The Miniature Horse is a breed developed to resemble a show horse in everything but size. They are growing in popularity in the UK for those with limited space or who like to focus on showing rather than riding. Many a heart melts seeing their first Miniature Horse.
The prestige of owning a miniature horse has been an obsession of Royalty for centuries. Remains of tiny horses have been found in Pharaohs tombs. In the 14th Century breeders competed to create the smallest horse possible, as trophies for rich patrons. Throughout the 17th Century European Royalty raised small horses to pull carriages and were displayed in King Louis XIV’s zoo. Not only did they continue as a novelty for the rich and famous, they were also developed in the UK to work in the mines moving coal above and below ground. This made them hardy with incredibly strong hooves, as well as strong enough to pull 1.5 times their own body weight. Working in such dangerous and small areas also developed a bond and trust with their handlers that the breed still have today.
The breed was further defined when exported to the United States. These horses were originally from English and Dutch miniature bloodstock brought over to work in the mines. Shetlands were also brought in to keep them small enough to work in tight mineshafts.
With the closure of mines in the UK and America, a number of breeders decided to create miniature horse registries to continue the breed and develop a show standard. The American Miniature Horse Association is now the leading society, with European registries acting as a subsidiary and adhering to the same breed standards.
The most important specification is that they must not be over 34 inches at the wither. This is 8.2 hands. The miniature should look like a Hack or Hunter in conformation and movement, just scaled down. They must have balance, strength and athletic movement. The legs must appear longer than the depth of the body.
No animals with dwarfism are allowed in the register, to keep the breed free of genetic mutations. Parents must already be registered with an appropriate society, such as the British Miniature Horse Society or American Miniature Horse Association – all must be adults to ensure they do not grow over the breed height. Youngsters can however be shown.
Miniature Horses come in every colour you can imagine, tracing back to their breeding for novelty as well as cross-breeding with a wide range of horse types. As well as traditional colours you will find Appaloosas, Pintos, Silver Dapples, Palominos, Perlino and even Champagne. This makes shows a colourful event! The horses can be shown with a loose mane or plaited, although many will have a long bridle path cut down the top of their necks to accentuate the neckline. Feathers should be removed, and coats can be clipped in winter. The American method of showing is to make them stand as an arab, with back legs extended and head raised. Considering their height, this makes it easier on their handler’s backs.
When looking for your first miniature horse, you will find a number of breeds that also claim to be small horses. Small breeds such as the Shetland or Dartmoor are ponies, so will not be registered with the main societies unless they are bred to horses already in the studbook. Those breeds of small horses that are separate to the American or British Miniature Horse are:
Falabella – created in Argentina, this breed was based on local Criollo horses crossed with Welsh, small Thoroughbreds and Shetland ponies to create a small horse. They resemble Arabs and Thoroughbreds in their appearance, but only grow to 34 inches tall. With a lot of inbreeding in their roots, they consistently pass on their size and conformation. They can mainly be found in Argentina and the US.
South African Miniature Horse – created from the breeding of Shetlands to small Arabians, this breed is very hardy surviving the rugged landscape of South Africa. Despite being developed separately, they are now improving bloodlines by importing American Miniature Horses.
This is a continuous point of discussion between experts and breeders. Technically any equine under 14 hands is classed as a pony. The aim of many registries is to create a small horse however, so conformation has more in common with horses. As the breed has been created by crossing ponies for height with horses for appearance, it is a mash of both gene types. Most people will refer back to the breed registries who class them as horses with a specific breed standard similar to horse breeds.
They can, but only by children under 70lbs. Being bred to be a small horse, they have the ability to be trained and ridden as any other horse, and make perfect first ponies.
Most owners however are slightly too tall to ride their miniatures, but that doesn’t stop them working. Many are broken to harness and are incredibly easy to drive. Their easy going temperament and intelligence also makes them great horses for nervous horse people who do not want to ride, as well as disabled owners. Teams of Miniature Horses can pull great weights, highlighting their roots as mining horses.
Just because they cannot be ridden by adults doesn’t stop them competing. Miniature Horse shows offer a number of agility classes to show their horse’s paces and sporting ability. Mini’s compete in show jumping being able to clear great heights compared to their size. Equine agility is also popular, showing off their temperament and athletic ability over poles and through obstacles. Consider it like dog agility for horses.
Mini’s are also being used as assistance animals in some countries. This is controversial, and can be difficult when trying to hire a taxi or book a hotel room. They excel as therapy animals as they love attention, and are easy to take to hospices or houses. They will need to be house trained, just in case.