Owning a Miniature Horse

If you've always dreamed of a foal in your back yard, imagine a whole paddock full of them. That's what it's like at Tom and Lorraine O'Connell's Crystal Ridge Farm in Roxbury, Conn.

Everywhere you look there are teeny horses. And the teeny horses have even teenier offspring – miniature foals, small enough to sit in your lap and cuddle and playful as puppies.

Tom and Lorraine breed, raise and show miniature horses. It is their passion. And they have some beauties. From dappled grays with Arabian faces to unusual black and white pintos to palominos, there's a palette for everyone.

Miniatures have all the characteristics of their larger counterparts, except they're smaller. As a result, they are easier, as well as cheaper, to keep – about one-tenth the cost of large equines.

They eat roughly half a flake of hay a day and a cup of grain. They don't wear shoes, so only hoof trimming is required by the farrier. One standard size horse stall can be divided to accommodate several minis. They are ridiculously easy to clean up after – especially if you've done the job for full-size horses. Like the big guys, they love pasture and turnout, but require less space to frolic. About the only thing you can't do with a miniature horse is ride it.

Horse Shows for Minis

There is a full slate of shows devoted to the breed, and Tom and Lorraine are busy almost every weekend with their championship minis. Miniature horses can be shown in hand in a variety of categories and in driving competitions, where they excel.

Minis are becoming extremely popular with horse lovers who are downsizing from large animals because they are easier to care for. A recent survey conducted by the American Miniature Horse Association showed that the average age of its members is 50 years old and 65 percent are women. Minis also are wonderful with children, especially those who are afraid of bigger creatures.

A typical mini is no larger than 34 inches tall at the withers, although it is common for them to be somewhat smaller. Because of their diminutive size, smaller tack, feed buckets, boots and blankets are required. There are a variety of tack shops and Internet sites where Mini equipment can be bought. Minis typically are clipped for showing; otherwise, they resemble tiny yaks.

By nature, miniature horses are gentle and affectionate and a bit more mellow than standard size horses, making them excellent companions. They are hardy and accustomed to living out of doors, as long as a suitable run-in shed is provided. They also make excellent companion animals for larger horses, but it is recommended that they be turned out separately to avoid injury from exuberant play with big buddies.

It's tempting, when visiting these little horses, to put one in the car and take it home – which you actually could do in a pinch. The preferred mode of transport, however, is a horse trailer. Minis can travel in standard-size trailers, which also could be adapted with partitions to accommodate their smaller size.