what is a miniature horse

What is a Miniature Horse? [ponies vs miniature horses]

The Miniature horse, or Mini horse, differs from the pony in several aspects. Mini horses tend to live longer than a pony, are smaller in height, have a smoother coat, and are less muscular. Miniature horses are considered wonderful companion animals, thanks to their gentle and friendly nature.

If you’re considering a Mini horse, you might have questions. How do you care for a Mini horse? Can they be ridden? Are they good pets? What are the costs associated with raising a Mini horse?

What is A Mini Horse
What is A Mini Horse?

These are all important things to know, before embarking on the journey of taking on a Mini Horse as a pet.

What is A Mini Horse?

Despite their size, these animals aren’t ponies. They may just look like small versions of large-breed horses, but they are different. Mini Horses have their own talents, temperaments, and challenges.

Mini Horse Facts

In appearance, these are horses, just small horses. They have shorter legs and less surface area overall.

Like larger horses, they come in a variety of body shapes and colors. Their defining characteristic, aside from a gentle temperament, is their small size.

Mini Horse Facts
Mini Horse Facts

Mini Horse Size

  • According to the American Miniature Horse Association: A true Miniature Horse can be a maximum of 34 inches tall at the shoulder.
  • According to the American Miniature Horse Registry: A Miniature Horse can be up to 38 inches tall at the shoulder.
  • The smallest recorded Mini horse was 17.5 inches tall.

Mini Horse Colors

American Miniature Horses come in a variety of colors and patterns. They can be solid or spotted.

They can sport stars or blazes. They can be every shade from White Palomino to Chestnut to Black.

The range of choices is said to be even broader for Mini Horses than it is for regular horses.

Mini Horse Build 

  • There are two acknowledged builds among Mini Horses: Stock and Refined.
  • Stock: More like a pony. These Minis are more muscular in the chest and legs. In short, they’re ‘stocky’. It’s a good build to look for if you’re interested in a sturdier breed of Mini Horse.
  • Refined: If you want a ‘black stallion’ type Mini, this would be the build to look at. These Minis have a slimmer and more streamlined shape.

    They also have the more delicate facial features associated with many larger horse breeds.

Mini Horse Temperament

Minis are known to be very even-tempered. Like all horses, they can be stubborn, even a little bit defiant. However, they are mostly social, curious, and friendly.

Mini Horse Temperament
Mini Horse Temperament

Most importantly, the majority of Mini Horses LOVE human interaction. In general, they’re easy to handle, very docile, and very gentle.

How Long Does a Mini Horse Live?

With good care, a Mini Horse can live up to around 35 years. If you’re considering a Mini, be aware that these little horses are a long-term commitment.

Miniature Horse Uses

Mini Horses aren’t really riding animals. Due to their small size, they can’t carry much weight. They should only be ridden by very small children.

On the other hand, they’re known for their gentle and friendly temperament. They’re wonderful companion animals. They’re also excellent guide horses and service animals.

  • Pulling a Sleigh: 

While they aren’t good riding animals, a Mini Horse can be used to pull a small sleigh or wagon. This can provide a great deal of fun, as long as you have the proper equipment.

  • Guide Animal:

Mini Horses frequently serve as guide animals to people with hearing or seeing disabilities. If you’re allergic to dogs or want something a bit larger, a Mini Horse can be an excellent guide.

Miniature Horse Uses
Miniature Horse Uses
  • Therapy Animal:

Mini Horses are known for their gentle temperament. This, and their size make them ideal for working as therapy animals in a number of capacities.

  • Emotional Support Animal:

Again, their gentle temperament makes the Mini Horse an excellent choice in this capacity. If you’re fond of horses, they can be great companions.

It should also be noted that their small size allows Minis to move about indoors. This can be a huge benefit if you’re looking for an equine companion you can stay close to, indoors and out.

  • Show Animal:

Mini Horses are popular show animals. 

While riding competition is out, they can still perform on obstacle courses and lead lines. If you’re considering getting into the competitive horse business, these beautiful horses are a great place to start.

Mini Horse as a Service Animal

As we just mentioned above Mini Horses are becoming widely popular as therapy and emotional support animals.

The important consideration though is the training they receive to do the job.

Mini Horse as a Service Animal
Mini Horse as a Service Animal

An untrained Miniature Horse won’t necessarily be effective in the role of a quality service animal.

The good news is that recently the Americans with Disabilities Act has recognized Mini Horses as service animals in addition to dogs so there are training programs available.

Did you know that a Mini Horse can be house trained!

Mini Horse vs Shetland Pony

You may be wondering what the difference is between a Miniature Horse and a Shetland pony.

It’s a common question. Pet Keen highlights a few of the differences between a pony and a Mini Horse.

  • Stature: 

Minis are generally smaller than ponies. The height limit for a Mini Horse is 34 inches. Ponies can be up to 57 or so inches tall. 

  • Lifespan:

Mini Horses average about a 30-year lifespan. Ponies tend to live an average of 20-25 years.

  • Coat:

Mini Horses, like regular horses, tend to have smooth coats and flowing manes and tails.

Ponies, in contrast, tend to have thicker, rougher coats.  Many people consider the fluffy mane and coarse coat the most recognizable feature of a Shetland pony.

  • Build:

Ponies tend to be stockier than even a ‘stock’ build Mini Horse. Shetlands, for example, generally have thick necks and chests.

Most Shetlands have shorter legs than Minis as well, though they are more muscular in this area as well.

  • Strengths:

Mini Horses have grown to be more delicate than ponies.  Ponies, on the other hand, are often considered to be hardier and sturdier.

Where a Mini Horse would be considered a therapy animal or guide animal, a Shetland pony might be more suited for farm work. 

Many pony breeds, unlike Mini Horses, can handle riders. They might not manage an adult, but ponies are more likely to be chosen to teach youngsters to ride. 

Miniature Horse Care

If you decide you want a Mini Horse as a companion animal, it’s important to know what you need to provide the best possible care.

Mini Horses don’t require as much space or feed as regular horses, but they still have many of the same requirements otherwise.

Space Requirements:

  •  Room to Run: Minis need a minimum of one-third to one-half an acre to exercise in. Be sure you have plenty of room for your Mini to run.
  • A Barn to Rest In: This doesn’t have to be big. There are places that sell small Miniature Horse barns.

Note: The walls should be low enough for your Mini to see over. However, a secure structure is very important. Minis are small enough for medium and large-sized predators to be a concern.

Time Requirements:

Minis, like other horses, need plenty of attention. To properly care for a Mini, you’ll need to give it:

  • Daily exercise
  • Daily grooming
  • Daily cleaning of it’s living area
  • Plenty of attention
  • Daily feeding

Mini Horse Equipment

When it comes to equipment, Minis need pretty much the same things as regular horses. Here’s a basic list of supplies you’ll want to pick up to care for a Mini properly:

  • Feed Apparatus: This can be as simple as a trough or feed bag, or a more complicated apparatus, like a timed feeder. 
  • Water Trough: Your Mini needs a source of freshwater at all times. Whatever you choose as a water container, be sure you have a way to regulate the temperature. Water that’s too cold can make horses ill.
  • Blanket: It’s a necessary piece of equipment for keeping your horse comfortable, especially if you live in a climate where the temperature drops low at night or in winter.
  • Hoof Pick: You’ll need this to clean out your horses hooves. Some experts recommend daily use to keep your Mini Horse’s hooves clean and stone-free.
  • Leg Wraps: Some experts recommend these as essential gear. They can lessen the chances of leg injuries. These can be cloth, or special wraps, like splint boots. They may also need special shoes.
  • Curry Comb: A critical piece of equipment. You’ll need to use the curry comb daily to keep your Mini Horse’s coat clean and healthy.
  • Mane/Tail Comb: Also a part of essential daily grooming, to keep the mane and tail free of tangles and burrs.
  • Lead Rope: You’ll need this to take your horse places. Whether it’s around the yard, or to another location, this helps keep your horse near.
  • Bridle: Again, it’s necessary equipment to guide your Mini Horse when taking it places. Experts recommend a snaffle bit for first time horse handlers.
  • Saddle/Saddle Pad: Minis aren’t really meant to be ridden. However, you may want a saddle and saddle pad for shows, or as part of a more complicated harness. 
  • Harness: If you want your Mini to be able to pull a sleigh or wagon, you’ll need an appropriate harness.
  • Medicines: Minis need regular deworming and other medicines, just like other animals. A vet can tell you what the best treatments are for your Mini.
  • Treats and Toys: Minis love attention, so being able to play with them is important. This is especially true if you only have one horse.

    Plus, these are a good way to bond with your equine companion.

Of course, you’ll also need appropriate food and a source of clean water, at the correct temperature. 

What to Feed a Mini Horse?

Minis eat the same food as regular horses, but a LOT less.

Some experts say that the main exercise and living area for a Mini should be a dry lot – a plot without grass – to prevent overeating.

Recommended Foods:

  • Hay
  • Rolled Oats
  • Regular Grass
  • Alfalfa – In Small Quantities!
  • A salt block

Experts say that a Mini should only receive 2-4 pounds of hay – or forage – a day. Horse Illustrated says a healthier and more accurate gauge is 1.5 percent of their body weight.

This means weekly weight and girth checks. 

There are commercial food mixes available for Minis. Ask a vet first though, because the wrong mix can cause problems for your Mini.


It’s not just equipment you’ll need for a Mini Horse. Horses, be they smaller or larger, need expert care. You’ll need help, especially when you’re starting out.

  • Farrier: A farrier will help keep your Mini Horse’s feet in tip-top condition. This will help prevent injuries.

    A farrier can also catch illnesses that present symptoms in the feet and legs, before it becomes too serious. Farrier costs are about the same for a Mini as they would be for full-size horses.
  • Veterinary Equine Expert: A vet is essential to diagnose any health problems and treat them. A vet can be a big help with things like yearly deworming, and establishing a healthy routine and activity level for your Mini.
  • Veterinary Surgeon: Health problems happen. It’s good to know a helpful surgeon for the worst case scenarios.

    Minis frequently have issues with difficult births, or foreign material causing inflammation in their digestive system.
  • Groom: A groom is optional, but good to know if you’re a first-time Mini Horse keeper.

    Having a groom’s help, at least for the first few weeks, will help you learn all the little tips and tricks of horse care.

If you’re looking to go into showing your Mini Horse, you’ll also need to consult experts for registration fees and transportation.

If you’re concerned about space, or time, you may want to look into a boarding stable to help you care for your Mini.

Mini Horse Health Issues

Like any other animal, Mini Horses come with some health issues you have to watch out for. Some of them are common horse ailments.

Some, however, are more unique to Minis. So here are some things to be aware of and watch out for:

  • Obesity:

The number one health complication for Mini Horses. Minis are easy to over-feed.

As one expert says, ‘You don’t want to see a Mini’s ribs, but you should be able to feel them if you run your hands firmly along their sides’.

  • Colic:

Colic is a common problem for horses. Minis are especially prone to what’s known as sand colic. Sand colic occurs when a Mini ingests too much foreign matter with their food.

In earlier stages, this can be treated with medicines. Severe cases may require surgery.

  • Dental Issues:

Dental issues are also common among Mini Horses. Their small size doesn’t often allow room for all their teeth to grow properly.  Overbites and underbites are common among Minis.

Dental problems are best dealt with while your Mini Horse is still young.  Adult Minis also need yearly dental exams.

  • Dwarfism Mutations:

Breeding for small size has given rise to dwarfism mutations in Minis. This can manifest in deformed spines, heads, or legs.

Some mutations can cause health issues and lead to painful problems for a Mini Horse.

An experienced breeder can help avoid these issues, so be sure to ask for help if you’re planning to breed your Hini.

  • Respiratory Infections:

A respiratory infection can be a problem for any horse. The best way to prevent these is to make sure your Mini is warm and comfortable and has water that is the correct temperature.

When exercising your Mini, make sure you lead it through a proper cool-down and rub-down before you end the session.

  • Hyperlipidemia:

This is a health complication where fatty deposits build up around the liver and other organs. Because of their tendency toward obesity, Minis are very susceptible to this.

Experts say the best way to identify a potential problem is to watch your Mini Horses’ appetite. If your Mini is refusing to eat, you may want to contact a vet and make sure this isn’t the problem.

The American Miniature Horse Association

Along with the American Miniature Horse Registry, these are the experts to approach when searching for a Miniature Horse. 

Among other things, they can help with:

  • Ownership transfers and fees.
  • Navigating all the Miniature Horse costs.
  • Explaining Federal Laws regarding Mini Horses.
  • Provide access to expert breeders and associates.
  • Registration for shows.

Related Questions

What is the Difference Between the AMHA and the AMHR? 

The American Mini Horse Registry (AMHR), recognizes slightly larger Minis as category B Minis. They also register ponies.

The American Miniature Horse Association only works with ‘true’ Mini Horses.

What Legal Departments Might be Involved with Owning a Mini?

You’ll need to contact the Department of Transportation for things like a horse trailer. And if you’re looking for a therapy or guide animal, you’ll need to look into things like the American Disabilities Act for proper registration.

Can You Take a Mini Horse on an Airplane?

While there have been reports in the past of people taking a Mini Horse on an airplane as a comfort animal based on my research, that is no longer allowed by the airlines and the FAA.

Airlines have been given the authority to make their own rules on ‘comfort animals’ and most have decided not to let them board the aircraft. Trained service dogs are still allowed.


Mini Horses can be good friends and great companion animals. In many ways, a Miniature Horse costs less money than a larger horse.

If you’re looking for an equine friend on a smaller scale, there’s no better place to start than a Mini Horse.

What is a Miniature Horse

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