What to Know About Miniature Horses


In this Article

  • What Is a Miniature Horse?
  • Physical Characteristics of Miniature Horses
  • The Miniature Horse Personality
  • What Do Miniature Horses Eat? 
  • Why Raise Miniature Horses? 
  • Miniature Horse Health Issues

Humans have an extensive relationship with horses. Over the course of thousands of years, we’ve bred them into sleek racing models and sturdy farm workers. 

The miniature horse breed is a fascinating example of how far we can intentionally alter a species’ size. They’re also fun, enriching pets that people raise across the globe. Regardless of your underlying interest in this breed, they’re captivating creatures to learn about.

What Is a Miniature Horse?

All horse breeds are members of the same species — Equus caballus. The only other animals in the Equus genus are donkeys, mules, and zebras. 

Humans have created over 350 unique breeds of horses. Almost all of them are domesticated animals. 

Technically, prehistoric miniature horses did exist thousands of years ago. But harsh living conditions and limited food supplies created these smaller ancestral miniatures — not human intervention. These small ancient horses didn’t directly evolve into the miniature horse breed that exists today.  

Instead, today’s miniature horses come from a combination of different genetic backgrounds. Humans have been slowly developing this breed for the past 400 years. We know from genetic analysis that Shetland ponies contributed to the miniature breed. It’s also likely that breeders used small Dutch and English mining horses to help create these distinct animals.  

The first record of a small horse arriving in the U.S. is in 1888. But the established miniature horse breed didn’t become popular until the 1960s. They’ve continued to grow in popularity since then.

Physical Characteristics of Miniature Horses

Miniature horses have all of the same general characteristics as larger breeds. These include: 

  • Full manes and tails — the hair can be straight, curly, or wavy
  • Long heads — though miniature horses have larger head sizes relative to their heights compared to many other breeds
  • Oval-shaped hooves 
  • Outward-facing eyes — having one eye on each side of their skull gives them fantastic peripheral vision but makes it hard for them to see directly in front of and behind their bodies
  • Large ears — these constantly swivel around to both listen to and communicate with the world around them

Male horses tend to be slightly taller and thicker than female horses. The average miniature horse size ranges from 24 to 34 inches at their shoulder blades — also known as their withers. They weigh an average of 150 to 250 pounds. They’re comparable to moderately large dog breeds. 

These horses are incredibly small compared to other breeds in this species. Some of the largest horses are over 78 inches tall at their withers and weigh over 1,500 pounds.  

Other miniature horse characteristics include an array of coat colors and patterns. Miniature horses come in many different colors, including: 

  • Light brown
  • Dark brown
  • Tan 
  • White

These colors come in a variety of patterns, including: 

  • Solid
  • Spotted
  • Roan — a fine blend of multiple colors
  • White markings — most commonly on their legs and faces

Despite their small sizes, miniature horses are still a very capable horse breed. They do well in certain professional competitions. This includes events like: 

  • Driving
  • Jumping
  • Obstacle
  • Halter

The typical miniature horse lifespan comes down to how well the horse is cared for. Horses tend to live longer in captivity than they do on their own. This is because stressful living conditions can shorten their lives. In captivity, a well-cared-for horse can live anywhere from 25 to 30 years. This average may vary slightly from breed to breed.

The Miniature Horse Personality

All Equus species have evolved to live and work in groups. This means that modern horses are very social creatures. They don’t do well on their own for long periods of time.  

These social instincts are one of the reasons that they’re such great human companions. Miniature horses in particular are gentle and affectionate creatures. They’re eager to please and enjoy spending time with the humans in their lives. 

Miniature horses are good companions for people of all ages and skill levels. Young children aren’t intimidated by them because they’re so small.  

But you should always pay attention to a horse’s body language when you’re interacting with one. Horses are capable of complex communication. A simple example of this is the way that they move their ears to indicate internal states — like alertness and displeasure. For example, you should be more cautious around a horse that has their ears back — it’s a sign of hostility.

What Do Miniature Horses Eat? 

All Equus species are herbivorous grazers. This means that they exclusively survive on plants. 

In their natural habitats, horses need a lot of open grasslands so they can find enough food. They mostly eat different types of grass but also occasionally consume herbs, leaves, and twigs. 

In your barn, your miniature horse will be content with a diet of: 

  • Grains — but make sure to limit intake or they could develop health problems; ask your veterinarian for their recommendation
  • Prepared grass — also known as hay 
  • Alfalfa
  • A combination of grass and alfalfa

Why Raise Miniature Horses? 

Miniature horse care is a much more involved process than, for example, raising goldfish. It’s not the right choice for everyone. But, for the people that do commit, raising miniature horses is a very rewarding experience. 

In general, these animals require: 

  • Shelter
  • Outdoor space for grazing
  • Regular grooming
  • Regular feeding
  • Some physical and mental stimulation

You need to have the right kind of space to properly care for these animals. People commit to this involved animal upkeep for many different reasons. Examples include: 

  • Financial gain
  • Novelty
  • Research 
  • Exhibition use

They’re also great animals for educational programs. One study found that children who spent time grooming miniature horses developed a greater appreciation for animal life. They were eager to spend more time interacting with these animals. Plus, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs anecdotally supports interacting with miniature horses as a way to boost your mental health. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) even has a special service animal subsection for miniature horses. Experts can train miniature horses to work with people who have certain disabilities. They can train these animals to perform a wide range of useful tasks. Miniature horses can even be indoor helpers if they’re housebroken and under their owner’s control.

Miniature Horse Health Issues

Like most animal species, miniature horses can develop a wide range of health issues. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has certified veterinarians who specialize in treating horses. 

Contact one of these veterinarians if you suspect that one of your miniature horses needs medical attention. They can help diagnose and treat certain medical conditions. They can also assist with routine aspects of your animal’s care — like helping with reproduction and basic dentistry work. 

In general, miniature horses are a delightful addition to this highly diversified Equus species. Although they’re soothing to interact with, they require a lot of resources — including your time and attention. Before you decide to raise miniature horses, you need to understand that, despite the small package, you’re in for a big commitment.

Show Sources

The American Miniature Horse Association: “About the breed,” “Frequently Asked Questions and Answers.”
American Veterinary Medical Association: “American Association of Equine Practitioners.”  
Animal Diversity Web: “Equus.” 
Genes: “Identification of W13 in the American Miniature Horse and Shetland Pony Populations.”
PeerJ: “Why the long face? Comparative shape analysis of miniature, pony, and other horse skulls reveals changes in ontogenetic growth.” 
People and Animals: The International Journal of Research and Practice: “Exploring Children’s Insights about Participating in Recreational Activities with Horses and Farm Animals: Social Emotional Experiences and Belief in Animal Mind.” 
U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division: “ADA Requirements: Service Animals.” 
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: “Horses, homeless Veterans, learning to connect and trust.”

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