The modern Miniature Horse is rather reflective of the American melting pot, coming from many countries and many walks of life. While miniature animals were popular among European nobility for centuries, much of the original stock probably was of a working origin.
In 1842, the Mines and Collieries Act was passed, forbidding the employment of boys under 10 years of age and girls of all ages from working underground in coal mines. While this was a boon to children, it created a labor shortage in the coal industry. This gap was quickly filled by ponies, particularly the Shetland Pony.
The practice of using small ponies to haul heavy loads in mines was eventually adopted by the United States. The first recorded importation of an unusually small horse was in 1888, although it is probable that some had been brought to our shores before that date. While Shetland Ponies were important in American coal mines, other small horses and ponies were used, as well.
The prototype of the Miniature Horse was strictly a mine worker until the 1950s and 1960s, when horses became obsolete in mining. About this time, however, the concept of a tiny horse became attractive to horse breeders. Not a pony, a miniature horse. The Miniature Horse would have the proportions of a light horse breed, just scaled down.
Most of the bloodlines of the modern Miniature Horse were based on Shetland Pony and Welsh Pony ancestry. Arabian influence was used to produce a more refined version of the new breed, while the Quarter Horse was used to develop a stockier type. Some Miniature Horse bloodlines were also improved by crossbreeding with the diminutive Falabella of South America.
At first, compromises were made. Inbreeding was commonly used to reduce the size of the horses. Dwarfism, a genetic defect, was tolerated, along with the structural problems it created. The effects of these choices are still felt within the breed today, although both practices are now frowned upon by most breeders.
The Miniature Horse was considered a distinct breed by the early 1970s, and it was shortly afterward that it became resoundingly popular. Today there are around 100,000 Miniature Horses on the continent, with representatives in every state.
Considering its size, the Miniature Horse is surprisingly versatile. It is too small for any but the youngest, lightest riders, but children and adults of all sizes can enjoy driving it.
More recently, the Miniature Horse has gained acceptance as a guide animal for the blind. While the special needs of horses will probably keep them from ever replacing dogs in this role, a horse can be an alternative for those who fear or are allergic to dogs.
Primarily, however, the Miniature Horse thrives as a companion. It can entertain children with tricks and bring a smile to patients in hospitals. And in its spare time, it will happily mow the lawn.
Miniature Horses have big personalities. Smart, curious, and playful, they both demand and repay attention and affection from friends and strangers alike. Their eagerness to please a kind human makes them easy to handle, but their respect must be earned, not taken for granted.
Unlike the calmer, gentler mares and geldings, the stallions of this breed are decidedly fiery. They are always ready to take on another horse, regardless of its size.
The small size of the Miniature Horse prevents some of the problems of larger breeds. Its tough little hooves do not typically require shoeing, although routine trimming is still necessary. Also, it is far less likely to develop arthritis with age than a larger horse as long as it is kept at a healthy weight.
However, miniature animals do have special needs. Miniature Horses are highly susceptible to drug toxicity, so dosages must be measured carefully. Also, they cannot be kept safely with larger horses. They do not realize their small size, and even good-natured playing with another breed can result in serious injury.
The thick coat of the Miniature Horse frequently needs clipping in warm weather to avoid skin problems such as rain rot.
Miniature Horses usually eat with gusto and frequently have abnormal dentition. As a result, they typically eat dirt and other foreign matter, and they typically don’t chew their food well. Colic is a common result, as is the formation of enteroliths, stones in the colon caused by mineral buildup around foreign debris. Another possibility is the development of hardened fecal balls containing hair, string, long stems, and similar objects. This foreign matter in the intestines can create serious complications over time.
These little horses are very easy keepers. Most owners severely underestimate the weight of their Miniature Horses and accidentally overfeed them. Furthermore, Miniature Horses can actually grow too fat on particularly lush pastures—without supplemental feed. It is important to closely monitor the weight of these horses, because obesity can create hyperlipidemia. This is a metabolic disturbance that usually develops in response to stress and results in the breakdown of body fats, placing an excessive load on the liver.
Dwarfism is still present in this breed, although far less common than it once was. Some dwarfs live long, happy lives, but others must be euthanized at a young age due to abnormal bones and teeth. Other defects that are present at birth in too many Miniature Horses are dental problems, deformed limbs, shoulder dysplasia, abnormal kneecaps, weak tendons, and heart defects.
- Ease of handling.
- Suitability for small properties.
- Adaptability to cold weather.
- Economical feed requirements.
- High prices, although pet-quality geldings can be quite affordable.
- Reduced heat tolerance.
- Susceptibility to external parasites due to thick coat.
- Special health needs.
- Reduced fertility.
- Foaling problems.
- Unsuitability for all but the smallest riders.