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Considerations for Riding Miniature Horses

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Ah, miniature horses – so cute, so tiny, so perfectly adorable, right? And, while you know that logically these tiny horses are pretty petite, many of us have often wondered if, despite that smaller stature, it is all right to ride a mini horse. After all, they are sturdy and come from the relatively same equine stock. So it is only natural to wonder:

Can you ride a mini horse? Most teenagers and adults can not ride a miniature horse. Despite the fact that they are fully functioning horses, their small size means that even the largest miniature horses should not be ridden by anyone over 70 lbs.

That does leave some other options, though, for mini horse activities and even some mini horse riders. These barnyard cuties, it turns out, are more than just pasture pets, and, as long as handled safely, can provide limitless joy.

child riding a miniature horse
A child riding a miniature horse.

The History of the Miniature Horse

Miniature horses are the result of hundreds of years of selective breeding. While they have their ancestral roots in some smaller ancestors, historians support that humans capitalized on these shorter breeds and took pains to continue a tiny bloodline.

In prehistoric times, it is likely that smaller horses evolved out of a need to survive harsh climates and harsher extremes that provided very little food. This would have provided the genetic blueprint for smaller horses many eras later.

The popular theory for today’s American miniatures is that they are descended of English and Dutch minis brought into the colonies in the late 1800s.

In fact, history first mentions small horses being imported into the United States in 1888, though the public was not very much aware of or interested in these animals until the 1960s.

They were used as very specific work horses, including working in the mines up until the 1950s. Today’s minis are likely a mix of those original imports and the Shetland pony.

taking a photo with a miniature horse

Why Can’t You Ride?

Even though they look hearty and stocky, miniature horses, like any living creature, do have a load capacity. There is a spectrum of sizes of mini horse sizes, but they do max out at around 38 inches tall.

That’s smaller than any pony. And, if you think about it, many ponies even cannot bear the weight of a full-grown adult.

A good rule of thumb for any horse is to not load it down with anything more than 20% of its weight. I covered the details of that measurement in detail in my post on choosing the right sized horse for your height and weight.

Since mini horses weigh typically around 250 – 350 pounds, that puts their maximum rider weight at 50 – 70 pounds.

Anything heavier than that puts an inordinate amount of strain on their backs and can cause them not only pain and fatigue but internal problems as well. If the load is too great for them, they may not even be able to walk far, let alone trot or canter at all.

Can Kids Ride a Mini Horse?

We mentioned that adults should never ride a mini horse. However, since miniature horses can safely carry up to 70 pounds, some smaller children (generally under the age of 8 or 9 years old) can safely hop on.

Children should always be properly supervised and taught how to interact safely, though, especially with these smaller animals. A gentle hand and a light touch should be encouraged so they do not hurt the horse.

In general, minis are excellent horses for children as not only is their smaller size less intimidating, but they have been bred through the years to be friendly, docile and even-tempered.

They are warm and loving and many kids find it easy to bond with them. Since they are generally more easy-going than their larger cousins, they have less of a tendency to buck or take off than, say, a small pony would.

That being said, you should always ensure a horse is trained to carry a rider before allowing your children to ride. Just because a miniature horse looks small and cute, doesn’t mean it knows how to carry a rider or respond to rein and leg cues.

Miniature horses can be hard to train because adult riders are too big to teach them to be ridden. Most mini horses who ride are trained on the ground by adults and then a more knowledgeable child finishes their training under supervision.

Some mini horses never learn how to truly be ridden or guided by a rider but rather, learn to carry a child while being led. These “lead line” ponies are commonly seen at the fair and carnivals.

Miniature Shetlands are a smaller subset of mini horses and are often beloved by children. Though they are one of the stronger and tougher breeds, they are also smaller than even a typical mini horse and so should only accommodate kid riders up to 60 pounds. As a bonus, they are incredibly cute!

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What Age Can Miniature Horses Be Ridden?

Just as with any other horse, you must wait until a miniature horse is developmentally ready before trying to ride (or drive) him. Young horses who are still growing should not have to carry or pull weight until they are mature.

Miniature horses should not be ridden or taught to drive before the age of three.

It may seem cute to put a small child on the back of a baby mini horse and “just walk” them around, but it really is best to wait until the horse is physically mature regardless of how “easy” the work may seem for the horse.

By waiting to ride or drive your miniature horse, you can help to insure she will be able to be enjoyed by your family for many years to come. But don’t worry, there are other things you can do while she is growing like:

  • Do obstacle courses.
  • Ground Driving
  • Pony out on trail rides.
  • Pony / walk along side the cart while another horse is driving and pulling the weight.
  • Refine ground manners
  • Pony paint parties
  • Pictures / Photo shoots
  • Hang out all day with the adorable cuteness!

What Else Can You Do With A Mini Horse?

There is really not much else that you can’t do with a mini horse that, with the exception of riding, you could not do with a full-sized horse.

Their adorable looks make them perfect for showmanship and their ability to learn and bond means they excel at in-hand classes. You may not be able to ride them at a trot or through a jump course, but you can certainly lead them through!

Another fun category in which to show minis is the costume class. Because of their short stature and easy-going nature, they are a breeze to dress up.

They are also relatively easy to maintain and inexpensive to boot. When you couple that with their friendly disposition, they make for excellent equine pasture companions.

Though their small size is not super well-suited to horseback riding, minis are actually excellent driving horses and even the American Mini Horse Association recommends they be trained for that.

Horses – including mini horses – can pull around 150% of their body weight, which is a far cry from the 20% they can carry as a direct load on their backs.

Driving will, of course, involve some desensitizing to the natural spookiness of pulling a cart behind them. But, once they are used to it, their natural intelligence and willingness to please makes them perfect candidates for driving.

You will need a bunch of special equipment, including a cart, a special bridle, harnesses, driving whips, etc. but the good news is that they are unlikely to outgrow equipment and it can be used on many different mini horses with ease.

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The Knowledgeable Mini Horse Owner

If you are looking to own a mini horse, there are some other good things to keep in mind. First, similar to how Great Danes have a life expectancy of 6 – 10 years but a chihuahua can live into their 20s, so, too, smaller horses tend to live longer than larger ones.

What is the lifespan of a miniature horse? Mini horses generally have a longer lifespan than larger horses. In fact, they can live up to 35 years, with many even living past that age.

Because of their small skeletal structure, though, and because of owners’ tendencies to overfeed, mini horses are at a higher risk for obesity than larger horses.

feeding a miniature horse

It is hard to adjust to smaller portions when it comes to feeding, and since they can’t be ridden by adults, minis are not afforded the luxury of healthy exercise as regularly as full-size horses.

A good rule of thumb is for minis to eat about 3.5 pounds of hay a day (approximately 1.5% of their body weight).

The rest of caring for a mini horse, though, is very similar to how you would care for a larger horse. They will still need regular deworming, hoof care (whether shoes or filing), dental work, vaccines, etc. Since they are not used for riding as regularly, it is important to monitor their nutrition and ensure they are exercised by hand instead, to keep them healthy.

Mini horses are the fun-sized candy bars of the horse world. Should you hop on and ride them? The answer, if you are over the age of 9, is pretty much a no. But that does not mean you aren’t able to enjoy them in other ways. From driving carts to in-hand showing to some good old-fashioned love and affection, a miniature horse can be a wonderful addition to your farm and a loving companion for many years.


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