Tiny, not pony tails

Mini horses compete at Springfield’s Regional Champions Center

AMHA’s Eastern Regional Championship Show runs June 30-July 2 in Springfield; photo: Patty Diehl

By Erin Callahan

When it comes to showing horses, bigger isn’t always better. In fact, there are plenty of opportunities for mini horses to steal the show, and some are bred to perform competitively to similar standards as the larger horses.

Take it from Centerville’s Patty Diehl, who owns 12 mini horses across the country for training, showing, and breeding. She began showing larger horses at a young age, but got her first mini horse for her son when he was 6 years old. He showed until he left for college, and Diehl has continued working with them since. While mini horses are judged similarly to larger horses, she says they have their own style and spunk. As the American Miniature Horse Association (AMHA) website states, “Many American miniature horses take to the show ring as if they were born to it.”

“They’re fun and have great temperaments,” Diehl agrees. “I think what people like about them is their endearing personalities.”

You can come and see these minis strut their stuff for free at the American Miniature Horse Association (AMHA) Eastern Regional Championship Show June 30–July 2 at the Champions Center in Springfield.

The AMHA is an equine association with more than 12,000 members in over 30 countries. The association “promotes the breeding, use, and perpetuation of a standard of equine excellence in miniature.” They sponsor more than 250 shows throughout the U.S. and Canada each year and average 3,100 entries in the World Championship Show in the fall. Diehl anticipates about 175 to 200 horses will be present at the regional championships in Springfield.

So what exactly makes a mini horse “mini”? According to Diehl, only horses of a certain size are considered mini depending on the height at their withers, or the ridge between their shoulder blades. They’re not to be confused with ponies, which are typically stockier with thicker manes, coats, and tails.

“To be a miniature horse registered with the AMHA, they have to measure 34 inches or less,” Diehl says. “Depending on the age of the horse, when they are a year old, they cannot measure over 32 inches. If they show at 2 years old, they cannot measure over 33. And when they are 3 years old, they cannot measure over 34.”

Their small size is just another reason people enjoy showing mini horses because they’re easier to handle.

“They’re easier to transport, they eat less feed, and they are really a lot easier to deal with,” Diehl says. “You get a 2,500-pound horse acting up—you know they don’t have to act up a lot before it becomes difficult—but a miniature horse, even on its worse day, isn’t too hard. They’re only 250-300 pounds. They are very smart and pick up on things very quick.”

This combination of intelligence, good demeanor, and easy handling helps simplify training, which often starts when the mini horses are just a few years old, in the months leading up to their first shows.

For example, “When they are about 2.5 years old, they start training for pulling a cart,” Diehl says. “[There are] different speeds you have to go, they have to stop and stand quietly, they have to turn around—there’s a pattern we do. They have to get used to driving with another horse or two, or 10 if you’re training them at the same time. Same with jumper [classes], teaching them to go over the jumps takes training. You have to work on it all the time to keep them in shape.

“Everybody has their own way of doing it,” Diehl continues. “Some horses that are just learning may have to be driven a few times a week and do different types of workouts to keep the muscle. But every trainer has their own way of doing things, their own feed schedule, and whatever types of supplements they use.”

One of Diehl’s horses is showing in California, one is growing up in Indiana before it can be trained on the cart, and she plans to show two stallions this year. She explained that being involved with the AMHA and entering shows are great ways to make connections with trainers and other owners interested in breeding.

Each regional championship has three judges who evaluate the horses on several different classes and skills, similar to larger horse shows. Classes for different sexes, ages, colors, and heights include jumper—when the horses are ridden and jump over obstacles—and halter classes—meaning they’re led by hand and not ridden. The horses can also be judged on animation, which includes classic pleasure, country pleasure, and single pleasure.

“Animation is how high the horses kick their legs, how high they carry their head, and how big their stride is,” Diehl explains. “The classic pleasure is the calm level with a relaxed stride and lower gait. In country pleasure, their head goes up a bit, their nose comes in a bit, and they begin to hold their legs up a little more. Then single pleasure is the highest in animation.”

Even for those not interested in breeding, showing or owning mini horses can be just as fun. Diehl mentions that some are used as therapy animals in children’s hospitals.

For anyone interested in attending the regional championship in Springfield and learning more about the AMHA, Diehl says there be a lot of resources available at the show, and it will be a lively environment:

“There will be a lot of people sitting in the stands watching their horse, and anyone will answer questions for those who are interested. There’s an office there, and the president and directors from different areas will also be there. But a lot of it is just watching, and that’s the fun part!”

The American Miniature Horse Association Eastern Regional Championship Show takes place June 30 – July 2 at the Champions Center, 4122 Laybourne Rd. in Springfield. Show starts at 8 a.m. Admission is free. For more information, please visit AMHA.org.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Erin Callahan at ErinCallahan@DaytonCityPaper.com

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