Miniature horses are found across the world in many nations, however, they are usually found in Europe and the Americas. The designation of miniature horses, unsurprisingly, comes down to the height of the animal, which, depending on the particular breed registry involved, is usually less than 34–38 inches (86–97 cm) as measured at the last hairs of the mane, which are found at the withers.
Even though miniature horses are the size of a very small pony, they tend to retain horse characteristics and tend to be considered as horses by their respective registries. Miniature horses can also have varying colors and coat patterns.
When it comes to their temperaments, miniature horses are extremely friendly and interact very well with people. It is mainly for this reason, as well as their size, that they are often kept as family pets, however, they do still retain natural horse behavior, including a natural fight or flight instinct. This means that they must always be treated as an equine, even if they are primarily used as a companion animal. They can also be trained and used as service animals, for example, they can be trained in a similar way to assistance dogs for people with disabilities. Now, whilst they can be trained to work indoors, it should always be remembered that they are in fact horses and therefore they are much healthier when they are allowed to live outdoors. They should be given an outdoor living area, with shelter and space to run.
These horses are often a pretty hardy breed and it is common that they can live longer on average than some full-sized horse breeds. In fact, the average lifespan of a miniature horse is said to be from around 25 to 35 years.
Miniature horses were developed from a number of different sources. It is common knowledge that many different pony breeds were bred for small size, these breeds include both the Shetland and the Dartmoor pony. There is also suspected to have been an infusion of bloodlines from certain breeds of full-sized horses.
It was in the 17th century that miniature horses were bred as pets for Europe’s Habsburg nobility. Records from the court of the French King Louis XIV, circa 1650, note the presence of tiny horses among the exotic creatures in the king's zoo. Paintings and articles featured the miniature horse by 1765. In England, Lady Estella Hope and her sisters carried on a breeding program from original English lines into the mid-nineteen hundreds. However, not all early miniatures were pampered pets of kings and queens. Some were used to work in the English Midlands, Wales and Northern European coal mines as pit ponies.
In the United States, the miniature horse breed was refined during the 20th century. Miniature horses in the USA added additional lines from sources that included the Hackney Pony and the Pony of the Americas.
There is an ongoing debate in the equestrian world as to whether these animals should be classified as horses or ponies. Technically, any member of Equus caballus under 14 hands (142.24 cm) is termed a "pony”, however, many breeds, including some miniature breeds, actually retain a horse phenotype and their breed registry, which therefore classifies them as horses.
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