Mini horses are having a moment. From the Amazon commercial hat features a diminutive equine using the doggy-door to come inside the house to watch TV by his owner to Bravo’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills having two episodes dedicated to Lisa Van Der Pump finding the perfect mini horse to give her husband for his birthday, the little creatures have gone mainstream. Naturally, since the world found out about these tiny cuties, everyone with a passion for all things furry and adorable wants one of their own, but is it a good idea?
American miniature horses are scaled-down versions of a standard-size horse and don’t exceed 34 inches of height. They were first bred in the 1600s in Europe from standard horses so even though they can be the size of a Collie, they’re still more Seabiscuit than Lassie.
“These are horses in every sense of the word,” says Mary Stewart, founder and president of Angels for Minis, a nonprofit organization that rescues abused, neglected and unwanted mini horses. “People need to realize just because they’re little and cute, it doesn’t mean they’ll act like a dog or a cat. They will buck, if you bring them inside the house, they’ll kick your furniture.”
Stewart says the reasons why mini horses end up in her care vary. Most of them are from breeders who wanted to sell mini horses but couldn’t and as the horses got older and weren’t purchased, needed to go because the expenses for caring for them were too much to handle. Others are left behind at foreclosures and some are from people who wanted them for a pet but quickly realized they were in over their heads.
“We make sure people have experience with horses before they adopt from us because most people don’t really know what they’re doing,” she says. “People think ‘I’ll get this horse to take care of my grass’ for example but some horses can’t eat grass, it’s like a milk allergy for humans. This is when they get into trouble.”
The cost of caring for a mini horse can also become a burden too heavy to bear. Even though, according to the American Miniature Horse Association (AMHA), the cost of keeping a miniature horse is about one-tenth the cost of maintaining a large horse, they do require attention and upkeep.
For starters, Stewart explains, they are herd animals so “if you take them out of the group they go into a deep depression.” That means they should be purchased in pairs. They need to be groomed daily and “a bristle brush, comb, mane and tail comb, hoof pick and a good set of electric clippers” are necessary per the AMHA to get the job done. Their diet needs to be closely watched because of intestinal issues and having them inside an apartment is a no-go since “miniatures thrive on pasture, sunshine and room to run and play.”
When it comes to their health, the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) lists a few of the issues they tend to have: “hyperlipidemia (or hyperlipemia) is a disorder of lipid metabolism that may lead to fatty infiltration of the liver, clinical signs of liver disease, loss of appetite and, ultimately, death,” colic “possibly the result of incorrect grinding of feed due to poor teeth, consumption of poor-quality coarse hay or inadequate water consumption,” and dental issues “due to the small size of their heads along with the presence of the same number of teeth as found in a full-sized horse which leads to overcrowding of the teeth.”
To avoid all of those issues, having a veterinarian who specializes in mini horses doing at least two check-ups per year is essential, says the AAEP.
Another hurdle to overcome is differentiating between mini horses and dwarfs. Just like mini pigs can turn into a big problem when they’re bought as a pet, so can a mini horse. While both of them look adorable, dwarf horses are even smaller than minis but they often have a lot of health problems and die young.
“They don’t live very long because there are so many issues,” explains Stewart who adds it’s hard to tell a dwarf from a mini when they’re young and operations similar to puppy mills for horses will take advantage of that and sell a dwarf to a buyer. “Reputable breeders will tell you ahead of time and most won’t sell a dwarf because they know they need a lot of attention and a lot of care.”
Stewart also warns any potential mini horse owners to check what their local rules regarding ownership of livestock is since horses are not considered “pets” for zoning purposes in some areas, no matter how small.
For those with the right lifestyle, location and time to give mini horses, though, they can make great companions. According to the AMHA they are friendly, can be used for therapy, and if well-cared for, they can live into their 40s.
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