Cindy Dailey and Tammie Wetherell stand Striker next to a quarter horse
Cindy Dailey hasn’t been getting much sleep lately. Her mare, named Darros Skippers Itzy Bitzy Nuffin, is 342 days pregnant. When Itzy’s foal is born, it will stand roughly 17 inches at the withers — the last few hairs of its mane. That’s half the size of its mom.
Dailey is a miniature-horse owner and breeder in East Hardwick. And Itzy is not her only charge. Dailey has kept her farmyard full of tiny equines since 2001, with help from fellow owner/breeder Tammie Wetherell.
“We’re just Vermonters with our little playthings in our backyard,” says Dailey, pointing to the balls that her mini Palomino stallion plays soccer with. “[Minis] are unique. They’re not something that everybody has.”
Dailey and Wetherell’s backyard operation, Northeast Kingdom Miniatures, is one of only two miniature-horse farms in Vermont, according to an online directory. Their animals, all under 36 inches, are bred for show and registered with both the American Miniature Horse Association (AMHA) and the American Miniature Horse Registry (AMHR). These associations judge minis on proportion, strength and agility as defined by the so-called “Standards of Perfection.”
Wetherell says that the world’s smallest horse, which stands 17 inches fully matured, is “distorted” and doesn’t meet the registries’ standards of absolute proportion.
“Its legs are shorter than they should be. It looks like a dwarf or a pygmy-type animal, and a miniature horse really shouldn’t look like that,” says Wetherell. Her stallion, Striker, was named Miniature Horse of Vermont last year by the Vermont Horse Shows Association.
To keep their minis in shape, Dailey and Wetherell take them on walks around East Hardwick and have them practice walking up ramps. Despite their stature, Dailey says, they are fairly strong.
“You still have to exercise them like any horse. And even though they’re little, particularly the stallions, they’re still horses and they’re still stallions, so you can get hurt,” she notes. “But we walk them down the road, and people stop and talk to us about them. We’ve met a lot of people that way.”
In the evenings, Dailey says, her neighbors gather on the farm with their children to pet the minis and feed them carrots. Even out-of-staters on their way to Caspian Lake stop to inquire about her horses.
“They’re great conversation pieces,” Dailey acknowledges. “If I have babies, I have balloons up — pink or blue — and everyone comes running down. Pretty soon I have the whole neighborhood down here.”
The fascination with minis is nothing new — and they’ve even had their practical uses. According to Dailey and Wetherell, the animals were bred as pets for European nobility nearly 400 years ago. Later, they were used as pit-ponies in coal mines because of their diminutive dimensions, driving abilities and lifespan, which can exceed 40 years.
Daily, who stopped breeding “regular” horses years ago, says it was the affordability, the ease of maintenance and the look that made minis so appealing. She adds: “You can tell everybody, by the way, these idiots are looking for a mini cow, too!”