What is a Miniature Horse?
What in the world is a miniature horse? Where did they come from and aren’t they really just little ponies?
Little Horses Were Here First
Well, the truth is tiny horses were here long before horses big enough to ride made the scene. The first horse, named Eohippus, lived during the Pliocene period. Eohippus was only ten to twelve inches tall. It had four toes (on each foot, where today’s horse only has four toes total) a long head and it’s back had a convex shape.
Traveling forward in time to ancient Egypt archeologists have found tiny horses buried with the pharaohs. Moving on to the Middle Ages royal families kept tiny horses as a novelty. Miniature horses almost became extinct thanks to King Henry VIII. He outlawed the ownership of small horses, and had them slaughtered. Fortunately there were a few rebellious and brave folks who hid enough of the little horses to continue breeding them, thus preserving the little horses.
Yes, technically speaking the Miniature Horse is a small, very small, pony. But breeders today try to produce minis that truly look very much like their bigger counterparts – the horse. What is the difference? A pony is a horse that measures less than 14.2 hands or 58 inches at the withers. Miniatures measure no more than 38 inches.
Pit ponies were used in mining coal. The smallest ponies were valued because they easily fit in the narrow tunnels of the mines pulling wagons of coal to the surface. In West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky the tunnels were only 36 inches high, so the ponies had to be smaller than 34 inches.
Walter Smith McCoy bred small pit ponies in West Virginia in the early1900s to sell to the mining companies. When machines began replacing the ponies, McCoy began to sell his smallest horses for better prices as novelty pets and exhibition animals. Seeing dollar signs he soon began to breed them smaller and smaller. His prize midget pony, as he advertised them, was Sugardumpling, standing a mere 20 inches when full grown.
Moorman Field of Bedford, Virginia also first raised the small ponies to be pit ponies. He and Smith McCoy became close friends through their pony dealings. Field began his Miniature Horse business first by raising Shetlands. He bred hundreds of Miniature horses over his fifty-three year career. When Moorman Field died in 1965 his family continued the breeding of Miniature Horses for another twenty years.
JC Williams owned Dell Tera Miniature Horse Farm in Inman, South Carolina. The Dell Tera bloodlines are still sought after by breeders today, especially those who want to breed the smallest Minis.
Today’s miniature horse is one of the fastest growing breeds in the United States. Baby boomers who are riding less but still love horses and showing are turning to the mini as a way to stay involved, but in a different way. The tiny horses are being bred to be more refined, many looking like a miniature version of the Arabian horse. Miniature horses take less space to keep and cost much less to feed. So, in these trying economic times they are a good choice for horse ownership.
Miniature horses are fun for all ages
In the late 1960s Alton Freeman of North Carolina and Rayford Ely who lived in California established registry for midget ponies, American Miniature Horse Registry. Today AMHR horses are registered in two size classifications. Those 34 inches and under are registered as class A; those over 34 inches up to 38 inches are class B. The registry keeps records of pedigrees and competitions.
The American Miniature Horse Association was organized in 1978 in Arlington, Texas to develop a breed standard separate from other ponies. The AMHA rules limit the height to not over 34 inches.
The World Class Miniature Horse Registry was established in 1995. The books were open to three sizes of Miniature Horses and ponies: Class A to horses 34 inches and under, Class B to horses over 34 inches and up to 38 inches. Show Ponies are over 38 inches up to 48 inches. The books were closed in 2004. The Registry is headquartered in Vinton, Virginia and registers Miniatures from all over the world.
You can read more about miniature horses in The Book of Miniature Horses: Buying, Breeding, Training, Showing and Enjoying (Lyons Press 2005)
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