Horses come in all sizes. The very largest horse breed, the Shire, typically weighs about 2000 pounds, and the smallest, miniature horses, weigh 200 pounds on average. Most of our horse breeds are of the riding type, like the American Quarter Horse, and weigh around 1100 pounds. This begs the question, should our feeding strategies for our smallest horses be similar to that of a large draft or even riding type horse?

What is a Miniature Horse?

Miniature horses are defined as horses that usually do not stand more than 38 inches tall at the withers. Height requirements may vary slightly by breed registry, but these horses usually weigh within a range of 150 to 300 pounds. Generally, any horse that stands under 14.2 hands (58 inches) tall at the withers is termed a “pony.” Yet, miniature horses are not called ponies because many argue that miniature horses are more like their larger horse cousins when compared to the breed characteristics of a pony. For example, ponies tend to have shorter legs in proportion to their body size compared to American Quarter Horses and miniature horses.

What Should A Miniature Horse Eat?

Regardless, draft horses, riding type horses, ponies and miniature horses should all be fed similarly. The only major difference will be meal size, with some adjustments depending on if the horse is an easy or hard keeper, or if the horse is being worked or not. For a quick review, all horse diets should include:

  1. High-quality forage:
    • The base of any equine diet should be 1% of the horse’s body weight (BW), at minimum, per day. On average, horses are fed 2.5% of their BW per day in forage or given free choice access.
  2. Quality feed:
    • properly balanced horse feeds are needed to fill in nutritional gaps left out by forage, including vitamins, minerals and amino acids.
  3. Supplements:
  4. Water: 
    • Horses should always have access to clean water.

How to Feed Your Miniature Horse

When formulating a diet for a miniature horse, you must first know how much they weigh. Yet, with miniature horses, finding out their BW can be difficult. This is because the typical horse weight tapes and/or equations are not suitable for them due to their body size. Fortunately, there are specific weight tapes on the market for miniature horses. Further, an equation has been developed that will help give an estimate of a miniature horse’s weight. To get an estimate of a miniature horse’s weight:

  • Have the horse stand on a flat surface.
  • Using a seamstress tape, or any flexible (cloth) tape measure, measure the heart girth of the horse in inches, starting behind the withers and going around the barrel of the horse.
  • For the horse’s body length, start at the point of the shoulder and measure, in inches, down to the point of the buttocks.
  • You can then use the following formula to get a weight estimate: (9.36 x heart girth measurement) plus (5 x body length measurement) and then subtract 348.5.

It is also worth noting that the Henneke Body Condition Scoring System is an appropriate method for evaluating condition of your miniature horse. Like other types of horses, the ideal score for a miniature horse is in the 4 to 6 range. The Tribute Equine Nutrition® Wellness System should be used for further assessment.

Because of their size, miniature horses tend to be overfed, mainly because owners over estimate their needs. For example, a 200-pound miniature horse in a body condition score of 5 would only need ~ 4 to 5 pounds of hay per day. This would be about 1-2 flakes of hay a day, depending on the type of hay and weight of the flake. In addition to hay, a ration balancer, like Essential K®, would be fed at a rate of ½ pound and divided over 2 to 3 meals per day. Remember, it is always important to remember to weigh out a horse’s feed prior to feeding.

Conclusion

Overall, when estimating dietary needs for any miniature horse, the principles of feeding management remain the same as if feeding a 1,000 or 2,000 lb horse. They should be fed at regular intervals and owners should choose horse feed that is appropriate to that individual miniature horse’s stage of life and level of work. It is also worth noting that most miniature horses are known as “easy keepers.” This means that they tend to put on and maintain weight easier than other types of horses. Thus, the energy (calories) in their diets may need to be reduced to ensure they can maintain proper condition (body weight) for their size. More general feeding management tips for all horse types can be found HERE.

If you have any questions about feeding your miniature horse, please contact us for a personalized feeding plan!

 

Chris Mortensen, Ph.D.