Miniature horses are horses of diminutive size that are the result of selective breeding programs over hundreds of years. Depending on the breed organization, miniature horses are recognized as horses that stand under 34-38 inches in height. Miniature horses are frequently shown in hand and also may drive, but many also may be purchased by novice horse owners due to their cute and cuddly appearance. It is important that owners recognize that a miniature horse is still a horse, and it should be treated in a manner that reflects good horsemanship rather than as a dog or other pet. Miniature horses also have some unique health concerns that new owners should be aware of.


First and foremost, nutrition is a big factor in owning a miniature horse. Minis, like all horses, are designed to eat a forage based diet, meaning that their primary source of food should be fresh pasture or hay. Grain may or may not be necessary – many adult minis do not need an additional grain source if they are provided with reasonable quality forage. More information on forages can be found on the UGA Animal and Dairy Science Youtube page or at the UGA Equine Website.


Additionally, it is important to recognize that obesity can be a major health concern for miniature horses. Mature minis are often easy-keepers, meaning that they do not need to consume many calories to maintain the appropriate weight. Obesity can lead to health problems such as insulin resistance and laminitis, so it is very important to stay on top of weight control. Optimal intake levels for horses are approximately 1.5-2% of their body weight in dry matter daily. For a 300 pound mini, this would be approximately 5-6 pounds of hay per day. If minis are being housed on pasture, which is great from a mental and physical standpoint, they may need to be muzzled to prevent them from overeating. It is important to monitor their body condition to make decisions on feeding them. There are many online tools to assist you in determining your horse’s body condition, but a quick summary is that a horse in optimal condition would have ribs that are easily felt but not visible, with little fat accumulation in the crest of the neck or around the tail head. If your mini is a little on the fatter side, it is recommended to house them on a dry lot or stall where you can control the amount of hay you feed, and muzzle them when they are out on fresh pasture to restrict intake.

Genetic Conformational Faults

Other problems that minis are prone to include a genetic predisposition to certain conformational faults such as dwarfism, limb deformities, issues with stifle locking, as well as issues with jaw conformation. Some of these problems can be corrected with surgery and management, while others can be severe problems that inhibit the animal’s ability to move and eat normally. If you are considering purchasing a miniature horse, and you do not have the experience to recognize conformational defects, consider taking an experienced horseman with you to evaluate the horse or getting a veterinarian to do a pre-purchase exam. Minis can also be prone to dental problems such as overcrowding of the teeth and potentially associated sinus issues. A veterinarian can help you evaluate the horse for these types of problems before you buy it. If you own a miniature horse, annual dental exams by a veterinarian are recommended.


Breeding miniature horses is not recommended for the average horse owner. They are prone to several genetic defects and are also predisposed to dystocia (difficulty giving birth). Breeding should be done only by those who have experience in selecting appropriate matings and handling foaling difficulties. Also, it is not recommended that miniature horses be ridden by anyone other than small children (if the mini is gentle enough). Horses should not carry more than 20% of their body weight, which is only 60 pounds for many full grown miniature horses. Minis can be trained to pull a buggy, and they can be shown in hand in a wide variety of classes. If you are keeping a mini as a pet, it is important to remember that they are not a dog. They have a much different gastrointestinal tract than other common pets, and they should not be fed random pet treats or foods that are not appropriate for horses. Additionally, they should receive proper hoof care which includes hoof trimming by a farrier every 6-8 weeks to keep hoof angles aligned properly and minimize stress to the legs, as well as to check for problems mentioned.

In summary, it is important to remember that while miniature horses are sure to appeal to many people due to the cuteness of their size, they are still horses, and they require the same care that a full-sized horse needs. In addition to routine equine care, minis are genetically predisposed to certain conformational and physiological problems, and you need to be aware of this before jumping into miniature horse ownership. While mini horse ownership can be very rewarding and fun, make sure you are equipped with the right knowledge and professional veterinary and farrier help before investing in a mini as a pet or show animal.

Dr. Kylee Duberstein, UGA Equine Specialist