I’ve written “The Thing About” essays on Mares, Geldings, and Donkeys to dispel untrue myths and sing their praises. These essays were all better received than this one will be. Loudmouth Party-pooper warning… I’m humorless about diminutive horses. Refusing to use their common moniker, I get my attitude from them.
This pinto gelding prefers to be called simply a horse. It’s what he is, he has all the equine parts including intelligence and sensitivity. Take another look. One of these horses is shuffling along and the other is pushing long strides to keep up. One has the confidence of a leader, and one has, well, a very forward stride. We are the ones missing the big picture.
So, what is my cranky problem then? The most traumatized and abused horses that I’ve worked with have all been under 10 hands tall. Much of my career has been focused on rehabbing horses in trouble, but the most damaged of that lot were all condensed in size. Are taller horses abused less often? Hard to believe. Do riding horses come around easier? That can’t be right.
The difference that I see is the quantity of fear they hold. It’s as if the fewer pounds a horse weighs, the more terror they are able to carry.
Some of them come to me after someone has tried to straighten them out, only to give up and leave the troubled horse with more troubles. Soon someone else tries to intimidate good behavior from the frightened soul. Ponies get the reputation of being ornery, belligerent, and bad-tempered when that more closely describes the person punishing them instead of training them.
Vertically limited horses also have a reputation for biting, usually after being teased endlessly. Then we slap them back, and it’s game on, tit for tat, except that the less-tall horse didn’t start it. We think they’re stubborn, and they think we are rude. We’d rather wrestle than train. Rather dominate them to show them who’s boss and eventually, they get fearful enough to fight back. Is violence the only thing we know?
I see it in my barn. My previous vet was willing to listen to advice about a tense draft/cross gelding but seeing the same fear in a body not much bigger than his own, he felt fine manhandling the horse to get the job done. When I mentioned it, the vet denied it. Did he think harsh handling was defined by the height of the victim, like having to be a certain height to go on an amusement park ride? He wouldn’t kick a dog, he is a good vet. Is our behavior unrecognizable to ourselves?
All horses have an innate sense of survival. Trusting humans takes a leap of faith and if that is destroyed by an oversized aggressive predator who ignores their calming signals, horses will hold on to their fear in a deeper way. It takes audacity to survive, coping with life-or-death anxiety every moment. The more exhausted they are, the more frantic they become. We don’t recognize their strength in fighting adversity because we don’t see ourselves in their eyes.
I rant on: These independent and strong creatures are belittled with irreverent humor and given insulting names that we would not consider if the horse was a different breed. Do we tease them with food because we mistake anxiety for cuteness? Are they children’s toys to be kicked and jerked as they resist painful bits? Or mascots intended to be silly caricatures of horses, the animal we claim to love above others. Are they too insignificant to train? Are we just too arrogant to take them seriously and get professional help when needed? Or do trainers think they are less worthy of help? We don’t take these condensed horses nearly as seriously as they take us.
I ask myself these questions during the week it took to remove a halter that’s grown into a compact molly mule’s face. Her spirit is fierce. Or the days spent coaxing the Lilliputian donkey into letting me pick up his slipper hooves so when the farrier came, it wouldn’t be as terrifying. He didn’t believe me. Or in the hours beyond counting that I have spent holding a halter and breathing, as a dark-eyed, frozen horse of modest dimensions prepared to bolt if I took a step closer. I will grow old marveling at their tenacity.
I want to blame someone for their unfair treatment, but the usual suspects don’t fit. Dressage trainers wouldn’t be able to find them behind their warmbloods. Cowboys avoid anything smaller than a Quarter horse. Driving competitors who prefer horses with a low center of gravity treat their teams like athletes and heroes. It’s unfair to blame kids, they learn by example. That pretty much leaves the Ninety-three Percenters. That’s us, women own 93% of the horses in the US.
Ouch. I don’t want to believe it’s true. Most women have felt undervalued and marginalized in our lives. We’ve been considered too emotional to be capable of important work. Our talent and intelligence are doubted while our amazing bodies are judged not beautiful enough. Blonde jokes were invented for us. We are right to be fearful of stronger tormentors and at the same time, we hate to be underestimated. We are not mean people and we don’t have bad intentions. If anyone is capable of understanding these horses, it should be us.
Is it a dysfunctional trickle-down effect? Maybe just human nature to bully those smaller than we are. If so, I don’t think we get kicked or bit nearly as much as we deserve.
It’s late and I’m just in from the night walk-thru. The dogs have barked more tonight and the snow from three weeks ago has turned into layers of treacherous re-frozen glare ice. Something is out there, heard but unseen. My mare is nervous and can’t settle on her hay but our rehab, our dimensionally succinct horse stands between her and the dark. He is stalwart and resolute. Fearless of all things not human.
These equines are concentrated, more horse-per-square-inch than an 18 hand giant, and they punch above their weight in a fight. Maybe it’s their courage we envy. Rise to your full height. They want something more valuable from us than a measly hand treat. They want respect. They see themselves as nothing less noble than a horse.
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52 thoughts on “The Thing About Dimensionally Succinct Horses”
So So true! Smaller creatures – whether kids, horses, dogs, cats, rabbits – get the dirty end of the domination stick! Women – all of us – sure should be able to understand that better than anyone.
We can keep doing better. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made. Thanks Maggie
You are right, having been undervalued and dismissed. We as women should get it and understand the damage done by lack of respect. There is however one truth well known in therapy and recovery circles. “Hurt people, hurt people”.
Without intervention those who have been bullied become bullies. I know when I hold up a mirror to myself I am not always happy with that reflection. Perhaps we need a support group for women who have been disrespected, bullied and dismissed so that we can unpack all that and not pay it forward?
It’s true “Hurt people, hurt people”. And I agree the cycle must stop. I hope that is what we do inside The Barn. Thank you Peggy for this compassionate non-rant.
When I read this, I was thinking of my own mini, a brown & white pinto. Finn is definitely the leader of our ‘pack’ of two, even though he could scoot under Oz’s belly. Finn & Oz are buddies, always together on pasture, although their stalls are separate. I have taken Finn on several rides, ponying him next to Oz, and they both seem to enjoy the outings. I feel lucky that Finn has never been teased or hurt and that fact is apparent in his outlook. He’s a spunky, quick little man, able to turn on a dime, and his legs & feet move so quickly when he’s running they become a blur. Would that all diminutive horses be able to be like Finn! Thanks for writing & sharing this.
Such amazing horses, yay, Finn. Thanks Susan
Wow, “dimensionally succinct”!
Thank you for daring to call out those who take advantage of the size and power difference (defined as “harassment”!), even if they may be women.
On what would be our former farrier’s last visit to our barn, we watched him snub-tie one of our succinct horses to a post and harshly wrestle him into submission for trimming. The horse’s head was bleeding from his frantic writhing against the post. Our shame was that we only fired him.
It’s a complicated issue when it comes to training horses to be good citizens. What I learned over the years is that when these horses kick, they take out a knee and it’s serious for us. It doesn’t need to be… Thanks Susan. (and I thought my writer friends might like my word choices today)
They are often overlooked for proper veterinary and hoof care. It’s a lifetime of being passed from one inexperienced rider to the next. I would have a field full of the diminutive ones if my bank account would allow it. Love this message
Overlooked. In so many ways. Thanks Faith
Adds a new dimension to the term “pony club.” Humor aside, the best trained small horses seem to be the ones to which we humans assign a monetary value, which turns me back to the pony clubbers. God Bless these under-handed creature-teachers..their job is as big as their heart. In loving memory of Harry Bob. Thanks for this fine essay.
Yes, pony club is the school and they have a great updated manual now. But really… Harry Bob might be the best name ever, and you have coined some good ones. Thanks, Sandy
How can so many horse folks forget that horses (and dogs) are a reflection of their handling? Big and small, regardless of breed, they usually give what they get when they don’t know what else to do.
Rant on Anna!
We love it when they “mirror” our best side… thanks, Sueann
My farrier took almost a year to be able to do all my ponies feet without fear. It was a long process for sure…each visit he was able to do just a little more. Finding those professional is priceless!!! The first time he met this pony he said “this pony knows your intentions before you do….he is smart”. I keep that in the back of my mind when I am with all my horses!!! It keeps me grounded along with my breathing.
Agreed. My farrier was here yesterday, and he is so respectful, the man who is 6’5 and crumpled on his knees to trim. Thankful for the ones who lead. Thanks Tiffany
Great article on all counts . . . but, I have to say, my favorite line is “I rant on:” I need that line . . . frequently.
Thanks, Anna, over and over again, for all your valuable insights. Now that I have actually seen you in action, my respect is quadrupled.
Perhaps I was hushed a bit too much when I was a filly… thank you, Kate.
You rant on, too, okay?
Thanks for the timely insight! And for the phrase “dimensionally succinct!” I love it! Now I have a comeback for my sister when she calls me a hobbit. I have three equines that fall into that category, and I’m starting back at square one with each. This will be quite a journey—I’m looking forward to it, and grateful to have this community to help!
Thanks for commenting, and you’re welcome for the comeback, Jodie
This is SO great. I’m re-training a 14-H pony. She’s only 2″ shorter than my eventing partner but I see this one as being a little “sassy”. In my time working with her, however, I’ve discovered how sensitive she is. I’m sure that she had the same tormenting childhood from children that most ponies experience. She is just becoming less defensive as I convince her that I am truly listening. My dressage trainer was put out of commission for 9 mos. from a kick to the her leg. Little Bonnie demands to be listened to. It’s not hard. All I have to do is respond to her calming signals and wait out the ‘thinking’ moments (sometimes 15 min). Oh Bhim has that same sassy attitude that demands to be heard. How FUN is that.
Patience is something we can always get more practice in. Thanks, Barbara
Thanks for this article ; will definitely be more mindful with my mini donks, particularly when I’m late and impatient w them !
My first was a Sicilian rescue. He trained me to let him win at obstacle driving. Thanks, Isabel
I love this. As a lifelong horse learner who has always specialized in Miniature Horses, I never call them minis, because I feel like it diminishes them and gives humans the permission to treat them as less than – like they don’t deserve the same training and care as a “real” horse. It’s wonderful to see someone from the horse world “at large” sharing the same thoughts I’ve had. If I was manhandled every day of my life, I’d probably bite and rear too.
Also, dimensionally succinct horses might be the best phrase I’ve ever read. 😂
Like you, mini chokes me to say. Good work, and thanks for commenting, Kendra
Dimensionally succinct; a distinction without a difference? I don’t remember being “up close and personal” with these small in stature examples of perfection. But if ever I do, I vow to keep in mind this rant of yours in this on-point essay. Yay, and thank you, Anna!
I did score with vocabulary today. Thanks, Lynell
I love this essay! Yes..respect, compassion, understanding, warmth all around!
Thank you for writing this!♥️🥰
Thanks, Sharon. Hope you’re well.
Oh Thank you Anna. I have always believed the smallest of horses in size are condensed- and wonder whether they suffer from all sorts of added discomfort inside too – like too much stomach as well as the attitude they frequently suffer. I shudder when I hear the word “Shitland” – how much it says about about a person. Monty (Falabella – frankly with confirmation worse than my drawing) was utterly terrified when I found him (one eyed due to dog attack) at a rescue centre in a tiny pen, dejected. In 10 years he has blossomed (now 16) and is the ears for his often deaf retired Lipizzaner. We are a happy trio. His back legs are cow hocked and he stands like Charlie Chaplin- except when he holds his long stretch – back legs out behind. He gallops, bucks for joy, whinnies and gallops up the hill when he sees me. His companion was a top GB FEI driving trials star. I adore them both equally.
Well! There is a profanity I had not heard. When I was in the UK I fell in love with the ponies and pony crosses I worked with. So smart and sturdy and fun. Glad you have such good company! Thanks for commenting, Georgie.
When my old farrier retired, my new farrier was surprised by how easy-going my two Littles were. He called them “abnormal minis.” When I rescued a mother and daughter pair the next year, he said “now you have normal minis.” Within a couple of trims, I taught them to be “abnormal, too.” These Littles have huge potential. Thank you for your words on their behalf.
My farrier thinks mine has the best movement on the farm… gotta love a good horse. Thanks for commenting, Jaydeen.
I recently bought a Fell Pony weanling and was blessed to borrow a 34″ tall gelding to be his companion and educator. This dimensionally succinct (DS) horse is an amazing guy, able to explain horse life and manners very clearly to his already much taller charge without harming him in any way. He is definitely the leader and there is no doubt in his mind or anyone else’s that he can and will “punch above his weight class” if necessary, despite having four clubbed feet. He is also unbelievably cute, both in his appearance and his personality, and if you give him a minute and show that you are worthy of his trust, he is very affectionate and loves attention. Everyone falls in love with him, including me, and I am planning to buy him from the lovely lady who loaned him to me, as she has agreed to allow. He and my baby have become very close friends, sleeping together, eating together, running around and playing together (which the DS horse often instigates). I simply can’t imagine separating them. I do call him “Peanut”, but have also named a full-sized horse the same thing years ago, so I don’t see the name as insulting or necessarily a reference to size. He is a lovely nutty brown color, so the name suits him all around.
Peanut has already had some training, as he leads well, will load easily in a trailer (even a step up, which is a massive jump for him!), etc., but he has some anxiety about his feet being trimmed, so we are helping him with that. Fortunately, my trimmer is also an excellent horsewoman, and what she said to me when she first saw him recently was very much along the same lines as your article, that “minis” are more often than not handled roughly to “make them” behave, so she sees a lot of fear in them. With her gentle patience and understanding, she was able to get his little feet nicely trimmed, and I am going to have a wonderful bodyworker come and look him over to see if there are things we can do to help maximize his physical comfort. I also met a world-class hoof expert yesterday who is going to look at Peanut’s feet on his next trip to our area to see if they really are “true club feet” or something where more improvement could be made. Someone was surprised that I would want to do all this for “a mini who is just a companion animal,” but to me, having Peanut feel as good as possible, both mentally and physically, is just as important as if he were a riding horse. He is not “just” a companion! He is every bit a horse as any other, as you point out, and deserves every bit of care he would get if he was bigger and had a different “job”.
Thank you for this article.
Thanks, Susan. Wonderful comment. What a lucky youngster to have such a good teacher.
Thank you for this truth. Hard to swallow. Needed to be said and YOU are the one who can.
Thank you Anna Blake
Thanks, Connie. We are the ones who can change the world for horses.
Peanut and his young buddy are so lucky to be you!
To be WITH you!!!
This is so spot on.
This is such an awareness-expanding essay, Anna. Thank you. I have never given much thought one way or another about the mini horses, but I recognize the truth of what you write here. Our interactions with them that instill fear and distrust are a sad commentary on our species. I am so glad I read this before I met a “dimensionally succinct” horse and his taller friend yesterday so that I could have a fresher eye. The less tall one was definitely the leader of the two while I was there ! So much confidence and spunkiness in that compact body was a delight to behold. I don’t think I had appreciated that before in the compact ones !
Thanks, Sarah. They are all horse. It was also true for me in Dressage, riding an Arabian in a crowd of tall horses. I think the missing piece might be how stoic the larger breeds are, but all lives are big lives to the ones living them.
Now you’re making me rethink my behavior throughout the years. And, yes, we/I am guilty of minimizing minis, burros and small ponies at times. Not always, but…just because we can man-handle them a bit more than a larger 17 hand Tb or whatever (ever think of why the word is man-handle?). I hope that I am not as guilty as many, but I will definitely approach smaller equines with a different and hopefully more understanding perspective from now on. Thank you, you always make me re-think things, for the better.
I had to rethink myself when I began rehabbing them… Thanks, Jinx
I went blindly into compact horses, looking for a companion for my then mare. I got a rescue Shetland gelding, and learned immediately from him that he was NOT CUTE. We all got along great once I treated him as an 18hh intact stallion that needed re-handling. It was a steep learning curve. My mare understood him almost immediately. God I loved and respected that gelding. As much as my 10 year old brain wanted to put ribbons in his mane, I resisted. I still miss him. Thanks for all the lessons Mr. Chips.
I’m continually eyeballing the two ponies at my boarding barn. I want them. I also want to change their names, lol. They get basic care. I always wonder if they were full sized if they’d get groomed and handled…
That is the question. Maybe once. Here’s to giant horses! Thanks, Jane
People look at me like I’m off my gourd when I tell them my compact companion does not like being called cute. His dignity was much maligned for several years after his first owner passed from cancer. Though he was well cared for, none of his many skills, which he is rightly proud of, were used or acknowledged. He was treated like a puppy and spoken to in a high pitched voice that made him tense and hold his breath. I am grateful those sweet people saw that I could give him the purpose and importance he craved. Every horse on the farm I work at knows that dynamite comes in small packages, and respects him as he deserves. It’s my job to make sure humans give him the same courtesy.
Oh, you make me so happy. I hate to see these horses manhandled and laughed at. You are my hero! Thanks, Justinn
It’s not to say I haven’t fallen into impatience a few times and pushed him around when I shouldn’t. I’m human, and fallible. But I notice when it happens and check myself. I endeavor to do better. His dignity is worth my effort. I am the one that has to put in the work to reach HIS lofty height, not the other way around
I totally understand how hard it is to measure up!