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If you want to quickly stir up a ''politically correct'' conversation with any one horse breeder, go to a Miniature Horse breeder and call their little horses, little ponies (I said pony once to a breeder when I was a child and will never forget it!!). These petite horses, with all the characteristics of a large one just on a small, small scale are fun, functional and with them comes an ever-growing, affordable, show world dedicated to these small yet magnificent animals.
Miniatures can trace their roots well back into the 17th century were they have been beloved pets of nobility ever since. People found their size extremely useful and they became a great asset to mining companies all over the world by the 18th century. Their hard work in coal mines, especially in northern England is greatly recognized after the protective Mines and Collieries Act of 1872. Thankfully for the children of coalmines and collieries, Miniature horses quickly replaced much of the work some children were responsible for. Also known as 'pit ponies', they worked for many decades as effective cart horses in small mine shafts. Today some are trained as service animals for people with disabilities. Their compact size, long life and agility make them sometimes a better option than a service dog when comparing animal lifespans. They didn't exist in the United States until the late 1800s and were very rare for a number of years due to limited breeders. Today the American Miniature Horse Registry and the American Miniature Horse Association are two of the largest Miniature registries in the world.
The big debate as to why they are preferably called Miniature Horses and not Ponies is because of selective, careful breeding. They represent all the similarities of a horse, just on a small scale. They strive to keep the phenotype, the outside, or visible result of an animal's genetics combined with environmental factors, to that of a horse. Basically, if you were to put a Miniature Horse in front of a backdrop that did not show its small stature (like a fence, by a dog, cornfield, etc.), it would look, and should look, as if the Miniature type was your average breed.
There are over 30 registries for Miniature Horses and the diversity in registry requirements greatly vary as confirmation, height, size and breeding are all highly debatable in defining a Miniature Horse. The American Miniature Horse Association requires them to not stand taller than 34 inches at the withers and accepts all coat colors. The ideal Miniature has a head with large eyes, clean throatlatch and muzzle, ears that are petite and slightly curved inward, well proportioned neck, barrel and flank and even muscling throughout the body. Their legs should be fairly straight and balanced beneath their body. Overbites and underbites, also known as parrot mouth or sow mouth in equine terms are frequently seen in Miniature horses and should be avoided with selective breeding practices although it is somewhat unavoidable. Miniature Horses carrying the same phenotype of a larger type also have the same dental set-up, just without the space to normally maintain a horse's full set of teeth. This can be maintained with regular veterinarian care and monitoring how they eat their food. Miniature Horses normally live on average longer than other breeds, easily from 25 to 35 years old.
Besides making great family pets, people of all ages enjoy competing with them. In-hand classes such as showmanship, jumping and obstacles and many different driving classes make it easy for anyone to compete. As perfect as they are for a child's first horse, they are increasingly popular with retired individuals who are either unable to ride or enjoy everything about owning a horse, on a smaller budget. Miniature horses eat far less feed than an average horse and the space required to keep a healthy, happy Miniature horse is much smaller. The biggest threat to a them is actually too much feed; obesity and foundering are common.