History of the miniature horse is very rich and goes back very far. Miniature horses have been found buried in tombs with the Egyptian Pharaohs. Actual documentation of the miniature horse goes back to the Renaissance period during the 14th and 16th centuries. Back then miniature horses were bred as pets for Europe's nobility. Records from the court of the French King Louis XIV, circa 1650, note the presence of tiny horses among the exotic creatures in the king's zoo also paintings and articles featured the miniature horse around 1765. In the 1850's in France, the Empress wife of Napoleon III had a miniature horse to pull a small carriage.
But how did they miniature come to the US? A big contributor to this was Walter Smith McCoy of Roderfield, West Virginia, like you can read in my former article here. He imported small pit ponies from Europe in the early 1900’s to sell to the mining companies. The ponies he imported were mostly Shetland ponies; they were suited for the mines due to their size and conformation. Every now and then McCoy would have a really small pony in the bunch he imported. He would keep the smallest ponies, just for fun. In 1956, as a hobby, he started to collect all the ponies he could find less than 33 inches. At that time he collected the biggest herd of miniature horses in the world. When he discovered that people were willing to pay a lot of money for small ponies, the smaller they were, the more money people paid, McCoy started breeding.
From the small ponies McCoy would continue to breed smaller and smaller. At one point he had about 100 ponies all under 32 inches, 20 of them even less than 30 inches. They were all Shetland ponies though. The miniature horse as a breed did not exist back then in the US. The smallest McCoy ever bred is one of the smallest horses ever. She was a mare named Sugar Dumpling and she was 20 inches tall and weighed 30 pounds.
Later people started breeding the small ponies with thoroughbreds to get a more refined look. Nowadays they are called miniature horses instead of ponies because they are literally tiny horses, and not the more buff square type that small ponies are.
Don’t confuse the ‘miniature horse’ with the Falabella, though the Falabella is also a miniature horse, it is a breed on its own. Back in the 1840s, small horses were seen within herds near the southern Buenos Aires area by Patrick Newell and he started to build his herd with the smallest he could find. This was over 150 years ago. Patrick Newell worked with the small horses and his knowledge was passed to his son-in-law, Juan Falabella.
Nowadays miniature horses are very popular all over the world. West Virginia has a lot of miniature breeders all over the state.
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