How did miniature horses get so small?

According to researchers, recognizable horses have been around for more than 60 million years, far longer than humans.  The prehistoric Eohippus was quite small, just like many of today’s miniature horses.  Horses have been successful for such a long time because they have evolved to be safety-conscious.  These millions of years of natural selection make horses ideal guide animals because they are always on the lookout for danger.

While the exact origins of mini horses have been obscured over the centuries, early incunabula texts refer to miniature horses being kept as prized companions of Hapsburg royalty as early as the 17th century. Just as dogs have been bred to be small, centuries of selective breeding have resulted in miniature horses with calm dispositions. Many American miniature horses are extremely small because of the deliberate introduction of dwarfism genes.

Over the past 100 years there has been a great amount of disagreement regarding the origins and genetic characteristics of miniature horses.  Some miniature horse breeds such as the Falabella horses of Argentina were developed in a totally separate environment from the tiny European miniature horses of the eighteenth century, and independent breeding programs have been established on every continent.  In the USA in the 1960s, these horses were called midget ponies, while in South America they were known as Falabella horses.  In the 1970s a movement arose to change the name of tiny horses to miniature horses, and many registries were established with standard sizes ranging from 28 inches to 38 inches.

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