Horses, like dogs, come in all sizes. The largest breed of horse is the shire, a draft horse that averages a height of 17 to 18 hands (5 feet, 8 inches to 6 feet, 2 inches) and often weighs more than a ton. At the other end of the spectrum is the miniature horse. A registered “mini” is not more than 34 inches high and weighs only a couple hundred pounds. The minis are truly tiny horses and not ponies. If you want to see someone cringe like her toenails are being pulled out, just call her mini horse a pony.
Ponies generally are waist-high animals and minis are knee-high. A mini horse could walk underneath a shire and not even tickle its belly.
While it’s easy to determine the purpose for a horse the size of a small dump truck that can haul many times its own weight, the mini horse’s purpose isn’t as apparent. A mini horse is too small for anyone other than a wee child to ride and isn’t suited for farm work. Despite their small size, they are horses and need just as much care as their larger cousins which means they do not make good pets. So what does one do with a mini horse?
Miniature horses are ideal for adults who want to stay involved with horses but do not have the space to keep a larger horse. People who don’t have the physical strength or the desire to deal with a larger and stronger horse opt for minis also. Minis can easily pull a cart with an adult on board but without the hassle of trying to lift 50 pounds of harness overhead to hitch up the horse.
Other than being driving horses (this is what we call horses that pull a cart — it doesn’t mean horses behind the wheel) there are many other activities for which minis are suited. At horse shows, there are halter and showmanship classes which are judged on the quality and presentation of the horse and the handler’s control and grooming of the horse respectively.
For these “in-hand” classes, the horse is shown to present the horse’s conformation, manners, tractability and movement depending on the requirements of the class entered.
Additionally, there are classes to showcase the horses’ athleticism. In jumping classes, minis are led over a course of jumps. Thankfully, the handlers do not have to jump, only the horses; although that could be something highly entertaining for spectators and possibly a consideration to draw audiences (just a suggestion). There are trail classes which are like obstacle courses, and costume classes for added fun.
Children and adults can easily work with minis, which is a reason for their popularity. Kathy Rogers, a professional in the equine industry, uses her minis as therapy animals as well as show horses, and visits nursing homes with them. The minis can fit into small rooms, maneuver around wheelchairs and tables handily and are very popular with the residents.
Miniature horses have begun being trained as aids to people with physical impairments. With a lifespan of 25 to 35 years, a horse can maintain a working relationship with a person much longer than a service dog. The cost of care is increased with keeping a horse as opposed to a dog, however. Vet care, farrier care and dentistry costs just as much for a mini as it does for an average size horse. Mini owners do a get a break on the feed bill though. Minis have a tendency to be overweight so their diets have to managed carefully.
Linda Cameron Davis has just ended a four-year term as president of the Tiny Hooves Miniature Horse Club, one of just a few clubs in Maine. She started getting involved with minis when severe arthritis in her spine made it difficult to work with larger horses. Linda wanted to stay active in the horse world and found minis to be the perfect way to do that.
Sandi Oliver hosts miniature horse shows at her farm in Hermon, Someday Farm. She got involved with minis on a whim and has dived right into their little world. While she still rides and teaches lessons with saddle horses, her minis are comic relief in a life filled with hard work and demanding hours.
A miniature horse is not an animal that can just be kept in the yard as an ornament. Anyone considering owning one needs to do research and consult professionals to be sure the horse gets the right care throughout its life. They may be dog-sized, but they are horses and need to be trained and treated as such. In return, you get all the companionship, joy and beauty that you would get with a full size horse, but in a teeny, tiny package.