Caring for Minis
Who doesn’t love miniature horses? From their tiny noses to their tiny hooves, they’re pretty much one of the cutest animals on earth. We know it, and they know it. But though they may look like a stuffed animal and act like a dog, it’s important to remember they’re still horses, and as such, still have the same needs as their full-sized counterparts. However, minis also have added risks due to their small size.
Meet Olivia, a miniature horse who joined my equine family over the summer. When I adopted Olivia, the first thing I asked the vet was, “What do I need to know?” They stressed one very important point: Do. Not. Let. Her. Get. Fat.
As it turns out, keeping a miniature horse slim is not the easiest task. It’s easy to think you can throw a mini out in the field with everyone else. After all, she’s a horse, right? And most horses can spend all day and night grazing in a field. However, a mini in a field is going to blow up faster than a balloon.
If you’re going to get a mini horse, it’s best to have a dry lot available during the prime grass-growing seasons, as well as a miniature-sized grazing muzzle on hand.
Keeping an eye on their daily forage intake and checking in on their weight regularly are both important tasks. Just like a full size horse, a mini needs 1.5-2% of their body weight in daily forage depending on their level of work. This means, while an average 1,000 lb horse should eat about 15-20 lbs of forage per day, minis need only a fraction of that to sustain themselves – for instance, a 200 lb miniature needs 3-4 lbs total forage per day.
Additionally, most mini horses do not need to be fed grain. Olivia was adopted from a rescue after being in a neglect situation. Our vet recommended good quality hay only, no grain, and limited grass. She’s been thriving on this plan; she’s put on the weight she needed to, and is maintaining her now very nice figure.
When a miniature horse is overweight, it also increases their risk of developing Hyperlipidemia and Hepatic Lipidosis, more commonly referred to as “Fatty Liver.” Miniature horses, donkeys, and ponies, overweight or not, are more susceptible than your average horse, but being overweight increases a mini’s chances of becoming sick. Characterized by an increase in fat deposits in the liver, or lipids in the bloodstream, Fatty Liver ultimately causes the liver to fail.
Even if treated aggressively, there is only a 20%-60% rate of survival, but if you can catch it early, the chances of recovery are better. If a miniature horse goes 24 hours without eating, their system can begin to metabolize fats improperly and the risks for Fatty Liver skyrockets. Sometimes, horses experience bouts of anorexia if they are sick, or they are forced to temporarily go off feed due to colic or other illnesses. While these instances can be unavoidable, keeping your mini’s weight down and remaining proactive alongside your vet can be helpful for prevention and early detection.
If your mini is not eating, talk to your vet to find ways to keep their metabolism working properly, and ask to check their lipid and glucose levels if you are concerned. You can read more about one person’s experience with this disease with three of her miniature horses here.
All in all, miniature horses are adorable, fun additions to your farm, but they’re not just a smaller, easier version of a full-sized horse that takes up less space. They come with their own unique health risks. It’s always important to stay in tune with your animals, and if you notice something isn’t quite right, contact your vet.
Jacqueline Bach has her MA in writing from Johns Hopkins and writes Young Adult fiction. Her equine experience includes daily horse care at a small boarding facility. When she’s not at her day job, she can be found caring for, training, and loving up her four-legged children: Lily (Dudley lab), Sierra (palomino pony), and their newest sister, Olivia (miniature rescue horse)