Volume X, No. 3, Spring 1983


THEY ARE ALL HORSE

PETE AND GEANELLE RHOTEN'S MINITURE HORSES

By Melanie Stubblefield

Photos by James Heck


[Title Image]

Dynamo pranced back and forth protectively in front of his little herd of assorted mares and colts. His herd knew he meant business when he interrupted their grazing to run them into the farthest section of the field. His prancing, flaring nostrils and alert ears all warned the mares to stay put. Unconcerned about the big two year old horse that got into their field, the mares obeyed Dynamo, confident of his protection.

The big horse trotted over curiously to investigate Dynamo and his herd. Dynamo flashed out at him, his long mane streaming in the wind, his tail arched, his ears pinned back against his head and his eyes mean. Before the two year old was aware Dynamo had advanced, the stallion attacked his legs, biting and chewing them. Penned in the opposite corner of the field, cowering, shaking and thoroughly whipped, the two year old watched with great relief as Dynamo trotted victoriously back to his herd. Dynamo picked up his feet smartly and daintily, arched his beautiful head proudly, and stationing himself in front of his mares, he looked once back at the miserable intruder before he and the mares calmly resumed grazing.

Hearing the commotion Pete and Geanelle Rhoten ran to the field. Appraising the situation, Pete led the terrified two year old out of the field while Geanelle examined Dynamo. There was not a mark on him, but the big horse's legs were bleeding as he painfully and stiffly walked out the gate.

Though the Rhotens were concerned for the two year old as they calmed him down and doctored his legs, they couldn't help being amused as they looked over at Dynamo and the herd of little horses, for Dynamo is only twenty-nine inches high! He and his herd are registered miniature horses, a rather rare horse which has a history back to sixteenth century England.

The miniature horse is like any other horse from head to hoof, only smaller. As early as the sixteenth century, royalty bred them for pets for their children. Starting with the smallest studs breeders could find, they bred them to small mares. Breeding down this way for several generations produced the miniature horse line. These horses are not bred from pony stock. As the standard horse was bred up years ago for size and strength for use in war, these horses were bred down for pets. Therefore, they have all the characteristics of a full grown horse, except size.

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These horses were highly prized and carefully cared for. Some were bred from Arabians, some from draft horses and from other types. This breeding resulted in three different types of miniatures, the draft horse, the medium Quarter horse type, and the finer bone Thoroughbred type.

Over the years the wars which ravaged Europe took its toll on these horses. During famines many horses were killed for food, including the miniatures. King Henry VIII of England ordered all sires under fourteen hands killed. This would probably have ended the breed in England if some people had not hid their horses.

With the decline of the wealth and power of the royal families in Europe, the breed declined. A few survived in traveling circuses and with gypsies. A few were taken to Bolivia and Peru to pull carts in the ore mines. Their strength, reliability and desire to please man made them ideal for this dangerous work. Years later they found their way to the coal mines in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia.

Soon the number of horses in the United States began to increase as people wanted them for pets or for the novelty of their small size. In the 1970s three registries were formed to promote, breed and refine the horses. The horses have always been expensive. As with any breed, prices vary, but a prospective buyer can expect to pay at least $2,500 for weanlings and $5,000 for a stud or mare. Many prices go as high as $10,000.

According to the American Miniature Horse registry, a miniature horse must be over twenty-four inches and under thirty-four, and at least three years old to be permanently registered. When getting the registration papers, the registry must have a photograph showing the horse's height. The height is measured from the last strands of hair at the base of the mane. A miniature under twenty-four inches usually looks deformed. "We saw some little eighteen inch horses down in Kentucky," said Geanelle, "and they just looked like little bulldogs! They don't have enough leg."

The weight of miniatures varies from a hundred pounds or less to two hundred. At birth the foals are not as large as a medium-sized dog and are as little as sixteen to twenty-one inches.

The breed is still quite rare. Today there are only about 4,000 true miniature horses in the world. The Rhotens don't know of any other breeders in Missouri. They have found that most are in Texas, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

In most ways the equipment, care and training of miniature horses is the same as for standard sized horses but scaled down to their size. Halters, bridles and saddles all have to be specially made to be small enough. The size halter for a standard horse is five or six. Miniature horse halters are ones or twos. Saddles, pads, blankets and harness must also be made specially as the equipment even for the smallest ponies is all too large.

Pete Rhoten broke this team, Inkspot and Dynamo, to the wagon built just for them. He is also breaking another young team for a four horse hitch.

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The miniature is usually not shod. Shoes do not come small enough, but if the owner wanted shoes, he'd have to get them made. Miniature horses' hooves seem to be harder than a regular horse and must be trimmed at regular intervals.

Feeding a miniature horse is less expensive than feeding a large dog. It will eat about a half a pound coffee can of grain and, in the winter, just a little block of hay a day, not much more than a handful. In fact, the Rhotens found, that accustomed as they were with feeding big horses, it was hard for them to keep the amount of feed down. "It's hard to keep them from getting fat," Geanelle said.

The miniatures have basically the same health care and problems as other horses. However, because of their size, they are more susceptible to accidents and attacks by packs of dogs. They are on the same vacination program as regular horses, only in smaller amounts. Vitamins are good for them. They are wormed regularly. One tube of wormer, enough for a normal horse, will worm four or five miniatures.

The only illness the Rhotens have had to worry about with their miniatures is colds, just as with their other horses. Since they seem to be healthier if they run outside rather than kept in a stall, the herd runs winter and summer in the valley meadow behind their house. They do not founder easy, unless they are turned out into a plush field for a long period of time. Likewise, they are not hard to keep fenced. A standard fence is sufficient, as long as the bottom rail or wire is not over twenty-four inches from the ground. The Rhotens have had no trouble with the horses crawling through the rails of a standard fence.

Though Pete and Geanelle have had horses for years, just in the last years have they become interested in miniatures. They are actually Geanelle's project. They want them for the same reasons most people do, for breeding and for pets. The novelty of their size, their loving mature and general appeal has a captivating effect on everyone who sees them.

The Rhotens' herd size varies with new purchases and the addition of colts. They go to shows and sales acquiring more stock. This past summer two of their mares had colts. With Dynamo and another younger stallion, and several mares, they plan to raise other colts. At the present they have fifteen head, all under five years of age and all registered, except the colts.

They got their first horses in Murray, Kentucky, and in Lavana, Georgia. The first two were four month old fillies, Sissy and Debbie. They were so small that they brought them home in a cardboard box in their motor home! They had had no handling when they first bought them, but it didn't take long to tame them down. "The horses are mine and Pete's hobby now," said Geanelle.  "I just go and sit down in the field and they come right up to me. It has some-thing to do with their height. They can't stay away from you when you're ontheir level. For that reason it's easier to tame them sitting down."

The horses are easy to train and are very obedient. "We have none trained for riding," said Pete, "but we hope to sometime. We don't have anyone in the family small enough to ride. Two are harness broke, Dynamo and a mare, Inkspot."

Pete had Glen Travis of Greenfield build a special wagon for his miniature team. "It's hard to find an authentically made wagon these days," said Pete. The wagon is white with red trim. Being just the right size for the team it flatters them pulling it. "It didn't take very long to harness-break the team," said Pete. "I broke them by hooking them up and driving them to the harness a few times. We showed them at the coliseum last fall, and I had worked them only five times to the wagon. When they first walked in, they stopped only for a second because of the bright lights. After that they went right on and did just fine."

Visitors arriving at the Rhotens are sometimes greeted by Pete riding up on his little wagon with Dynamo and Inkspot. The horses, their harness and the wagon all are in perfect proportion. Pete sitting high above the little team looks out of place until they notice the pleased expression on his face and his gentle voice and touch to the team as he maneuvers them around his lawn. Pete from boyhood has driven many teams, but driving these miniature horses is something special. That pleasure shows in his face, and in Geanelle's as she watches the team work or when she sits beside Pete in the spring seat of the little wagon.

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"These colts cannot be registered until they are three years old," said Pete. "When born, they're not much bigger than a medium sized dog." Photograph by Ruth Masse.

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In addition to James Heck, other photographers on these pages include: Cherie Burnes, Ruth Massey, Deidra Morgan and Jeff Zander.

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Prouder of these little animals than she has ever been of the many animals she has had in her life, Geanelle leads her visitors to the rail fence around the barn lot. As they peer over the fence or enter the lot, especially if they are small children or if they squat down, Tinkertoy or Moppet may trot up to be petted. Geanelle's eyes light up as they look lovingly at her. "They love to be loved," she said. "They love children. They're not mean at all. Since they are so loving, they are easy to handle and train. They never tire of attention, sometimes almost making pests of themselves." If allowed to do so, they will follow her everywhere, even into the house where they would take up no more space than a large dog. "I don't let them in the house, of course," she said, "but some people do. The horses love it."

Miniature horses are not hard to keep fenced. Just a standard sized fence will be sufficient, as long as the bottom rail is not over twenty-five inches high. "We came outside one morning,'' said Geanelle, "and the little varmits had gotten the gate open! We had no trouble getting them back in, but I'll never know how they got it open!"

Small enough as a foal for people to pick up and hold in their arms or for men to lift a grown horse to put it in a pickup, short enough that a grown person has to lean over to pet, light enough that even if they step on a foot or accidently kicked it wouldn't hurt, gentle enough that they seek human company and caresses, even to following their owners into the house, people can easily forget that they are real live horses, not stuffed playthings.

But should something endanger the herd to put Dynamo on guard, or if people just walked carelessly in the barn lot without looking where they stepped, everyone would agree quickly that they are all horse.

"These horses are Pete and my hobby now," said Geanelle. "Not only are they kind and obedient, they love to be loved. They have captured our hearts!"

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Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.


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