Who does not remember the Amazon Prime commercial with the miniature horse* who enters the house through the dog door? If you believe in these and similar representations, you might think that miniature horses can be kept in residential houses without any problems just because they are small.
It’s not rare that miniature horses are sold as a playmate for children and living lawnmowers which can easily be kept in a small house garden. Out of ignorance or lack of knowledge („it’s only a pony”) they are purchased without learning about horses in general and how to take care of them first. This often results in a miserable existence behind the house alone, in the worst case even grossly obese and sick due to wrong feeding.
But every miniature horse or pony, no matter how small, still remains an equine. It has the same needs as his big relatives. The only difference are the smaller dimensions for stables and fences.
Our stable: It was originally built for our Paso Fino horses so the stalls are very large for our Minis. But in this case bigger really is better ;-).
How to care for an American Miniature Horse?
Horses and ponies are basically herd animals. Under no circumstances should they be kept alone and without social interaction with other horses. Sheep or goats are not an equivalent substitute. And even donkeys are not ideal, as in nature they live in completely different structures. Keeping miniature horses together with big horses is not without risk. Even a playful kick from the big horse can cause serious injuries and, in the worst case scenario, even death. Ideally you keep your miniature horse in a herd together with other miniature horses or ponies of similar size.
Our mares on their way to the pasture.
With our own miniature horses we have observed that in general they are very social animals. The integration of new horses into the existing herd has always been very easy for us. There were a few squeaks and screams at first, but that is usually all the „action” that is happening. Of course, newcomers are not just put in the pasture with all the other minis. The integration takes place gradually – first with one or two rather low ranking animals, then with the rest of the herd. But in this way, introducing a new horse is very unspectacular and, above all, stress-free and injury-free for all involved.
Miniature horses need space
Horses of any breed or size are running animals. Under natural conditions, they are on the move for up to 16 hours daily. Usually this happens while they are eating, so it is a rather slow movement. Therefore, keeping horses in a small enclosed space for most of the time with half an hour of intense exercise per day is neither natural for them nor healthy. No matter if broodmare, leisure pony or show horse – every horse or pony should have the option of as much freedom of movement as possible. In my experience, the American Miniature Horses are more energetic than the European/British Shetland Ponies. They love to play and run, especially the younger horses.
This does not necessarily mean that a miniature horse has to be kept on several acres of pasture. But it should at least have a pasture or paddock big enough so that gallop is possible and it doesn’t have to stop after ten meters. And while we are on the subject of fences: many miniature horses are considerably less thick-skinned and also by far not as creative in escaping from their enclosure as their Nordic relatives. A normal three line electric fence with sufficiently high voltage has always been enough for us. Once they learn to stay away from the wire no mini has tried to escape. A combination of wire mesh fencing and electric fence with spacers works also very well.
Those who only have a small acreage but still want to provide their (miniature) horses with the most natural life should take a closer look at the “Paddock Trail” system (originally also known as “Paddock Paradise”). It was developed by former blacksmith Jamie Jackson in the United States. It is basically a track system, for example around the pasture. Thus horses are offered the greatest possible incentive to move on a small acreage.
Book tip: https://www.jaimejackson.com/products/paddock-paradise-a-guide-to-natural-horse-boarding-jaime-jackson
Miniature horses need a roof over their heads
Even though miniature horses are normally very robust and develop a thick winter coat, they should not be kept permanently without any kind of shelter or protection. No horse feels well when it has to be outside in freezing rain for hours or days. But also the other extreme, keeping them in tiny dark stalls without much light or company is not appropriate. The best way to keep miniature horses is in the pasture ((if the grass is not too rich) with shelter or in the open stable/shelter with attached paddocks. This way the horses can choose themselves whether they want to be in or out.
As a good compromise especially for our minis, some of which are also shown during the summer, are stalls with attached paddocks. In addition they get daily turnout in the pasture. This way we can feed each horse his individual ration and they can eat and rest without stress. At the same time they have a lot of freedom to move around and interact with other horses. The paddocks are build with plastic grid and thus completely mud-free. The doors to the paddocks are outfitted with plastic curtains. Our mini horses have learned very quickly that they can easily go through. At the same time, these curtains keep away flies and drafts.
Individual stalls, each with its own attached paddock. The horses can always choose between staying inside or going outside. And guess what? Unless it’s really hot or raining hard, they prefer to be outside.
Miniature horses need soft and dry bedding
Normal for all horses, large or small, are several rest periods throughout the day. Horses often rest while standing, but they also sleep laying down. If horses do not feel safe and are uncomfortable (for example on wet and muddy ground), they do not lie down. This means that they require either straw bedding or shavings when keeping in a stable. Keeping horses on bare rubber mats to save shavings have less work with cleaning is not a good idea.
Sunshine not so patiently waiting for dinner to be served. In the meantime we had the doors changed and now have wire mesh filling where the horses can see through.
Of course, as a horse owner you can make your life a little easier and also save time and money. For some years now we have been using straw pellets instead of long straw or wooden shavings. These pellets are moistened with a little water. They quickly disintegrate into a crumbly and dry fluffy litter. This bedding can be cleaned very quickly and effectively. The manure (what little there is) rots very fast and turns into humus after a short time.
There would be much more to write about how to care for an American Miniature Horse in general and one or the other peculiarity about mini horses in the stable. But that would go beyond the scope here. Instead, I will post some more photos of our stable. And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate and write a message :-).
The round pen and behind it the hot walker.
* Last but not least a note on the miniature horse in the Amazon commercial:
This is a so-called Dwarf. This means it is not a normal healthy little horse or pony. Rather, the animal is an example of a pathological gene defect, the Equine Dwarfism. At first glance, these horses are very cute. But they often suffer from a the variety of health problems and handicaps. If you want to learn more, check this website: https://equine-dwarfism.jimdo.com/.