The term miniature horse itself describes a type of animal and there are various individual breeds of miniature horses of which, perhaps the most famous is the Falabella. Although they are mainly kept as pets they have been working animals and continue to be used as such today. While they are, in many ways, typical horses, their size has implications which prospective owners need to understand.
It's unclear why people began to breed specifically for miniature horses, but it is known that in Europe they were being bred as far back as the start of the 17th century and by the middle of the 18th century they were popular as pets for the wealthy. By the middle of the 19th century, however, they were adopted as working animals, specifically as pit ponies. The advance of mechanization saw the use of ponies in mines gradually diminish although it took a lot longer for it to end than many people realize, with ponies still being used in British coal mines in the 1980s. Notwithstanding this, by the 1960s miniature horses were once again becoming leisure animals. As well as making excellent riding horses for very small children, they were also popular as driving horses for adults. Specifically they excelled in the thrill-packed sport of scurry racing, where they demonstrated that their small statures were full of courage and intelligence. In more recent years, the use of animals for educational and therapeutic purposes has become of increasing interest and miniature horses are ideal for use in environments such as city farms and petting zoos. Their small size makes them much more economical to keep than their larger brethren and they are more approachable for people who might otherwise be nervous around large animals. Miniature horses are now being used as assistance animals, particularly for people with visual impairment. This use is, however, controversial. Those in favour argue that horses provide more value for money than dogs because the initial investment of time and money to train the animals is similar but horses live much longer than dogs. They also point out that horses are more hygienic than dogs. For example they are less likely to trigger allergies and it is less unpleasant to clean up after them than it is to clean up after a dog. For this reason in some cultures horses are regarded as clean animals and dogs as unclean ones. Those against argue that miniature horses are still horses and need to be treated as such to be happy, for example they need space to graze and the company of their own kind rather than just a human or other animals. For this reason, they can be distressed by activities which would not bother dogs, such as staying in hotels.
There is general agreement that 9.5HH is the absolute maximum height for a miniature horse. Some registries impose a stricter standard of 8.5HH. It is also generally accepted that anything goes in terms of coat colour, eye colour and white markings. There is, however, significant disagreement on whether the term miniature horse means that it can only be applied to animals who look like small horses rather than small ponies. Miniature horse breeds such as the Falabella have their own specific breed standards. For the rest, some people argue that pony breeds such as the Shetland can be classed as miniature horses by virtue of their size. Others argue that these pony breeds are exactly that, pony breeds and therefore can not be miniature horses, even though they meet the requirements in terms of height. This argument shows no sign of being resolved any time soon.
Although miniature horses are all individuals, they are renowned for their intelligence and the ease with which they can be trained. They are often plucky little animals, but gentle with it.
A miniature horse which has survived to adulthood and is well cared for has a good chance of living a long and healthy life. Owners do, however, need to understand some key points regarding the health of miniature horses. Firstly small bodies contain small organs, which are relatively easy to overwork. In particular, miniature horses are prone to hyperlipemia, which is a potentially fatal disorder in which a sudden reduction in food intake causes the body to metabolize fat too quickly for the liver to cope. This disorder can be triggered either by stress causing loss of appetite or by a well-meaning owner putting an overweight horse on too strict a diet. Similarly miniature horses also have small hearts, which can become a serious problem if they become obese. Small bodies also mean small mouths but miniature horses have the same number of teeth as larger ones so dental problems are fairly common as are sinus problems. Miniature horses are also more prone to having difficulties during pregnancy. It should also be noted that there is a very fine line between miniature horses and dwarf ones. Dwarfism, although not a medical issue in itself, can lead to health issues.
Caring for a Miniature
Miniature horses are still horses and need to be treated as such. While they may be small enough to come into a house they need outdoor grazing and the company of other horses, of any size, rather than typical household animals such as cats and dogs. Indeed miniature horses may well find large dogs intimidating. Although they have a need to graze, it is incredibly easy for miniature horses to over eat and so their weight needs to be watched carefully. They also need to be kept amused as boredom can trigger stress, which in turn can bring on a variety of disorders. Hyperlipemia is probably the most serious, but colic can also be triggered by stress and can also be fatal. Laminites is usually caused by overeating but there have been suggestions of it being linked to stress. Because of all of the above even if miniature horses are being kept purely as pets or for therapy, it is still very beneficial for them to be given some form of regular exercise.
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