Horses come in all shapes and sizes, from massive draft horses to tiny miniature horses. While most full-sized horse breeds average between 14 and 17 hands tall (1 hand = 4 inches), some exceptionally small horses throughout history have reached heights of less than 20 inches! So what are some of the shortest horses ever recorded and what has led to their tiny size?
Defining a Short Horse
In the horse world, any horse under 14.2 hands (58 inches) at the withers is considered a pony. However, there are some breeds that consistently produce especially petite horses under 34 inches tall that are still classified as horses rather than ponies. These include miniature horse breeds such as the American Miniature Horse and Falabella as well as dwarf horse breeds like the American Shetland Pony and Dexter cattle.
To be considered the shortest horse ever, the record holder typically stands no more than 30 inches tall. That’s the height of an average Labrador retriever but in a perfectly proportionate tiny horse body!
Causes of Extremely Small Size in Horses
So what allows certain horses to reach such minuscule proportions compared to their larger counterparts? Here are some of the main factors that result in exceptionally short stature in horses:
Many miniature horse breeds have been developed through carefully selecting and breeding only the smallest horses over many generations. By consistently choosing shorter stallions and mares, breeders can reduce the average size of each new generation. After several decades of dwarfism-focused breeding programs, breeds like the Falabella and American Miniature Horse have become established as tiny horse breeds.
Some short horses are affected by skeletal dysplasias or genetic conditions that cause dwarfism. Certain types of dwarfism, like achondroplasia in Dexter cattle, cause disproportionately short limbs compared to the body. Other types may proportionately reduce the size of the entire skeleton. Belgian Blue cattle, for example, exhibit proportionate dwarfism that shrinks the entire animal.
Malnutrition during pregnancy or in young foals can also potentially lead to stunted growth. Lack of adequate nutrients prevents the foal from reaching its full genetic height potential. However, most cases of extreme shortness are due to genetics rather than malnutrition alone.
The Shortest Horse Ever – Thumbelina
The current record holder for the world’s shortest living horse is Thumbelina, a dwarf mini mare measuring just 17 inches tall. Owned by Kay and Paul Goessling of St Louis, Missouri, pint-sized Thumbelina weighs only 60 pounds and lives among the other miniature horses on the Goesslings’ farm.
Here are Thumbelina’s basic vital statistics:
- Height: 17 inches
- Length: 26 inches from head to rump
- Weight: 60 pounds
At just over half the size of most newborn foals, five-year-old Thumbelina holds the world record as the shortest horse ever. Her owners contacted the Guinness Book of World Records in 2006 to confirm her tiny size. After official measurement by a veterinarian, Thumbelina was declared the world’s smallest living horse.
What causes Thumbelina to be so tiny compared to regular horses? Her extreme shortness is due to a rare genetic condition called dwarfism. Specifically, Thumbelina was diagnosed with a form of dwarfism called achondroplasia. This condition prevents the normal, full development of bones like the legs and spine.
Achondroplasia is the same type of dwarfism that affects dogs like Dachshunds and Corgis, causing their signature short legs and elongated bodies. Since miniature horses are prone to various genetic mutations, breeders suspect that genetic dwarfism occurs more often but typically goes unreported. Only in Thumbelina’s case was the dwarfism significant enough to earn her the world record.
Life as the World’s Smallest Horse
Despite her tiny size, Thumbelina lives a full, healthy life with the Goesslings’ other miniature horses. According to her owners, she loves playing with other miniatures, leaping and bucking as she runs around the barnyard. She enjoys going on walks around the farm and enthusiastically trots alongside the other miniature horses.
Due to her diminutive stature, Thumbelina eats much less than regular-sized horses. Her diet consists of one cup of grain and a quarter bale of hay each day. She also needs less space, so she stays in a miniature barn separate from the full-sized stable. Aside from her specialized care needs, Thumbelina lives a normal life for a horses.
Other Record-Breaking Short Horses
While Thumbelina reigns as the undisputed shortest horse in history, other miniature horses have also held size-related records over the years. Here are some other famously tiny horses that have made history with their small stature:
Einstein – Smallest Stallion
At just 20 inches tall, Einstein holds the record as the shortest stallion on record. This tiny chestnut stallion was foaled in 1988 and lived his entire life in Virginia.
KneeHi – Shortest Horse Ever in the 1960s
Decades before Thumbelina’s time, a mini Appaloosa mare named KneeHi held the record as the world’s smallest horse in the 1960s at just 19 inches tall. She was foaled in 1958 in California.
Royal Blue – Tied for Shortest Living Horse
Thumbelina is tied with one other living horse for the record of shortest living horse today. Little King Farm’s Royal Blue also measures just 17 inches tall, tying Thumbelina for the top spot. This sorrel mini stallion lives in Ohio.
|Thumbelina||17 inches||Shortest Living Horse|
|Einstein||20 inches||Shortest Stallion Ever|
|KneeHi||19 inches||Shortest Horse in 1960s|
|Royal Blue||17 inches||Tied for Shortest Living Horse|
Famous Miniature Horse Breeds
The horses that hold all of these record titles for extreme shortness belong to a few main miniature horse breeds that consistently produce tiny individuals. Here’s more background about the breeds behind the shortest horses in the world:
The Falabella is named after the farm in Argentina where the breed was originally developed in the mid-1800s. Selective breeding of miniature horses and small Celtic ponies led to the Falabella’s delicately small stature, with most individuals standing 28 to 34 inches tall. This breed comes in many coat colors and is intelligent and lively. Thumbelina is a Falabella.
American Miniature Horse
American Miniature Horses descend from Shetland and Falabella bloodlines and were recognized as a distinct breed in the 1970s. Most registerable American Miniatures measure between 28 and 34 inches tall at maturity. They exhibit refinement reminiscent of their Thoroughbred ancestry. KneeHi the 1960s record holder belonged to this breed.
American Shetland Pony
Shetlands originated from the rugged Shetland Isles between Scotland and Norway. In the United States, breeders started selecting for and registering the tiniest individuals, establishing the American Shetland Pony breed. This registry allows horses under 34 inches, and some exceptional specimens like Einstein have reached less than 20 inches.
|American Miniature Horse||28-34 inches||United States|
|American Shetland Pony||Under 34 inches||Shetland Isles|
Caring for a Tiny Horse
The creatures who hold records as the shortest horses require some special care considerations due to their tiny, delicate stature. Here are some things to keep in mind for properly caring for an exceptionally small horse.
Provide small-scale shelter and housing. Miniature horses can be kept in modified goat sheds or small lean-to structures in mild climates. Be sure the ceiling is high enough that the horse doesn’t hit its head.
Adjust nutritional needs based on the horse’s diminished size. Feed a complete mini horse feed and good quality hay in smaller amounts than for full-sized horses. Avoid obesity, which puts extra strain on the legs and body.
Use lightweight foal equipment like mini halters, blankets, and fly sheets. Avoid lifting the miniature horse when possible, and teach the horse to use a step or ramp to access a farrier stand or trailer. Have a vet thoroughly evaluate any lameness issues.
Haul your mini in a small, protective box stall rather than loose in a trailer. Provide padding on the walls. You can also train them to ride safely clipped into seatbelts in a van or truck cab.
Minis require companionship of their own kind. Allow them to socialize and play together in a safely fenced paddock under supervision to prevent injury. Handle gently and avoid rowdy children or rough play.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are answers to some common questions about tiny horses like Thumbelina:
Are miniature horses healthy?
Yes, most miniature horse breeds are generally very hardy and healthy despite their small size. They can live 25 years or more with proper care. Some health issues like leg deformities can accompany forms of dwarfism. Responsible breeding minimizes these risks.
How small can horses actually get?
The record stands at just 17 inches tall, but even smaller sizes are theoretically possible. Extreme miniaturization carries high risks, however, and most breeders aim for horses no shorter than 28 to 30 inches as adults for optimal health and soundness. The lower limit has not yet been found.
Why do people want mini horses?
There are many reasons for their popularity! Miniature horses are non-threatening in size, relatively inexpensive to own, and live very long lives. Their intelligence and friendly nature make them enjoyable to train and handle. People find their tiny size highly appealing. They’re suitable for therapy work and even make great house pets.
Are miniature horses expensive?
Prices vary widely based on breeding, confirmation, training, and demographic demand. Typical pet-quality miniature horses cost $500 to $2,000. Show-quality horses out of champion bloodlines can cost $10,000 or more. Significant medical care for complications related to dwarfism or deformities can also increase costs.
How do you measure a horse’s height?
A horse’s height is measured in “hands.” One hand equals four inches. Miniature horses are measured at the highest point of their withers using a measuring stick with hands and inches marked. Vets, trainers, and official registries perform measurements to certify each horse’s permanent adult height.
From record holders like Thumbelina and Einstein to beloved miniature horse breeds around the world, tiny horses capture the fascination of horse lovers everywhere. Selective breeding, genetic conditions like dwarfism, and proper care allow these creatures to live healthy, happy lives at a fraction of the size of larger horse breeds. The magic of miniature horses lies in their perfectly petite proportions combined with all the charm and intelligence of an equine companion. For those seeking a small stablemate full of spirit, the miniature horse has huge appeal.