If your love of horses is greater than your acreage or budget, miniature horses may be just the thing.
It was for Heather Hart, who with husband Rod, has about 65 head at Meadowind Miniatures, a 10-acre breeding farm near Carman.
“My dad and grandfather had raised Percherons, and we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to have a hitch?’” she said on the sidelines of the operation’s exhibit at the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair.
“But you can’t afford Percherons if you’re just on a little acreage. So when we saw miniatures, we thought maybe we could do something along that line.”
They started out with a few miniatures two decades ago, and were pleased to discover the 34-to 38-inch-tall horses come with fewer headaches and less expense than full-size models. For example, trimming hooves is less onerous when they aren’t the size of pie plates, and a single small square bale will last the tiny equines two to three weeks, and a big round bale an entire winter.
Given the price of pet food, keeping a mini is cheaper than an average-sized dog, Hart noted.
She and Rod both love driving. The famous Meadowind eight-horse hitch – the only one of its kind in Manitoba – began first with a team, then a four-up, six-up, and finally the full complement of eight.
The 250-pound horses hitch up just like their giant counterparts, using the same harness, bits, single and double trees as regular drafts, but vastly scaled down.
For that reason, Hart said that they serve as good teachers for novices seeking to learn how to hitch up and drive safely.
“There are some who stay with the miniatures right through until they are adults, and there are some who move on to big horses,” she said.
Just the same, those who forget to buckle a strap or cross-check line, or hitch up a horse on the side it’s not accustomed to, could find themselves in a tangle. The difference is that when a wreck happens with minis, their calm nature means it’s not a catastrophe.
“They can give you a good runaway,” she said with a smile, “but also there’s the fact that they are smaller and they are anxious to please.”
Once, when attempting to pose them for a photo at the Austin Threshermen’s Reunion, a swing manoeuvre saw the ever-eager lead team jacknife the hitch, and with all control in the lines lost, Rod was left scratching his head over how to sort them out.
“But it was a good place for it to happen, because there were all kinds of draft horse guys there and they grabbed them and we were fine,” she said.
Children weighing up to 60 pounds can ride them, but it’s best to have adults train them to drive first in a cart so they become accustomed to a bit and learn the important commands.
Minis are generally easy to train, but as with all horses, some are just plain intractable and defy all efforts.
“There are exceptions, of course. We have one guy at home and I don’t know if we’ll ever get him broke,” she said.
Miniature horses have a lot of variation in appearance, she said. Technically, they are not a breed, but a registered type based mainly on height at the withers. Meadowind’s breeding program aims for horses “just under” 34 inches in height. But for driving, a little more leg is preferable, she jokes, because the smaller types look a bit like “sewing machines” when they really get going.
Some look like mini drafts, while others have an Arab, Morgan, and quarter-horse look to them. They were first selectively bred in the 1700s as carthorses for ladies and playthings for the children of nobility. A line of miniatures called “Falabella” was developed by a breeder in Argentina.
Later on, the heavier types, known then as “pit ponies,” were used for more demanding tasks, hauling up to 30 tons per day deep inside coal mines in Kentucky and Britain.
Some of the draftier minis have a lot of heart when it comes to tightening the traces. One Alberta miniature horse owner that Hart knows took his team to a horse pull just for fun. He found that one of his 300-pound miniatures was able to pull a 900-pound sled the regulation distance, and the team, much more.
“But he doesn’t do it anymore, because there were people who accused him of cruelty, even though the hor ses were not whipped or anything,” she said. “Temperament-wise, they are very, very willing.”
To her knowledge, nobody has yet developed a line of acreage-sized farming implements for minis. But they can mow the grass, she added, with a grin.
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affordPercheronsif you’rejustonalittle acreage.So,whenwe sawminiatures,we thoughtmaybewe coulddosomething alongthatline.”
– HEATHER HART