Miniature Horses need the same basic care as their larger counterparts. Sheryl Peterson, owner of Oak Bay Acres, in Portland, Oregon, has raised Miniature Horses for nearly 40 years and is currently vice president of the American Miniature Horse Association.
She manages her Minis much like the other horses on her farm. “In the spring you don’t turn them out on lush spring grass; they must be introduced slowly and gradually to grass,” she says. Early morning grass contains more sugar, so letting them out to graze later in the day helps prevent metabolic and weight issues, and founder.
“Some Miniatures tend to get too fat on grass, while others do fine,” says Peterson. “It’s a matter of monitoring the individual. Adjust feed and feeding schedule according to the needs of the animal.”
Joanne and Larry Ross, owners of Scott Creek Farm, in Salem, Oregon, began breeding Miniature Horses in 1981 and have about 60 currently. “In winter I bring all my horses off pasture to dry-lots (so they won’t be hard on the pasture) and introduce them to green grass again in the spring,” Ross says.
“When the grass gets about 8 inches tall, I feed them a breakfast of hay (so they are not empty and hungry) and turn them out for about an hour, then bring them back in,” she continues. “I do that for a few days and then let them out for half a day, for several more days. After they are fully transitioned to grass, we keep them out for only about eight hours.” After grazing all day they need very little if any hay in the stall, she adds.
When the horses are on pasture, Ross says she doesn’t feed hay, but she does feed the broodmares alfalfa. “I bring my broodmares in where they can eat alfalfa at the hay rack, but I don’t leave them and their babies in the stall. I feed mares and foals some grain but they are on pasture 24 hours a day.”
Hay for Miniature Horses should always be fine-stemmed and never coarse, because these little horses are prone to impaction colic. “Fine-stemmed second-cutting orchard grass works well,” says Ross. “With alfalfa you have to be really careful to get some that was cut early and immature so it doesn’t have big, coarse stems.”
Horses always need a salt block and clean water. It is important to clean and refill water tubs or troughs regularly. “Make sure they have plenty of water in hot weather,” says Peterson. They should also have a shelter in their paddock where they can escape from wind and rain or stand in the shade during the summer.
Spring and summer care will vary slightly depending on your location. “Low-sugar forage is desirable, since Miniatures tend to develop metabolic diseases if consuming too much sugar,” Peterson says. Climate and geographic region often dictate what grows in your pastures (e.g., meadow grass vs. bermudagrass vs. another type of grass) and what’s readily available as hay.
Regular hoof care is important. “I trim my Minis about every six weeks, but some need (to be) trimmed every four weeks and some go eight weeks—depending on hoof health and growth,” says Peterson. “We don’t have to shoe them, however, so that’s an advantage.”
Minis are popular pets because they are smaller than regular horses and don’t require as much feed. “They still need to be treated like horses, and not like pet dogs,” Peterson cautions. “They need clean conditions, exercise, and room to move around.” They also need companionship; as herd animals, all horses are happiest in the company of other horses.
“Some people think they need all kinds of special care, but they are still horses—and are much healthier and happier being horses,” she says. “They grow great winter coats and typically never need (to be) blanketed during winter, but just like any other horse, regular grooming can help them shed faster in the spring.
“Veterinary costs are kept to a minimum when feed and maintenance needs are taken care of on a regular basis,” she adds. “Yearly dental exams, routine vaccinations, and managing their weight go a long way to having a healthy, happy herd of Miniatures.”