The American Miniature Horse – the Horse for Everyone
February 27, 2012
While not as obvious as full size horses, miniature horses constitute a sizable portion of the equine population in Colorado. And the people who show, breed, and just enjoy these pint sized horses are just as passionate as those that own full size horses. Colorado also has a number of breeders of champion miniature horses.
One of the best known breeding operations is Me-He Miniatures located in Larimer County, just north of Fort Collins, Colo. The ‘Me’ is Mary Lou Elder and the ‘He’ is Harry Elder. Both are involved not only with the daily operation of their own breeding facility, but produce miniature horse shows in Colorado and are officers in the Rocky Mountain Miniature Horse Club and is the newly elected president of the American Miniature Horse Association. Harry Elder lectures at CSU and has sessions a couple of times a year where CSU Equine students come to his ranch to learn about miniature horses. The conscientious and carefully documented breeding program at Me-He Miniatures has produced many Grand Champions and one World Grand Champion.
Harry Elder is an active evangelist for miniature horses and says that the first question he is usually asked is “What do you do with them?” Rather than being offended, Elder welcomes this line of questioning as it gives him the opportunity to educate people about the miniatures.
Right off the bat Elder reinforces that these are miniature horses – they are not dwarfs. An animal showing any dwarf characteristics is rejected by all registering associations. There is documentation as early as 1765 regarding the breeding of small horses to get as small and as stocky a horse as they could.
“The miniature horse is not a pony. Yes, it was bred down of every Shetland, Welch, all the different ones, because they wanted to get a nice stocky work horse that was short for the mines.” said Elder, “A pony normally ranges 58-inches and under, a Shetland is 46-inches and under, and the American Miniature Horse is 34-inches and under.”
Occasionally, in the process of downsizing work horses, a very refined small horse would be produced. These would be taken by the Queen of England and other royalty as pets. It has been a very long road, but basically, this is the beginning of the American Miniature Horse. The American Miniature Horse Association currently has more than 11,000 members and over 185,000 registered horses. It is a registry based strictly on height – 34-inches and under measured at the last hair on the mane. “We are breeding now for a very refined Arab style of miniature horse.” said Elder, “We have the Arab, Quarter Horse, and Thoroughbred body styles. We have no body color, eye color, or marking restrictions.”
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Back to the question of “What can you do with miniature horses?”
“We do everything with miniature horses that you can do with a large horse. There are halter classes where the horse is judged on conformation and appearance. We do three different types of driving and our jumping classes are judged strictly on how high the horse can jump,” said Elder.
Can you ride them? Yes, but obviously you are not going to do any roping or gathering your herd with a miniature horse. “Ninety percent of miniature horses are family owned and they are brought in for a child to learn to care for a horse while they (the children) are very small, because children are not intimidated by these horses. They can be ridden by children up to 40 or 50 pounds.” said Elder.
“At the other end of the spectrum, you have older people that don’t want to foal out a big horse or get bucked off, but you still need the smell and companionship of a horse so you sell your Quarter Horse and go to a miniature,” said Elder.
One area that miniature horses are visibly different from full size horses is in the length of their hair. Because of their large gene pool and the fact that the ancestors of miniature horses came from Northern Europe, they tend to be a little shaggy. In the winter, they are very shaggy with 2- or 3-inch hair.
The horses that you see at shows have been clipped. “We body clip them. My show horses, when they get ready to go to a show, they are body clipped with a No. 30 blade – that’s surgical,” said Elder.
Physically miniature horses are pretty much the same as full size horses. There are some minor differences but these go back to the fact that their root stock were draft horses. They live over 20 years and their gestation period is the same as a full size mare. Birth weight is between 16 and 18 pounds and they are 17-to 18-inches tall. Conception rate is different. “You can figure about a 35-50 percent conceiving rate. A full size horse has about a 75 percent conception rate. That is one thing that for years kept the price up on the miniature horses,” said Harry Elder.
Elder continued regarding the price of miniatures, “Years ago the American Miniature Horse Association had a stud syndicated for a million dollars. We have had horses that sold for $100,000 or $200,000, but that was prior to this bubble that come along and put us all in a trick financially.”
Harry and Mary Lou Elder have a successful breeding operation at Me-He Miniatures. They breed their two stallions for a reasonable fee and guarantee a live foal. Their stallions and brood mares consistently produce babies that fit the refined mold that today’s miniature horse buyer is looking for.
“What we have produced over the years and the show record that we have is what promotes our horses and that’s what has sold our horses in the Colorado area.” Elder continued, “I price my horses reasonably and if you come to me and you can’t afford that horse, but for some reason I think these people are going to learn about the miniature horse, I’ll lease you that horse or you can make payments.”
If you would like to find out more about miniature horses, Harry and Mary Lou Elder will be at the Rocky Mountain Miniature Horse Club exhibit at the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo in Denver March 8-11 at the National Western complex. While you are at the Horse Expo, make a point to go by the Pinnacle Miniature Horse Show to see them in action.