Written By: Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Creating a New Breed
Can you imagine a full-grown horse no bigger than a large dog? A baby
horse small enough to pick up and carry? Today, there are thousands of
such animals in the world, and they're called miniature horses.
Horses and Ponies
Miniature horses are not the same as ponies. A pony is a horse that is
shorter than 58 inches at the top of the shoulders. Most ponies look
different from riding horses. They have wide, strong bodies. Their necks
are usually muscular, and their legs are short for their size. There are
many kinds of ponies, some taller than others. The Welsh pony can be 58
inches tall. The American Shetland, on the other hand, isn't taller than
The miniature horse is something different. First of all, it is shorter
than the smallest ponies. A mini must be no taller than 34 inches,
measured at the top of the shoulders, where the mane ends. A full-grown
mini weighs between 150 and 250 pounds. Although some minis resemble
ponies, the goal of miniature horse breeders is to create a tiny horse,
with everything about it the same as a full-sized horse, only smaller.
They should not have short legs, thick necks, or big bellies.
A Wealth of Color
Miniature horses come in every possible horse color. Many horse breeds
allow only certain colors, For example, an Arabian horse, Quarter Horse,
or a Thoroughbred cannot have patches of color like a pinto or spots
like an Appaloosa. But variety in color is encouraged in minis. They can
have Appaloosa spots, pinto patches, solid colors, or they can be
beautiful tan buckskins with dark legs, manes, and tails. Some colors
that are rare in other breeds are common in minis, such as dark bodies
with white or cream manes and tails. In miniature horse shows, there are
even special competitions for the most colorful horses.
Kind of Minis
When miniature horses first became popular in the late 1970s, some
looked like riding horses while others resembled draft horses. These two
types were both popular, but the most important thing was small size. A
horse that was small was valuable, even if its legs were too short or
its belly was too big. But things have changed since then. Now, a
well-proportioned body and a beautiful head are just as important as
size, and there are thousands of beautiful minis.
Today, miniature horse breeders are working mainly for two riding-horse
types. The first kind looks similar to a sturdy Quarter Horse, called a
stock-horse type because Quarter Horses are used to work with livestock
like cattle. These animals have muscular legs and broad chests.
The second type has finer bones and a slimmer body. Its head looks more
like that of an Arabian horse, with a delicate muzzle and large eyes.
The front of its face is "dished", meaning that it dips in below the
forehead. This is called the refined type.
Where Do Minis Come From?
The American Miniature Horse Association, which keeps track of most of
the minis in the world, began in 1978. But long before that, many people
in different countries were trying to create tiny horses. They used a
variety of sources for breeding. Small horses and ponies had been used
to work in coal mines in England and Holland. Some of these were brought
to the United States in the nineteenth century. They were used in coal
mines in the southern states as recently as 1950. The tunnels in mines
are small, and full-sized horses were too big to enter them.
Small horses had also been pets of European royalty. Breeders of the
American Miniature Horse have imported minis from Holland, West Germany,
Belgium, and England for breeding. In Brazil, the Falabella family bred
small horses by crossing Thoroughbreds with Shetland ponies. All these
varieties - small horses, European minis, ponies, and Falabella horses -
went into the breeding of the American Miniature Horse.
After the American Miniature Horse Association was started, breeding of
minis became more organized. The association began keeping records of
the progress of the breed. breeders joined the association and sent in
information about their horses. When a new foal was born, it had to be
"registered" with the association to be called an American Miniature
Horse. That meant filling out forms giving the important facts about the
foal - who its parents were, when it was born, what color it was. Only
horses that stayed small - no more than 34 inches by the time they were
five years old - were allowed to be called miniatures.
At first, any horse small enough could be registered as a miniature
horse. But as more and more minis looked better and better, things
changed. The association altered its rules so that now only horses with
registered parents can be registered themselves. There is only one
exception to this rule. A horse at least five years old that is no
taller than 34 inches can be registered if the owners are willing to pay
a special fee.
The American Miniature Horse has become a true breed, a special new kind
of horse. Minis are popular in many countries in addition to the United
States - Canada, England, Holland, Japan, Australia, and several South
American countries especially.
It may be small, but a miniature is still a real horse. Minis like to be
outdoors, in pastures where they can graze. They also can be put in barn
stalls, but the stalls are much smaller than those of regular horses.
Everything about minis is small except their personality and spirit.
Their hooves are dainty, and their soft noses can fit into your hand. A
small child can look a miniature horse right in the eyes.
Like full-sized mares, female minis usually have their babies called
foals, in the springtime, and just like other horses, minis give birth
eleven months after mating. A newborn miniature horse only weighs about
20 pounds and stands between 16 and 21 inches tall. It's easy to pick
one up and carry it like a human baby or a puppy. But the little foal is
all horse. Soon after birth, it is standing on its own four feet and
nuzzling its mother, looking for milk. In a few hours, it can dash
around the pasture and buck and jump in the crisp spring air.
The young horse stays with its mother for a few months and plays with
other foals in the pasture. Its owners hope that it doesn't grow too
quickly. A weanling mini - a foal that is old enough to be taken away
from its mother and is eating grass and grain instead of milk - can't be
called a miniature horse if it is taller than 30 inches at the
shoulders. When it is a year old, it can't be more than 32 inches tall.
Watching Foals Grow
The owners also watch closely to see how the foals grow. Since some of
the animals from which the miniature horse began had short legs and big
bodies, some minis today have legs that are too short for their bodies
or bodies that look too long for the shorter legs. Some also have
rounded bellies like Shetland ponies. Animals that look like this are
not as valuable as those with the same proportions as a full-sized
horse. But they make perfectly good pets for people that are not
interested in showing their horses.
One problem that miniature horse owners worry about is the possibility
of having dwarf foals. A dwarf is different from a miniature. Its teeth
often don't match up properly for good chewing. A dwarf may have a head
too big for its neck and a pot belly. A horse with some dwarf traits may
be perfectly healthy and make a fine pet, but others have problems with
bones and teeth that make life painful for them. Dwarfs cannot be
registered as miniature horses. As miniature horse breeding improves,
fewer dwarfs are born.
Being a Stallion
The most valuable horses in any breed are the males, called stallions. A
mare can have only one foal each year. But a stallion can mate with many
mares every year and father a number of foals. An especially fine
stallion can have a very important effect on a breed. For example, all
Morgan horses can be traced to just one stallion, while all
Thoroughbreds share just three stallions in their background.
A miniature horse stallion seems not to notice his own small size. He
will challenge other males by whinnying and prancing about with his neck
arched. Never mind if his rival is twice as tall. Miniature horse
breeders take special care of their valuable stallions, usually keeping
them in barn stalls away from the mares most of the time. That way, they
can choose which stallion will breed with which are and when.
A Gentle Breed
One important trait is very common in miniature horses, and that's
gentle friendliness to humans. These horses seem to enjoy human company,
even that of strangers. Maybe this is because they are so often handled,
due to their small size. It's difficult to resist picking up a fluffy
miniature horse foal, carrying it around, and petting it. And because of
their small size, minis are easier to handle than full-sized horses.
Humans enjoy competition, whether for themselves or the things they own.
A horse show is a fun event, where people can compare their talents and
those of their horses with others. Horse shows are also important for
another reason. A horse that collects blue ribbons is worth more than
one that doesn't. Winning in shows is an indication that a horse meets
with the standards of the breed, or that it is well trained.
Getting ready for the Show Ring
The air smells of hay and horses and tingles with excitement. Soon the
show will begin, and the families are getting their horses ready for the
ring. Before any miniature horse can be shown, it must be measured to
make sure it meets the height standards of the breed. Show officials use
a standard measuring device, and all horses are measured at the same
place with the same device. The horse must stand with its feet straight
under its body. If a horse is too tall, it won't be allowed to compete.
The long hair that grows above their feet and under their chins is
trimmed. Since minis have especially long, thick coats, the body hair is
usually also cut close. Just before entering the ring, the coat is oiled
to make it shine. The hooves are washed, cleaned, and buffed. Often the
hooves of dark horses are painted shiny black. The hooves of horses with
white legs are usually left natural and are coated with clear hoof paint
to make them shine.
Miniature Horse Shows Are Special
All horse shows feature certain events, such as selecting the
best-looking horses of both sexes and different ages. But since
miniature horses are easier for children to handle than big horses, the
shows have many classes especially for children.
These are called youth showmanship classes. Here, what matters is not
the beauty of the horse, it's how the child handles the animal.
Each exhibitor in the showmanship class must wear a hat and boots and be
neatly dressed. He or she is also responsible for how the horse looks.
It should be in good physical condition, have its mane and tail free of
tangles, and its hooves clean and properly trimmed.
The most important thing is how well the exhibitor shows off the horse.
He or she should lead the animal well and be able to move the horse as
the judge directs. The exhibitor also poses the horse and keeps alert to
what's happening in the ring. It takes talent and practice to learn how
to show off a horse well, and with minis, a child can start learning
Performance in the Ring
Minis get a chance to demonstrate their training in shows. Because
miniature horses can pull carts and buggies, driving classes are popular
at shows. The horses are shown at a walk and a trot.
In these classes, the most important things are the performance of the
animal and how well the vehicle, horse, and driver work together and how
good they look together.
Like other horses, minis can jump, and their jumping ability is tested
in shows. Full-sized horses are ridden in jumping classes. But since
minis are too small to ride, the handler must run alongside the horse
rather than ride it.
There are two kinds of events in which horses jump over fences---regular
jumping classes and hunter classes. In regular jumping classes, handlers
lead the horses through a course of at least four different jumps
between 18 and 24 inches high. What matters is how high the animal can
jump. If it knocks down a jump or refuses to go over, it loses points.
If horses are tied in points after the first round, the obstacles can be
raised in height and the animals that have tied go over the course
again. If they still tie after the obstacles are 34 inches tall, the
horse that completed the course most quickly wins.
In hunter classes, how the horse looks while jumping and while moving
between jumps matters most. Each horse goes over the course only once.
Another performance class that is getting more and more popular is one
in which the horse and handler must manage a series of obstacles. There
are gates to pass through, boards to walk over, hay bales to squeeze
between. The horse must be very calm and well trained and must trust its
handler, or it will become frightened and refuse to cooperate.
The Most Beautiful Horses
Classes where beauty and conformation (how well the horse meets the
standards of appearance for the breed) are judged are called halter
classes. The halter classes in miniature horse shows are divided up by
sex, age, and size of the animals. There are classes for weanlings,
yearlings, and two-year-olds, and the adult horses compete separately by
size. Within each sex of adult horses, those 28 inches and under are in
one class, while those from 28 to 30 inches are in another. Those from
30 to 32 inches have a different class, while the biggest minis---those
from 32 to 34 inches---compete separately.
Often, a miniature horse show will also feature a special class for the
horse that best meets the model look of the stock-type horse and a
separate class for the model refined horse. Classes for color---pintos
and Appaloosas in one and all other colors in another---can also be
Even though horses of different breeds have their own special look,
certain traits are important in any breed, including miniature horses.
Legs are the basis of any horse's movement, and they should be straight
and set under the body, not out to the sides. The feet should point
straight ahead, not toeing out or in. The horse's back should be
relatively short and level.
The neck on a beautiful horse is long and nicely arched, and its head is
attractive, with large, bright eyes. The bridge of the nose should be
either straight or dished, and the ears should prick up straight, not
out to the sides.
Best of the Best
After the different classes in a group, such as all those for young
(called "junior") mares or all those for adult stallions, are finished,
the winners of each class compete against one another for the title of
Group Grand Champion. For example, the winning older mares of each size
class compete for Grand Champion Senior Mare. The horse placing second
in each group is called the Reserve Champion.
The most exciting moment at a show is when all these winners (Grand
Champions Junior and Senior Stallion, Grand Champion Junior and Senior
Mare, and Grand Champion Junior and Senior Gelding) all gather together
in the ring for the judge to pick out what he or she considers the most
beautiful of all the winners in the show, male and female, young and
full grown. The animal is called the Supreme Halter Champion, the horse
that comes closest of all entered in the show to being the ideal
Minis at Home
People fall in love with miniature horses for many reasons. Some mini
owners once raised full-sized horses but now have retired and moved to
smaller property where they can't keep big horses. By having minis, they
can still share their love with horses, even though they don't have a
lot of room.
Other people keep minis because they want their children to be able to
learn to ride safely while very young. Adults are too heavy to ride
miniatures, but young children up to 60 pounds can. Minis are also good
for people with health problems that can make it impossible or dangerous
for them to ride. By driving a cart hitched to one or two miniature
horses, these people can have fun and travel safely around the
neighborhood. A trained miniature driving horse can pull two adults for
ten miles with no difficulty.
Minis are also very good as visitors for retirement homes and disabled
people. Their friendly nature and their great appeal provide a fun and
Buying a Miniature Horse
Unfortunately, miniature horses are very expensive. The best show horses
sell for thousands of dollars, with stallions being the most expensive.
But a miniature horse breeder often has horses that are not perfect
enough to be champions or to use as breeding stock. These animals may be
bought for a few hundred dollars.
The least expensive and best miniature horse for family fun is a
gelding. Geldings are male horses that are not perfect enough to be used
for breeding. The organs that make their male hormones, the testes, are
removed. Because their bodies don't produce the male hormones, geldings
are calmer than stallions. And because they can't breed and are not as
perfect, they are not as valuable. Geldings also make especially good
horses for driving because they are stronger than mares.
Some miniature horses become as much a part of the family as a dog or a
cat. Now and then, people may even let their pint-sized horses into the
But even those who can't own a miniature horse can still enjoy them.
These charming animals have become so popular that now they are being
raised all over the country. So if you want to see miniature horses for
yourself, go to a show at the county fair or find a breeder that lives
near your home. Some breeders offer shows and wagon rides for visitors
during the summer. So take a family trip to visit this new and wonderful
kind of horse