When it comes to miniature horses and ponies, there are many breeds and other distinctions that set these little giants apart from large horses. Minis have a working history in many regions, and today they play many roles including pet, companion, show animal, service animal and more.
The first miniature horse studbook was recorded in the United States, although minis may also have history in other regions, including Iceland. For those minis, it's believed that their small stature was the result of harsh weather, which stunted their growth. Potential evidence of this includes their thick coats, which may have evolved to protect them from the elements. Minis have also been used in coal mines for their ability to pull loads heavier than their weight. These days, they're used in shows and competitions and as service animals.
Horses vs. Ponies
Size is a factor differentiating horses and ponies; the maximum height for ponies is 14.2 hands, and for miniature horses it's 8.5 hands. However, miniature horses are specifically bred to look exactly like their larger namesake, whereas a pony need not resemble a specific breed. Several distinct pony breeds exist, including the Shetland -- the strongest pony of its size -- and the Chincoteague. Tourists visit from all corners of the globe to watch wild Chincoteagues run and swim.
Breed Integrity, Small Stature
Because miniature horse breeds are bred to resemble their large counterparts, they are almost as plentiful as standard breeds. Just as there are full-size palominos, quarter horses, thoroughbreds, pintos, Arabians and others, there are miniature versions of these breeds. Their small size is accomplished by selective breeding, designed to scale down as much as possible, while maintaining breed integrity. The Falabella miniature horse of Argentina was one of the first breeds that was bred into a mini-me of the full-size horse.
Why People Choose Minis
Miniature horses and ponies have gentle, curious dispositions and are particularly user-friendly for children, disabled individuals and those who have a passion for horses but don't possess a great deal of physical strength. Some miniature horses and ponies are used as service animals. Those who employ service horses or ponies say these animals live much longer than dogs, can learn commands and are able to handle larger physical responsibilities, like pulling or carrying large objects for their handlers.
Sarah Whitman's work has been featured in newspapers, magazines, websites and informational booklets. She is currently pursuing a master's degree in nutrition, and her projects feature nutrition and cooking, whole foods, supplements and organics. She also specializes in companion animal health, encouraging the use of whole foods, supplements and other holistic approaches to pet care.