As the name suggests, the Miniature horse is a small horse which typically stands anywhere from 7 to 8 hands high or 28 to 32 inches. Despite its size, this horse has many of the same qualities of any larger horse breed. The Guinness Book of World Records lists “Black Beauty” as the smallest Miniature Horse on record as 18.5″ in height.
Miniature Horse Breed History
The miniature horse finds its roots in the selective breeding which occurred in Europe over 400 years ago. The horses were bred specifically for nobility as a display of prestige. Historical records note that they were part of France’s King Louis XIV court of exotic animals in the 1650’s.
The horses were also found in theatrical presentations such as the stage and in the circus. Their size made them quite the object of public curiosity.
Small horses were also needed in pre-industrial Europe for use in the booming coal industry. The miniature horses were useful for pulling carts in and out of the mine tunnels. These horses were both small and strong. Known back then as “Pit ponies,” they became a popular commodity bred for work.
Today’s miniature horses are speculated to have a direct lineage to the small horses bred for the Dutch and English coal mines. Miniature horses are also thought to be descendants of the Shetland ponies which were primarily bred as companion horses. This focused breeding for small horses over time has enabled selection of increasingly small horses with amicable and intelligent personalities.
It is believed that these horses first arrived in the United States in 1888. At this time, they were used mostly as work horses in the Appalachian Mountain coal mines. Miniature horses were not widely known in the United States at this time so they went largely unnoticed until the 1960’s. Horse lovers began to choose them as domestic companions, even inviting them to live in homes with their families.
Miniature horses have been standardized in the United States with the enactment of the 1978 American Miniature Horse Association. The AMHA has attempted to define the desired miniature horse characteristics as well as refine the breed.
Today, the miniature horse is primarily used for companionship or as a show horse. Miniature horses can compete in a variety of events including driving, jumping and halter. The horses also are used in employment as guide horses for the handicapped. Guide horses assist people with disabilities for everyday tasks like leading the blind. They are a good selection for this work as they have very amicable personalities and are intelligent. These horses also prefer human companionship so the match is mutual.
Miniature horses weigh anywhere from 55 to 100 pounds and are typically 7 to 8 hands high. They are available in a variety colors such as bay, black, buckskin, champagne, chestnut, cremello, dun, grey, palomino, perlino, pinto, roan, and white. In competition there is no color requirement.
The head of the miniature horse is balanced and in proportion to the neck which is long and lean. The eyes are large and round and are more inset than on larger horse breeds. The ears are medium in size, alert, but naturally concaved.
The body is stout and muscular with dense bone and legs. Their legs are in a straight line with the body. The back is relatively short and the body is balanced with a deep and curved trim center. The croup is equal to the withers.
The miniature horse comes in two varieties known as “draft” (more stout appearance) and “fine boned” (lighter and more delicate in appearance). The AMHA has moved toward refining this distinction and combining the two with the aforementioned characteristics.
This horse is highly trainable and noted for its fondness for human companionship. It has been compared to the domestication and use of the dog by human beings. The care and training of the miniature horse is also similar to that of a dog. The horses can be trained to live in a house as well as respond to commands.
It shouldn’t be forgotten, however, that these are horses and retain natural horse behaviors and needs which can poses significant dangers to both the horse and owner. This breed requires minimal veterinary care generally. However, even guide horses need to live outdoors when not working. These horses need fresh air and open space. It is always suggested that they live a good portion of their life outdoors as they can be very susceptible to respiratory problems due to prolonged exposure to indoor air quality. Given proper care, their life expectancy is 25 to 35 years of age.