue enjoying having an equine partner without having the risk associated with riding.


Availability

There are numerous Miniature Horse farms located throughout the Carolinas, from the mountains to the sea.  An active group of miniature horse enthusiasts, the East Coast Miniature Horse Club (www.ECMHC.com), unites many of these owners, providing a valuable mechanism for exchanging mini information. 

Shows sanctioned by the AMHA, AMHR and WCMHR are held at various locations throughout the state. More information on breeders and shows can be found at any of the registry websites:  www.AMHA.org, www.WCMHR.com, or www.shetlandminiature.com.