Miniature Horse Care
This is an educational page that is a valuable source of information gathered by many top notch breeders (including ourselves) as well as very experienced licensed veterinarians who have been practicing for nearly 40 years. We have been involved with horses ourselves for 22+ years and with miniature horses 19+ years and have learned so much over the years on the do's and don'ts of miniature horse care and ownership. We get quite a few emails and calls every day from people who need advice and/or help on how to care for a miniature horse. On many occasions we even had to help someone correct a problem they were having because they were given the wrong information elsewhere. We do not claim to know it all by any means. When you own a horse, you are always going to learn something new no matter how much knowledge and experience you have. It is the nature of owning horses. However, there are times when education and knowledge can mean the difference between life and death. It is better to make the right decision then the wrong one. So that is why we pride ourselves in always being available to help individuals who have questions or problems regarding owning a miniature horse. So no matter the question or problem you have, we are here to help. Everything on this page is a summary of vet opinions and knowledge as well as our own personal experiences and knowledge of owning, breeding and caring for miniatures for almost 2 decades and vets who have been practicing for 4 decades. Miniature Horses are relatively easy keepers and require all the same routine care as a full size horse such as worming, feet trims and vaccinations however when it comes to the everyday care of miniature horse there are some things that differ from a full size horse that every miniature horse owner needs to know. While miniature horses are relatively pretty hardy and easy to care for, there are still some things you have to be careful with such as obesity, founder, metabolic disorders, laminitis and colic that seem more prevalent in miniature horses and ponies. (Later down this page you will read about a very serious and deadly disorder that can kill a miniature horse if not treated). If you are diligent in keeping them on a good worming and vaccination program as well as watching what you feed them, how much you feed them, and are observant on any changes your miniature horse makes then your miniature horse should live for many years. In fact it is not unusual for these little horses to live into their 30's. Besides laminitis, metabolic disorders, founder and colic, I also find that miniature horses are more prone to upper respiratory infections as well as dental problems due to their small size. Most likely because they have such small facial structures and large teeth for their size.
Access to plenty of hay keeps the miniature horse's digestive system flowing and prevents various digestive illnesses. Minis do have a bit of a touchy digestive system so it is important to keep them on a stable feeding program with proper forage. Do not feed your mini too coarse or stemmy hay as it is too hard for their little mouths to chew and rough stems in the hay can actually cause sores in the mouth not to mention create a higher risk for choke. We feed a very soft all orchard grass hay. Timothy hay is fine too as long as it is not too coarse. You can also feed an alfalfa mix hay like T/A or O/A as long as it is no more then 50% alfalfa and only feed a small quantity!. NEVER FEED YOUR MINIS 100% PURE ALFALFA regardless of what you may have been told. While Alfalfa is low is sugar which is good for minis, it is way too fattening to be given to them on a daily basis especially pure alfalfa and in large quantity. Alfalfa hay contains too much calcium and/or magnesium. The high calcium level causes a high calcium and phosphorus ratio which may contribute to developmental orthopedic disease and high magnesium levels increase the chances of the formation of enteroliths (intestinal stones). They are not like full sizes, their needs are much different!! Especially since minis are prone to obesity, founder and metabolic issues like laminitis, the last thing they need is foods high in fat which can trigger obesity which can lead to founder and other metabolic issues. And no its not old school theory that a mini can never founder, colic, get fat or get a metabolic issue when given high fat and/or high protein food. It is actually a fact!!, been there, done that. If you have a mini that already has metabolic issues, laminitis or has foundered, they need to be put on a low starch and low sugar diet and be muzzled when out on grass. For all minis, just a nice grass hay or timothy hay is all they need. Bermuda/Coastal hay is also adequate but make sure it is SOFT and not stemmy. You can also use round bales, but we recommend getting a slow eating hay net to put over it so the minis eat it slowly and can only eat a little bit at a time through the mesh.
Grass is important to a minis diet as well. You will find most breeders keep their minis on grass all day long. Please note that we do not believe in leaving minis out on grass 24/7 as too much grass especially rich spring and summer grass increases the chances of obesity and founder. In the spring and summer we limit our minis to no more than 2-3 hours a grass a day. Starting every spring we gradually increase their grazing time starting with 30 minutes for the first week then increasing it by an hour each week after. In the Fall & Winter when the grass is less sugary (that is in Florida), we will leave them out for 4-5 hours. If you would like to have your mini outside all day long, I would suggest keeping a grazing muzzle on it or keeping it in a dry lot. Also as we live in Florida now the heat is a big issue so during the Spring & Summer and even part of Fall the minis are turned out only in the morning and then in the afternoon they are brought back inside their stalls with fans where it is cooler and given lots of hay.
It is fine to give your miniature horse treats just limit the amount you give them and make sure the treats are cut up in very small pieces so there is no risk of them choking. Also be careful of hand feeding as it can cause them to become nippy. I rarely feed my minis treats and when I do I always put the treats in their feed bowl instead of feeding them by hand. The exception to hand feeding would be if a mini is performing tricks or if you use treats to entice them into a show stance at shows, otherwise keep the treats to a minimum. A mini much prefers a good back or neck scratch anyways!
Grain is also important in a miniature's diet especially in young horses and pregnant mares. We feed all our minis a good quality complete feed Triple Crown Senior which works all the way around for both young horses, old horses, pregnant mares and even stallions. We were feeding the Purina Miniature Horse Feed for many years which is specifically formulated for miniature horses and ponies and it worked pretty good and we had no complaints, however we found out that the Triple Crown Feeds are much lower in Sugar and Starch which overall is better for minis so have recently switched ALL our minis to only Triple Crown Senior. Now if you have an super easy keeper or a horse with laminitis issues that needs less starch and sugar in their diet, we highly recommend Triple Crown Lite or Triple Crown Senior or Triple Crown 30 Balancer as all three have an NSC (sugar/starch of less than 12%). There are plenty of other good quality grains out there but found that Triple Crown has the lowest NSC (Sugar/Starch) then any grain on the market. You are welcome to choose any good quality complete pelleted feed to feed your mini, just make sure the protein level of the grain you are feeding is either 12% or 14%. If the mini is an easy keeper, we strongly suggest keeping to a low fat/low sugar/starch grain meaning less than 5% fat and less then 15% NSC. In fact the lower the fat and lower the NSC the better! You will find a good percentage of breeders these days feed their minis Sweet Feed. That is a big NO NO in our eyes. Sweet Feed has high amounts of molasses, sugars, whole oats and whole corn - all things a mini should NOT have in their body. Corn is one of the worst things you can feed any horse let alone a miniature. Corn does not digest so is hard on their digestive tract and oats will literally go right through them. A lot of grains have a small amount of oats and corn cooked in them as part of the ingredients, that is fine since it has been cooked and broken down and it is in small amounts anyways - what you don't want is to get grain that actually has cracked or whole corn and oats that is clearly visible IN the grain like sweet feed does. Miniature horses already have a delicate digestive system anyways, so feeding them anything with corn in it (especially if there is a lot of corn in it) is not a good idea. Sweet Feed also has a higher amount of molasses and sugars which can lead to colic and diabetic problems. Adding supplements to their feed is not necessary if you are feeding a good quality complete feed with good quality hay. However if you have a mini that is bordering on obesity and can't have grain, a vitamin supplement or a ration balancer is a good thing to feed them as it won't add any additional fat to their diet but will give them the needed vitamins they are not getting from not eating grain. Plus in the mind of your mini, they won't know they are not really getting grain either so a vitamin supplement or ration balancer is a great alternative. Another important thing to do that you would be surprised that most miniature horse owners/breeders don't know to do is to wet down their minis grain with water so that it turns into a soft mash. There are two good reasons for doing this. First is that when the food is wet down with water it becomes a mash and makes it much easier for a miniature to chew especially if they have teeth problems like an underbite. Even if they don't have teeth issues, soft food is still always easier for them to chew then hard food. Secondly, the wet food is much easier on their delicate digestive system to digest. Wetting the food down also decreases their chance for colic. In the summer, we put cold water on their grain. In the winter, we use warm water. Some horses are picky and don't always like eating "mushy mashed wet" grain so it is ok if you just wet the grain a little. If it does not turn into a complete wet mash that is ok, just adding some water is better then no water at all.
If you live in a state where you have sandy soil like Florida where we live - ask your veterinarian about adding Sand Clear or any product similar to their diet. With Sand Clear they get that for one week every month. This helps them flush out any sand they might ingest from eating off the ground. It is highly recommended that you feed your mini in a bowl off the ground to avoid them ingesting sand or dirt while eating. We always hang their bowls on the gates of their stalls or pens.
It is also important to make sure your mini has access to clean fresh water. If you feel your mini is not drinking enough water, you can always add electrolytes to their grain. Also make sure to have a mineral/salt block available to them.
We find the best set up for our minis is to have them on large dry lots outside with run in shelters during the warmer months. We do stall them in the winter as Ohio winters can be quite cold and we want them to be warm, comfortable and out of the elements. We found that even if they are outside and have shelter available during the winter, horses will always be silly and stand out in the cold rain, ice and snow leaving them shivering. I can't tell you how many times we had to bring horses in the house to warm them up because one winter we had ice rain and several of the minis stood out in it even though they had a shelter to go to. So from then on we stall our minis during the winter. In the spring, summer and early fall they are outside on dry lots. If you have your mini outside year round, just make sure to have the option to lock them up in their shelter during the winter if it gets too cold or if it is snowing or ice raining. Make sure they have lots of hay to munch on too.
The nice thing about minis is they don't require the same amount of land space a full size horse needs. A large back yard will do just fine for one little miniature horse. One acre of grass pasture is adequate to feed two or three miniature horses. Just make sure that you do not have any toxic trees or plants that a mini can reach. If you are unsure if you have any on your land, contact a veterinarian or the department of agricultural for assistance.
For stalls, minis don't need the typical 12 x 12 stall size a full size horse needs. An 8 x 8 size stall is a perfectly adequate stall size for any size mini. We only bed with wood shavings. We never use straw as minis sometimes will eat the straw which can lead to impaction colics. Even during foaling time, we bed the mothers to be with hay, never straw.
Most fencing works for minis but there are exceptions. If you use electric fencing or electric tape, make sure it is low enough for a mini and that the spacing is not so far apart they can walk through it. The same with board fencing, make sure the fence boards are not too far apart that a mini can fit through it. Make sure your fencing is strong and secure. Don't take minis for granted. They are very smart and can figure out the right spot to lean against a weak fence or find the smallest cracks they can squeeze through.
We worm our young minis (under 2 years of age) every 6-8 weeks and our adult minis (over 2 years of age) are wormed every 3-4 months. We alternate between Safeguard, Strongid, Ivermectin and Zimectrin Gold. It has been proven that adult horses do not need to be wormed as frequently as they have developed the immunity to fight off/prevent most worms and worming too often can result in worming product resistance. However young horses under the age of 2 do not have the immunity yet and therefore should be wormed every 6-8 weeks. Do not ever give QUEST to minis as there have been cases where minis have died from getting Quest. We trim our minis feet every 6-8 weeks. We vaccinate them yearly in the spring for EE/WE, Flu, Rhino & Tetanus. Now that we are in Florida where there are a ton of mosquitos we are vaccinating for West Nile. If you have had cases of Rabies or West Nile in your area, we suggest you ask your local vet if you should vaccinate your horses for it.
It is extremely important to keep on top of your minis teeth. They should be checked by a dentist yearly starting at age 3. Because minis have such large teeth for the size of mouth they have, they often have teeth problems and therefore need to be checked yearly for any sharp points, ramps or hooks. In particular if you have a mini with an underbite, they usually always have to be floated yearly as they can't wear their teeth down normally due to the underbite. If your mini is losing weight, not gaining weight or if you notice it is dropping food out of it's mouth while eating, contact your dentist as more in likely your mini has some dental issues that need corrected.
MINIS AND OTHER ANIMALS
One of the most commonly asked question is if minis can be turned out with other animals. The answer is yes they can. Minis generally get along really well with all types of farm animals such as pigs, goats, sheep, chickens, llamas, donkeys, etc. What about full size horses? We do not recommend turning miniatures out with full size horses as their is a high risk of injury (or worse) if a full size horse were to kick or bite a miniature. It is always important to slowly introduce any new animal by having them in fields or stalls side by side first to get to know one another and any close up interactions in the same field should be done with someone holding on to them at all times so in case there's any confrontation between the two, you can break them apart quickly. Just take your time and slowly introduce them and make a good judgement on whether the animal is going to be good with the mini.
Despite their small size. Minis are quiet versatile and can do just about anything a full size horse can do. In fact there are all types of classes you can show your mini in, in the show ring such as halter, showmanship, obstacle/trail, costume, in hand jumping, driving, even lead line for the small children. Minis love doing tricks in fact we have several here at the farm that are fully trick trained to do a variety of tricks. And lets not forget the ever important job of all - therapy! Minis make fantastic therapy animals and are not only easy to train for therapy but have the natural ability and love for it as well! The smaller minis (under 30") can not be ridden! Only the larger Minis (33"-36") can be ridden by very small children, although they are still restricted to the weight they can carry. A mini should not carry more then 20% of their body weight including the weight of the saddle (you will find this as a listed fact on every website on the internet). So for instance a 250 pound mini should not be carrying more then a 50 pound child on its back. The stocky more quarter horse type minis are better suited for riding. In no way should an adult ever ride a mini!! I see pics on the internet of adults sitting on a mini and they think it is cute and I am horrified someone would do that to a mini! It is just cruel not to mention the physical toll and damage they can do to a mini!
Like full size horses, minis require the same amount of grooming and bathing. We frequently bath ours during the summer as well as body clipping them sometimes as they get much longer thicker coats then full size horses during the winter and they don't always shed all of it out by summer time so we often have to body clip them so they don't get overheated. Because of their long thick coats during the winter, they tend to trap dirt in their coats which can lead to coat problems like excessive dander, rain rot or hair loss. So good grooming during the winter months is important. If your mini likes to pick that one muddy spot in the field and rolls in it and you are not brave enough to bring your mini inside for a bath in your bathtub then use the no rinse waterless shampoo to help get some of the dirt out of their winter coats.
The one advantage a mini has over a full size horse is their ability to ride comfortably in large SUVs or Minivans! In fact we have a minivan and a small passenger conversion van that we use solely for hauling our minis. We never use a horse trailer! Inside the vans, we put down rubber mats and shavings. I even know people that have custom made truck tops for the bed of their trucks and haul their minis in there! Now when shipping minis from one home to the other, if you can't drive to pick up the mini yourself, we would recommend hiring a transport company and then they would be transported in a trailer. We know lots of reputable companies so can recommend a shipper to haul your mini!. But for everyday transport of your mini, an SUV, truck or Minivan works great! However if you are going to be traveling long distance of more than 4 hours, I would use a horse trailer as it will be more comfortable for them for long distance travel, but for short ventures around town or traveling just a few hours away, a van or SUV works just fine!
Minis are not really prone to diseases. But just like people, they can occasionally get the flu or upper respiratory infections both which are treatable. If you suspect your mini is sick with the flu, contact your local veterinarian. But there are things you can do in the meantime such as check their temperature and if they are running a fever of 101 or higher, give them banamine orally every 12 hours until they are no longer running a fever. Rule of thumb is 1 cc of banamine per 100 pounds. Usually with the flu, minis will stop eating grain but will continue to eat hay and drink water. If you suspect your mini is not drinking water, you may have to syringe sugar water into them or give them gatorade (orange flavored is best). Give them a cup of either several times a day until they start drinking their own water again. Make sure to not tilt their head back when syringing them as you risk getting it in their lungs. Usually with the flu it will run its course and they will be fine just like the human flu. The key is just keeping their temperature down and make sure they stay hydrated. If your mini has an upper respiratory infection, they will usually have white to yellow discharge in their nose accompanied by a cough. Usually with the upper respiratory infection they don't run a fever or stop eating but in some cases they do. Contact your local veterinarian and ask them to give them a shot of "Exceed" antibiotic. They should return in 4-5 days and booster them again with the same antibiotic. Usually 2 doses of this antibiotic clears all upper respiratory infections.
There is a disorder that minis get called Hyperlipidemia also known as "Cloudy Plasma". Hyperlipidemia is a condition that only affects Miniature Horses, Ponies and Donkeys. In short, hyperlipidemia (or hyperlipidemia) is a disorder of lipid metabolism that may lead to fatty infiltration of the liver, clinical signs of liver disease, loss of appetite and, ultimately, death. The disease often occurs in minis that are either obese, stressed, sick with an illness or ulcers, pregnant or lactating but the main reason is caused from not eating. It frequently develops following a primary illness of several days duration such as diarrhea, fever, endotoxemia, parasitism, pituitary tumor or neonatal septicemia, but can occur any time a horse is unable to satisfy its own metabolic energy needs. We have found that the majority of miniatures will get this disorder from simply not eating as a result of stress, illness or ulcers. Affected horses may also have lethargy, progressing to incoordination, abdominal pain, head pressing, circling, diarrhea, convulsions and eventually death. But some minis do not show any symptoms other then not eating and that alone can put them into this disorder. It is important for owners and veterinarians alike to always suspect hyperlipidemia in any mini with any of the symptoms of severe depression, anorexia, neurological signs, and icterus (jaundice). Owners may prevent this condition by providing appropriate nutrition while avoiding obesity, stress and engaging in good routine health care. Bottom line is, if a mini goes too long without eating, they will get this condition. The sooner it is caught, the better chance you have of turning them around and ultimately saving their life. Minis CAN die from this disorder if left untreated. If you HAVE experience dealing with this disorder, the mini can be treated at home by giving banamine every 12 hours, syringing Karo Syrup at least 4 times a day along with syringing gatorade in them and picking grass. They should be tested frequently to see how bad their cloudy plasma is and if it is improving. Besides the Karo Syrup, gatorade and grass, you can temporarily feed them alfalfa in this case to encourage them to eat. The key to successfully getting them better is catching it early on and getting sugar into their system ASAP until they start eating on their own. If you have never dealt with this disorder before then immediately call the vet out and have them tube feed them and/or give them dextrose and fluids through an IV. I strongly suggest anyone that has a mini that stops eating for more than one day to take it to the hospital to be tested for cloudy plasma and then treated aggressively. They literally can go into cloudy plasma within just a few days of not eating and go downhill from there and if this disorder is not treated aggressively and early on, they can die from it!!.
Minis also are prone to ulcers from stress. Whenever a mini is moving from one state to another to a new home it can be emotionally stressful for them. It is best to treat them with Gastrogard or Ulcerguard for one week after they arrive to prevent and cure ulcers.
SIGNS OF COLIC
(usually they have a couple signs if not all these symptoms)
Rolling obsessively over and over, looking at their sides and/or pawing, sitting up like a dog, smiling (lifting their lip up in the air for no reason), biting their flanks or belly, stomping their legs, breathing heavy, sweating, hunching their back or try to squat while standing, not eating or no gut sounds. Not all horses show the same signs, so it is important that you know your horse's normal behavior and be on top of any changes in their behavior that is out of the norm. If you suspect your horse is colicing, contact the vet immediately. The most important thing to do while you are waiting on your vet to arrive is to get the horse up and walking. Do not let them lay down. Take them outside and walk them until the vet arrives. Also administer banamine immediately in the muscle (you will need a needle and syringe) - with minis, either the middle of the neck or the muscle in the butt is the best place to give shots. The reason you do it in the muscle instead of orally in the mouth is because it will works twice as fast if it is injected. Injected in the muscle it takes 15-20 minutes to take effect. If you do it orally in the mouth it can take up to 45 minutes to take effect. In the case of colic, the sooner the better so inject the banamine in the muscle. Horses can colic for several reasons - stress, change in feed, too much grass, moldy feed or hay, high grain based diets or low forage diets, parasites (which is why it is important to have a good worming program), ingesting something foreign (like sand, dirt, gravel or other things they shouldn't be eating) or lack of water consumption. Gas Colics are much easier to cure then impaction colics. If caught early most colics are curable. So it is important that you take action right away if you suspect your horse might be colicing.