Most miniature horse breeders will take offense if you call their horses, ponies. I call all mine ponies because I am aware that the Shetland Pony was used in the making of the miniature horse. From the early 1600’s people have been choosing the smallest Shetland ponies and crossing them on small horses to develop the mini horse.
The miniature horse is in essence a height breed. The AMHA miniature horse can be no taller than 34″ at the last mane hair. This typically is not exactly at the withers. In fact it can be further down from the withers toward the back. The AMHR miniature horse can be no taller than 38″ at the last mane hair.
In the late 1800’s these little horses were imported to America from Europe. They weren’t well known until about 1960 as they were primarily used in Appalachian coal mines. In 1962 the first Falabella horses were imported into the US by the Regina Winery in California. They used the little stallions to pull a stagecoach in parades, promoting their winery.
Patrick Newtall’s son-in-law inherited the breeding farm when his father-in-law passed away. He added Welsh ponies, Shetland ponies and small Thoroughbreds to the breeding program and with careful inbreeding was able to get the size down below 40″.
I would say that most of the miniature horses today can be traced back to Shetland ponies and the Falabella. Often you will see an “Unknown” in a horse’s pedigree. That was common in the past to cover up the fact that the mini had Shetland in it’s pedigree. Instead they wanted people to believe they were exclusively bred down from big horses. Sometimes the “Unknown” means that they really don’t know who the parents of the little horse are. It was a common practice to hardship small enough ponies into the registries years ago. The rules for doing this have changed a bit over the years.
In fact people have used Arabians, Thoroughbreds, Welsh ponies to develop the miniature horse characteristics that we see today. Some of the most popular miniature horses today look a lot like the Arabian horse. The Arenosa bloodline (which is primarily American Shetland pony) is one of them. The Arenosa bred horses are tough to beat in the show ring! They have long legs, long necks and shorter backs – making them look more horse like than pony like.
Then you have the pony style miniature horse – shorter legs, thicker necks and longer backs. At the local shows I still see lots of minis like the ones below. I owned the 31″ tall gelding on the left for a few years and showed him locally! He was such a sweet boy and a wonderful driving mini, though he didn’t have the stamina that the larger minis have. The 32″ mare, Amber, on the right is still standing in the pasture at my mom’s. She is a wonderful mother and has had several very nice foals for us. She was never shown.
When bred to a leggier, more refined stallion the short legged, long bodied mares can make some beautiful foals!
The black and white stallion on the left is KLS Pistolero, an Arenosa bred stallion. The filly on the right is Chantilly, our filly out of Amber, above, and KLS Pistolero. I am using this to show how well thought out breeding can help take a short legged, long bodied horse and turn it into a long legged, long necked horse!
My minis fall in the middle of these two extremes. They are longer legged because they are the “B” sized minis, meaning they over 34″ tall. A few have nice necks and a few have short, thick necks.
Years ago some breeders used Dwarf miniatures in their breeding programs to keep the size down. This is a little like playing Russian Roulette. Sometimes you’ll get a better version of the parents and sometimes you’ll get all the worst traits of the parents.
“In the miniature horse breed, dwarfism is estimated to be in over 50% of the population and affects all the miniature horse bloodlines.” – http://jcpminiatures.weebly.com/equine-dwarfism.html
There are some miniature horses that display a few dwarf characteristics but are not extreme enough to be pulled out of the breeding stock. We had a mare and stallion that when bred to each other produced a dwarf foal. We gelded the stallion and re-homed the mare as a pet. We were not willing to knowingly breed horses that produced a dwarf. This is totally a personal preference as there are many breeders out there breeding known dwarf carriers. They do this to keep the size down.
This is information that I dug up all over the internet. Some of it is my personal opinion and some is scientifically based. Hopefully I answered the question, “What is a miniature horse?”