SPCA New Zealand

I'm thinking of adopting...a miniature horse

06 December 2019
I'm thinking of adopting...a miniature horse

What is a miniature horse?

Any horse that is under 14 hands 2 inches (144.2cm) is usually classified as a pony. Ponies are bred to be stocky, with a thicker neck, short legs, and thick, fluffy manes, tails and coats. Miniature horses are an exception to this, and are not considered ponies due to their delicate confirmation which more closely resembles the appearance of a horse.

A miniature horse is under 97cm from the last hair at the base of their mane. They are bred to look like tiny versions of a full-sized horse, rather than a pony, and typically have the more refined features of a larger horse. Miniature horses usually have a longer neck than ponies, with longer, straight legs. When put side by side with a full-sized horse and a pony, they should more accurately resemble the horse’s overall appearance.

These horses are thought to be descended from Shetland ponies and were selectively bred for their size, temperament, and fine body proportions. The smallest miniature horse in the world was Thumbelina, who lived in St. Louis, USA. She passed away last year at 18 years old and weighed 26kg, measuring in at 44.5cm tall.

Just like smaller dogs tend to live longer than larger breeds, miniature horses, on average, outlive their normal-sized brethren. Their average lifespan is around 30 years old.

Little horse, big personality

Miniature horses are known for their gentle, affectionate nature, and because of their small size, are known to make excellent pets. Often miniatures have a quiet temperament, are friendly and interact well with people.

Some are even kept as service and guide animals, as their size means they are easy to transport and visit people in need. Miniature horses are sometimes part of animal assisted therapy organisations for people with disabilities. Their friendly, patient nature, and less intimidating size makes them ideal for people who are nervous or shy. Some go with their owners to hospitals or retirement homes to visit sick and elderly people and bring a smile to their day. As with all animals involved in animal-assisted therapies, miniature horses should only take part if they have been properly assessed, their welfare is monitored at all times, and they have the opportunity to choose not to participate.

Depending on their height, size, and confirmation, a miniature pony can usually carry a weight of no more than 30 kgs (combined weight of rider and tack) and can pull four times their weight. Miniature ponies definitely also love nice walks and days at the beach, too!

How many should I adopt?

Miniature pony challenges

But just because they are miniature, does not mean they should be treated so. These animals see themselves just as big as the normal sized horses they look up to. Therefore, they require the same care and attention as the big guys, just smaller portions of grass and feed.

A large miniature horse will usually grow to about 115kg. Miniature horses’ weight needs to be closely monitored as they tend to overeat and gain weight easily. Weigh tapes are calibrated for full sized horses and may not give an accurate weight but can be useful for monitoring changes in body condition. Miniature ponies need feed continually going through their system. Offer hay at 1.5-2% of their body weight per day, minimize grazing, and use muzzles as necessary.

Healthy teeth are important to the general health of all horses, but miniature horses tend to have more problems with their teeth than other horses. Miniature horses have the same number of teeth as a full sized horse but in a much smaller mouth and are particularly prone to dental and sinus issues due to overcrowding and jaw deformities. Overbites and underbites are common in miniature horses. They need dental checks every six months to correct uneven wear, prevent and treat infections, and ensure they are able to chew their food properly.

Miniature ponies need to have their hooves tended every 6-8 weeks by a farrier. As with any type of horse, getting their hooves done by a farrier at a young age will have them get used to having their hooves done.

As with any animal, veterinary care is important, and their worming and vaccination schedule should be kept up to date.

Miniature horses are sometimes prone to limb, spine, and jaw deformities. While mildly affected horses can lead normal lives, some can suffer from chronic pain or the inability to stand or move. In some cases, the deformities are not noticeable at birth but become obvious as the horse ages.

Some miniature ponies can be naughty and develop bad manners such as biting, kicking, snake-necking, and booting if not managed properly. Regular handling from a young age and lots of activities to keep them entertained will help to prevent problem behaviours. A strong fence is needed to contain these creatures, so that they can’t sneak under them or barge right through to an unsafe area.

A miniature horse’s happy place

Miniature horses need companionship and should never be kept alone. While miniature horses have been known to successfully pasture with large horses, doing so adds a risk to the miniature, as one kick or bite from the large horse could significantly hurt the miniature. Ideally, they should be provided with a horse-friendly fenced field, and appropriate company such as a goat, pony, or donkey.

A small animal with lots of love to give

Miniature horses make wonderful pets, and are known to be small but mighty animals. They have wonderful personalities and bring their owners many years of joy.

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