Miniature Horse

  • HEIGHT: 34” and under for Division A, 38” and under for Division B
  • PLACE OF ORIGIN: Developed in this country, but the original stock probably came from England
  • SPECIAL QUALITIES: Diminutive animals of strength and athleticism with the proportions of full-sized horses rather than ponies
  • BEST SUITED FOR: Showing, driving, and as companion animals

Small horses are known to have been the playthings of nobility at least as far back as the 1600s. By 1765, paintings and articles featured Miniature Horses. The Hope family of England, particularly Lady Estella Hope and two of her sisters, bred very small horses at least until the 1950s, selecting stock from the earliest English lines. Many of the smallest American Miniatures are said to have come from the Hope lines.

Although little horses were often royal pets, some came from hardworking, blue-collar mining backgrounds. After the 1847 Mines Act made it illegal for children to work in coal mines, the English switched to the use of Shetlands and any other suitable strong small ponies. The mine ceilings were low and space was at a premium. The remote ancestry of today’s Miniature Horses certainly includes some Shetland and perhaps also mixes of other pony breeds.

The date generally given for the first importation of a very small horse into the United States is 1888. In 1861, however, Ohio native John Rarey, the most famous horse trainer in the world at the time, traveled through his home state with two very small ponies that he acquired in England. The Ohio State Journal of September 1861 mentioned his Franklin County Fair entry:

“One new feature is the entry by Mr. J. S. Rarey, of four full blooded Shetland ponies. They were imported by Mr. Rarey direct from the Shetland Islands. One of these ponies is really a curiosity. We should think it is scarcely 24 inches in height, and not larger than a house dog. It is five years old; and we presume, the smallest of the horse kind in America. We understand that Mr. Rarey intends breeding from this lot, and introducing them among stock-raisers.”

After Rarey’s time, little horses were used in coal mines in Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, and Indiana until about the 1950s or ’60s. The American Miniature Horse may also be distantly related to various Dutch and English mine horses that were imported during the nineteenth century. It was not until the twentieth century that Miniatures finally caught the attention of enough horsemen that an association was organized and people began breeding and showing them.

Registry History

This is the only breed in the world that measures the height of the horse at the last hair of the mane rather than at the highest point of the withers.

The American Miniature Horse Association Inc. (AMHA) was founded in 1978. Its stated purpose is to aid and encourage the breeding, use, and perpetuation of the American Miniature Horse, separate and apart from ponies and other small equines. By the definition of the AMHA, Miniature Horses must not exceed thirty-four inches in height.

A second major registry for the breed is the American Miniature Horse Registry (AMHR). The AMHR has two size divisions. The first is the A division for horses at or below thirty-four inches. The second is the B division, which allows horses up to thirty-eight inches.

Miniature Horses make wonderful companions. The breed is one of the most popular in North America.

Today’s Miniature Horses most often look like small Arabians. The pale cremello color is used by breeders to produce buckskins and palominos in the next generation.

Both organizations have strict guidelines for registry and both promote the breed through shows and events. At this time, Miniature Horses are one of the fastest-growing breeds in North America.

Breed Characteristics

Miniature Horses, particularly mares and geldings, are known to be quiet and easy to handle, but some of the stallions are surprisingly hot tempered. Well-chosen Minis often make good horses for children and for people with physical limitations, as well as for horsemen with limited stabling and pasture space. Minis make nice companion animals and can be fun for anyone.

Miniature Horses, especially the smaller ones, are usually too little for anyone but the smallest children to ride; often by the time a child is coordinated enough to ride, he is too big for the Miniature Horse. They do make excellent driving animals. In addition to halter, obstacle, and even some jumping classes, there are always many driving classes at shows. There are also clubs of Mini fanciers that drive on appropriate trails with their horses. At least one nationally known drill team of driven Minis appears at major horse events, and a couple of Miniature Horses have been trained as assistance animals for the blind.


There are two registries for Minis:

• The American Miniature Horse Registry, which is part of the American Shetland Pony Club, has 148,000 horses listed.

• The American Miniature Horse Association (founded in 1978) lists 162,000 horses.

• About 9,000 new foals are registered each year by the AMHA.

• The AMHA is one of the fastest-growing registries in North America. Only breeds such as Quarter Horse, Paint, Tennessee Walker, and Thoroughbred register more horses in a year than the AMHA.

• Texas, Florida, and California have the most Miniature Horses, but they are found in every state and all over the world.


The ideal Miniature Horse is an elegant, scaled-down version of a full-sized horse. In today’s show ring, there is emphasis on horses that resemble miniature Arabians. The proportions of a Mini should be the proportions of a true horse. The general impression should be of symmetry, strength, agility, and alertness. Mares should show femininity and stallions should show boldness and masculinity.


Miniature horses come in all colors found in full-sized horses. They also appear in a few colors that are rarely seen in anything but Miniature Horses, such as bay silver dapple, which is a light bay-colored body with black legs and white mane and tail.

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