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What Is a Miniature Horse?

Updated on May 9, 2019
DonnaCSmith profile image

Donna Campbell Smith is an author, freelance writer, and photographer. She has an AAS degree in equine tech and is a certified instructor.

What in the world is a miniature horse? Where did they come from and aren’t they really just little ponies?

AMHA Domino shakes hands with a friend. photo copyright donna campbell smith
AMHA Domino shakes hands with a friend. photo copyright donna campbell smith

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

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

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

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)

Domino in Winter   photo copyright Donna Campbell Smith
Domino in Winter photo copyright Donna Campbell Smith

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Donna Campbell Smith


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    • tomskids profile image


      8 years ago from Northeast PA

      My little girl loved the video! Good lense!

    • DonnaCSmith profile imageAUTHOR

      Donna Campbell Smith 

      9 years ago from Central North Carolina

      L8dybug, that's funny!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      My little minis r studs...

      Mr. Pee &


      ONES BRown &

      Ones yellow lol

    • Montana Farm Girl profile image

      Montana Farm Girl 

      11 years ago from Northwestern Montana

      Cool, thanks for the info!

    • DonnaCSmith profile imageAUTHOR

      Donna Campbell Smith 

      11 years ago from Central North Carolina

      Montana, you might also enjoy my book;o)

      Didio, check the link to Lil Beginnings. They have ads and breeder links.

    • Montana Farm Girl profile image

      Montana Farm Girl 

      11 years ago from Northwestern Montana

      Great info!!! We are planning to add a little one to our growing farm.... we have mini everythings so far: pot bellied piggy, pgymy goats and banty chickens. We hope to get a mini pony and donkey in the near future. Thanks for the great insight!!

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      where can I buy a miniature horse?

    • pacwriter profile image


      11 years ago from North Carolina

      Great hub Donna

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      I think they are truly amazing. Sooo cute.


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