Miniature horses are some of the cutest animals you will find. They are engaging, charming creatures that do not take up much space. Minis often engage in comical behaviors and endear themselves to their owners with their big personalities. You may be tempted to purchase a miniature horse and be looking into all the pros and cons of owning one. However, a question that is often asked is how long mini horses live?
Miniature horses are long-lived animals in general. They usually live to thirty to thirty-five years as a minimum. Some mini horses live longer than this and can even reach up to fifty years. The care that the mini horse receives will be critical in determining the longevity of the horse.
Mini horses can live a long time, depending on their care. In this article, we will consider the history of miniature horses, their characteristics, health problems, and the necessary care to produce a long-lived little equine.
Do Mini Horses Live A Long Time?
A standard size horse will live up to twenty-five to thirty years depending on their breed, care, and the work they have done over the years. Much like large dogs that have shorter life spans than small dogs, this size to life length discrepancy can also be seen in the equine world.
Miniature horses can live easily for thirty to thirty-five years. It is not uncommon to find mini horses in their forties as well. So, if you are considering purchasing a mini horse, think carefully about who will be responsible for the horse should you become unable to care for it. Many owners of mini horses include provisions for their mini in their wills and will arrange with someone to take over the care of the horse should they die.
The Oldest Known Mini Horse
The oldest recorded and documented mini horse was named Angel and lived at the Horse Protection Society of North Carolina. She was affected by dwarfism, but this did not affect her health, and she lived to be over fifty years of age.
When Did Miniature Horses Originate?
Mini horses were first bred in the 1600s in Europe. Louis (XIV) had a Zoo of Bizarre Animals, and featured in this zoo was a miniature horse. Many people from the aristocratic class bred or owned them as novelty pets. By 1765 it had become very fashionable to own a miniature horse. They became pampered pets and were seen as a status symbol.
In 1842 the Mines and Collieries Act outlawed the use of small children as mine workers. Looking around for alternatives, the mine owners hit upon using miniature horses and ponies. Mini horses began to be bred for work in the coal mines in England, Scotland, and Wales
These small horses were considered ideal for fitting into the mining tunnels where they were used as draught animals. They would pull loads of coal through the mine tunnels and shafts. Unfortunately, many of these miniature horses in the coal mines did not live long lives.
The work they were required to do was often too strenuous. The air quality down in the mines was poor, leading to respiratory illnesses in the mini horses. Handlers very often lacked empathy and would whip the minis and ponies mercilessly to keep them working.
How Were Miniature Horses Bred?
Miniature horses were bred by selecting small size horses and breeding them to other small horses. In each generation, the tiniest horses were chosen to continue the breeding program. Miniature horses are meant to be down-sized replicas of large horses.
They are intended to show all the features and behaviors of horses but in miniature form. Miniature horses are not ponies, although, at some stages, ponies such as Shetlands and Welsh ponies were used in their breeding.
What Is The Difference Between Horses, Ponies, And Miniature Horses?
Equines are measured in hands. A hand is four inches, so a horse may be described as 15.2 hands, indicating that he is fifteen hands and two inches or sixty-two inches tall. You may get 15.1 hands, 15.2 hands, and 15.3 hands but never 15.4 hands. 15.4 hands is referred to as 16 hands.
The abbreviation ‘h’ is used, and sometimes ‘Hh’ which refers to Hands High. All horses are measured from the ground to the highest point of the wither or the point on the wither where the last mane hairs are found.
Horses measure above 14.2 h.
Ponies measure under 14.2 h or 58 inches.
Miniature horses are below 34 inches (8.2 h). Some breed registries allow miniatures to be up to 38 inches (9.2 h) tall. The American Miniature Horse Registry classes minis into two divisions. The A division is any mini smaller than 34 inches, and the B division is mini horses from 34 inches to 38 inches.
Different Kinds Of Miniature Horses
Mini horses can be fine-boned, looking more like tiny Arab horses, or they can have a heavier build, and these are the ones that were bred for draught work. There are some different types of miniature horses.
In South America, a man named Patrick Newhall developed the Falabella miniature horse in the mid-eighteen-hundreds. These fine-boned horses are known for their beauty and grace. Their average height is twenty-five to thirty-four inches. They usually live until forty to forty-five years of age.
Falabellas are classed as the smallest horse breed in the world. There is a large contingent of miniature horse breeders in South Africa. There is a clear difference between the fine-boned mini horses and the draught-type mini horse in South Africa. These horses are known collectively around the world as South African Miniature Horses.
Dwarfism In Mini Horses
It is important to note that most breed registries for miniature horses frown on breeding horses with dwarfism. Minis should not exhibit any signs of dwarfism. Unfortunately, though when people begin to breed for one trait selectively, there are often genetic abnormalities that crop up in the breed.
In miniature horses, the genetic problem is dwarfism. Dwarfism is a recessive gene. This means that the parents may both be normal mini horses, but they carry the gene for dwarfism. Both the stallion and the mare must carry the gene, and when they are mated, there is a 25 % chance of a foal being born with dwarfism. Fortunately, with advanced genetic science, it is possible to screen horses genetically to ensure they are not carrying dwarfism genes.
How Long Do Mini’s With Dwarfism Live?
Dwarfism is not just a case of having an extra small horse. It causes altered conformation and serious health problems. Responsible breeders will take steps to prevent dwarfism. Linebreeding is seriously frowned on and discouraged in miniature horse breeding because of the risk of breeding dwarf horses. There are several types of dwarfism in miniature horses.
Achondroplasia dwarf minis have significantly shortened legs, and there may be abnormalities in the joints and ligaments. Their trunks will be a standard mini size, and they can live a relatively normal life. However, they may experience joint pain and need management for this.
Brachycephalic dwarfism results in a head that looks uncommonly large and misshapen. They usually have a shortened spine and will have a severely shortened life span.
Diastrophic dwarf minis have multiple deformities. Their limbs are twisted, they have roached backs, and their bellies are swollen and pendulous. Additionally, the foreheads are domed. Life is very uncomfortable for these minis, and many breeders will opt to euthanize these foals. They can live, but the pain and discomfort they will experience raise many ethical questions.
Hypochondrogenesis dwarfs occur when the bone does not ossify ( harden) at all. Essentially these foals do not have a bony skeleton, and they are usually aborted, stillborn, or die soon after birth.
Do Mini Horses Have Health Issues?
Miniature horses often have more health issues than standard-size horses. Therefore, they need careful management to remain healthy. One of the most significant issues is that it is very easy to overfeed these cuties. They love food and get very good at begging. This leads to obesity which can cause laminitis. Laminitis is a painful condition where the lamina in the horse’s hooves become inflamed and break down. Severe laminitis can lead to the need to euthanize a horse.
Unfortunately, although the mini has been bred smaller, it has the same number of teeth as a standard size horse in a very small mouth. Dental issues can be an ongoing problem for mini horses. The teeth are often crowded in the mouth, which affects the ability to chew grass and food adequately.
Bradygnathism refers to an overbite and prognathism to an underbite, and both of these are seen commonly in mini horses. For some reason, miniature horses are also prone to retaining their deciduous or baby teeth resulting in two rows of teeth in their tiny mouths.
Any dental problems affect the ability of the horse to chew. Horses have delicate digestive systems that are easily upset. An upset equine digestive system is not easy to fix, and the horse can colic. Colic in horses is regarded as a life-threatening emergency requiring immediate veterinary attention. It is one of the most frequent causes of death in all size horses.
The fact that minis are prone to colic makes management of their teeth essential. Regular check-ups from an equine dentist are vital to ensure the health of your mini. Mini foals should be checked shortly after birth to assess their mouth structure. Regular follow-ups should be completed as the teeth grow. These dental checks will need to be done on a regular basis throughout the life of the miniature horse.
Another problem that can be caused by dental issues and the smallness of the mini’s face is sinus issues. The teeth roots can grow into the sinus space and affect the drainage. This results in swellings below the eye, discharge from the eye as the nasolacrimal duct blocks, and potential infections that can be very painful. It is also possible that sinus cysts may develop, which are complex and costly to manage and treat.
Mini horses are also prone to a metabolic condition called hyperlipemia. This condition develops when the mini does not eat for some reason, such as stress or illness. The reduced calorie intake causes the breakdown of large amounts of fat which overwhelms the liver. Liver failure results, and death can occur.
Reproduction complications are common in minis. There is a high rate of dystocia (birth complications). Many breeders have special halters to alert them when a mare goes into labor. Cameras in the foaling box are also used to help monitor birthing in minis.
There is an increased chance of eclampsia during pregnancy and lactation. Eclampsia is a life-threatening drop in calcium levels in the blood. Symptoms include bloat, muscle tremors, dilated pupils, anxiety, and sweating. It can result in seizures and death if not treated promptly.
How To Feed For Your Miniature Horse To Ensure A Long Life
An essential aspect of caring for your mini horse is feeding correctly. A mini needs a small amount of grass, and concentrates should be only given in minimal quantities. Most times, the mini does not require any concentrate feeds. It is best to use good quality hay. The rule is to feed minis 1.5% of their body weight in hay per day.
If the mini is working, such as pulling a carriage or is lactating, then the hay provision can be increased to 3% of body weight daily. It would be a good idea to have your hay and pasture grass assessed by a nutritionist to determine if any essential nutrients are missing. You can use this as a guide to determine if your minis and particularly foals need any supplementation. It is not recommended to supplement without any scientific assessment. Due to their small size, it is easy to over-supplement miniature horses.
Deworming Your Miniature Horse
Minis, like most animals, can become infested with worms. A regular worming schedule is essential to ensure the health of your mini. The problem arises in determining your mini’s weight as most horse weight tapes are inaccurate when used on miniature horses. Worm medicine is administered based on the weight of the animal. It is better to use a formula to calculate the weight of your mini if you do not have a scale. The formula (UCDavis. 2012) is as follows:
“Estimated Body Weight (lbs) = (9.36 x girth inches) + (5 x body length in inches) – 348.5”
Regular Hoof Care
There is a saying in the horse world: “No foot, no horse.” This refers to the importance of regular hoof care for all size horses. Minis are no exception. The horse’s hooves grow continually and need to be trimmed for the animal to be comfortable moving around. Since minis are prone to obesity, it is vital that they are happy to walk and run around, getting as much exercise as possible. Your farrier is an essential member of your team in keeping your mind healthy.
Uses For Mini Horses
Mini horses are sometimes kept just as pets. Many people show them much like they would with standard size horses or dogs. In recent years mini horses are becoming increasingly popular as therapy or service animals. They generally like people, although there can be exceptions.
An advantage in training a service mini horse instead of a dog is that minis live such a long time that they do not need to be constantly replaced. This reduces the costs of training and buying service or therapy animals. Some minis are popular in hospitals where they visit patients bringing cheer and hope to the sick and elderly.
Miniature horses are appealing little equines that take up a small amount of space. They are long-lived and may even reach up to fifty years of age. Thirty to forty years is a typical lifespan for miniature horses. They are prone to health problems, so it is best to buy from a reputable breeder. Attention must be paid to their care in order to allow them the opportunity to live long, healthy lives.
UC Davis. 2012. The Miniature Horse; More Than Just A Smaller Horse! https://ceh.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/sites/g/files/dgvnsk4536/files/local_resources/pdfs/pubs-Dec2012-sec.pdf