What they lack in size they more than make up for in personality. ROBYN SYKES writes Miniature Horses are making their mark in the equine world. Their size and temperament make them ideal for small farmers looking to start a horse stud with a difference.

MINIATURE horses can be ridden by a small child, harnessed onto a small cart for tourist rides, add charm and interest to tourist ventures or simply charm folk into making these petite equines into polished pets.

Their size means they require far less feed and space than their full-sized equivalents.

According to the Miniature Horse Association there are two categories of these cute companion animals:

Miniature Horses, which at maturity do not exceed 86 cm (34 inches or 8.2 hands)

Small Horses, which measure 86–96.5 cm (34–38 inches or 8.2–9.2 hands).

There are also height-for-age requirements.

Miniature horses are just like horses in most respects except, obviously, the size.

Their genepool contains an amalgam of Pit Pony, Appaloosa and other breeds — but they are not to be confused with Miniature Ponies or Shetlands.

They are smaller than Shetland Ponies but with a horse, rather than Shetland, temperament.

“The general impression should be one of refinement, symmetry, agility and an alert intelligence,” the website http://www.mhaa.com.au/ says.

Miniature and Small Horses feature at shows in halter, harness classes and performance events including trail and jumping.

Children are naturally attracted to them and former horse owners can continue their love affair with them, feeling less challenged by the burden of caring for a larger equine.

They can be used for stress relief for people with high pressure jobs and offer companionship, relaxation and a cure for loneliness.

Their size and temperament make them ideal for small farmers looking to start a horse stud with a difference: which is just what Trish Wallace did.

The hard-working owner of Mt Surprise Tourist Park operates Thumbelina Miniature Horse Stud at Mt Surprise, in far north Queensland.

Mt Surprise, population 60 on a good day, is at the heart of the northern gem fields.

It is a popular destination for travellers interested in fossicking for gems or visiting the Undara Lava Tubes.

And many of them also call in to see the Miniature Horses, the pet emu or the Gouldian Finches that also call the tourist park ‘home’.

Trish fell in love with the little horses with big personalities in the 1990s’.

“I saw a picture of them in the National Geographic and thought, ‘that’d make a good pet’ and it just grew from there,” Trish said.

A single mare and stallion formed the base of the stud, brought north in the back of a small van (no need for a horse float with these littlies).

Stud numbers peaked at 14, but now sit at a more sustainable seven.

There’s a new stallion, a gelding and five mares.

Plus there are two foals born in February that are earmarked for sale.

The stallion and his mares graze on two paddocks: one about 0.4 ha (one acre) and the other 0.2 ha (half an acre) adjacent to another of Trish’s passions, the Mt Surprise Tourist Park. After buying the petrol station in 1974, the hard-working entrepreneur started the multi-faceted tourism venture from scratch in 1976, with a caravan park and motel. She added a café/gift shop in 1986 and the horses in 1993.

“I keep them [the horses] mainly for the tourism side of things,” the horse and bird lover said.

“I sell a few, but not many … I like to see them running around the paddock. They come up and meet people through the fence.”

The entire enterprise covers a bit more than 2ha, with the horse stud acting as an added attraction for the van park and motel guests.

“I used to be with the Miniature Horse Association, but I’m not now … that’s more for if you show them, which I don’t … I haven’t got time,” Trish said, waving her arm around the van park.

Over the years, Thumbelina foals have ended up as foundation stock for new studs, pets in backyards and various other operations.

“They can be born at 18 inches at the shoulder,” Trish explained.

“The smallest one I’ve had was 16 inches. He’s my stallion now. I’ve got some small mares too, but they haven’t been in foal yet.

“They use them to pull carts. Further south they have competitions, down around Brisbane, Melbourne, but not around here.

“Mainly older people buy them … older couples. They don’t want to ride them, just want a pet to keep in the backyard. Kids can ride them.

“They make great pets and will follow you around like a dog — even come into the house if you’ll let them … you’ve got that nice horse smell.”

“They’re just the same as any other horse,” says Trish. “Gestation is 11 months, same as for a full-sized horse.”

In the north Queensland climate, these Miniature Horses are very easy to care for.

“Just trim their feet now and then,” says Trish. “Although the ground is pretty hard and rocky up here, so they wear them down pretty well.

“We don’t get ticks or anything like that. No horse flies. Just worm them.”

Trish feeds them Rhodes grass hay twice a day, occasionally lucerne, but they don’t need grain supplements.

But just like their larger namesakes, they will founder if their food is too rich.

Trish keeps a good eye on her mob, bringing them into small yards if they look as if they are putting on weight.

In general, they are not shod.

“Not unless you’re going to take them out on the bitumen road or something, but I don’t know where you’d get the shoes from!

“For bridles and saddles you can use ones designed for foals.

“People say what do you use them for … but you don’t have to use them for anything. Just like a dog. You can have them as a pet.”

Everyone is welcome to come and meet the Miniature Horses, you don’t have to be a patron of the Mt Surprise Tourist Park. Potential purchasers can contact Trish directly.

Mt. Surprise Tourist Park Motel & BP Roadhouse
Garland St, Mt. Surprise, QLD 4871
P: (07) 6062 3153
F: 1800 447 982 (reservations)