The popularity of miniature horses, commonly called "minis," reaches far beyond equestrians. Their adorable appearance and sweet disposition have earned them fans around the world. Miniature horses are known for their small stature and social nature. They’re primarily kept as companion animals, though they still have many tendencies and care needs of full-size horses.
Weight: 150 to 350 pounds
Height: Typically under 8.5 hands (34 inches) to 9.5 hands (38 inches)
Body Type: Small, muscular build; many have similar proportions to larger horses
Best For: Anyone who wants a companion animal, not a horse for riding
Life Expectancy: 35 years
Miniature Horse History and Origins
Miniature horses have been developed for centuries by selectively breeding small horses and ponies from a broad swath of horse and pony breeds, including the Shetland pony. They originated in Europe in the 1600s and became popular among nobility for their novel appearance. They also were used for work in mines due to their small size. These small horses started to arrive in the United States in the late 1800s, where they also went to work in mines. But it took several decades before the miniature horse gained considerable popularity in the U.S.
Two main registries exist for the miniature horse: the American Miniature Horse Association and the American Miniature Horse Registry. In addition, enthusiasts worldwide have formed clubs, registries, and associations to celebrate their shared love of the breed.
Miniature Horse Size
Mini enthusiasts tend to use inches or centimeters rather than hands to measure. The American Miniature Horse Association only counts miniature horses measuring 8.5 hands (34 inches) or less among its numbers. In contrast, the American Miniature Horse Registry recognizes two divisions of miniature horses: "A" division minis are 8.5 hands (34 inches) or less, and "B" minis range from 8.5 to 9.5 hands (34 to 38 inches). On average, miniature horses weigh between 150 and 350 pounds.
Miniature Horse Breeding and Uses
Miniature horses were initially bred for their novel size, but they have since found many uses. Early miniature horses worked in mines, where their small size was an asset in the tight spaces. They also were valued as companion animals, especially by the wealthy.
Nowadays, miniature horses are primarily kept as pets, though many have some sort of job. Although most miniature horses are too small for riding, some owners drive their minis hitched to carts or sleighs. Many owners also compete with their horses, including in conformation contests where a horse's physical traits are evaluated. Driving, lead-line, obstacle-running, and jumping are among the many performance-oriented competitions in which minis participate. Many of these are similar to dog sports.
Moreover, miniature horses are frequently used as therapy animals. As guide animals, they assist people with vision and hearing impairments. They also can make excellent emotional support animals because of their gentle and affectionate nature.
Colors and Markings
Miniature horses come in every equine color and coat pattern. You’ll find solid coats, pintos, and spotted coats like that of the Appaloosa. Their coats tend to be a bit thicker than those of full-size horses, and they usually have copious manes and tails.
Unique Characteristics of the Miniature Horse
The miniature horse's small size is its trademark. Unlike ponies, which are often stocky with short legs, miniature horses tend to look like a full-size horse—just shrunken down in size. They’re similar in size to large dog breeds. This makes the mini ideal for people who live on small acreages where there would be no room for a herd of large horses.
Furthermore, miniature horses tend to be intelligent, curious, gentle, and social. They love spending time with people. But it's still ideal to let them live outdoors (with adequate shelter) like other horses for their health and well-being.
Diet and Nutrition
Like most horses, miniature horses require a balanced diet of grass, hay, rolled oats, and other grains with treats in moderation. Because of their small size, miniature horses are easier to overfeed than to underfeed. It's important to feed the recommended amount for your horse's weight and activity level.
Common Health and Behavior Problems
Miniature horses are generally good-natured and easy to train, but they are prone to several health issues. For one, dwarfism mutations, which can cause several health complications, tend to crop up in miniature horses. And many horse registries are now trying to avoid miniature horses with dwarfism genes for breeding.
Furthermore, many miniature horses are prone to obesity. This is potentially because some owners treat them like house pets and don’t provide them with the exercise they need. Or they might overestimate the amount of food minis need, especially if they’re used to feeding larger horses.
Miniature horses also tend to have difficult births and dental issues, especially tooth overcrowding, due to their small size. And they’re susceptible to hyperlipidemia and colic.
Miniature horses require the same type of grooming as larger horses. There’s just a lot less surface area to cover, which makes the job much easier. Use a comb, brush, and hoof pick on your horse daily to remove any dirt and debris. And try to find a farrier that specializes in miniature horses to maintain your horse’s hooves.
Relatively easy to care for
Not a horse for riding
Needs a large yard for exercise
Prone to obesity
Champion and Celebrity Miniature Horses
As miniature horses have become more mainstream, they've been popping up in commercials, on TV shows, and on social media. For instance, a miniature horse named Gideon played the lovable Li’l Sebastian on the TV show "Parks and Recreation." Furthermore, actress Kaley Cuoco has turned her miniature horse Shmooshy into an internet celebrity.
Is the Miniature Horse Right for You?
Minis are typically easy to keep and train. They allow people who don't have the ability to keep full-size horses the opportunity to enjoy an equine friend. And they're often easy to manage for people with limited horse experience. Plus, their upkeep costs are generally cheaper than full-size horses, as they require less food and lower medication doses.
Miniature horses also tend to be great for kids, as their size and gentle nature make them easier to work with than larger horses. Still, despite their size, they are very strong and require training just like any other horse.
How to Adopt or Buy a Miniature Horse
Miniature horses cost around $1,000 on average, though you can often find horses to adopt for less. But miniature horses of desirable breeding can cost much more.
Because of their popularity, miniature horse rescues and breeders are relatively easy to find. Ideally, you should spend time with a horse before bringing it home. Ask the organization about the horse's history, health, and temperament. If it can’t answer your questions adequately, that could be a red flag that you’re not dealing with a reputable rescue or breeder.
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