Health & Welfare
Over the years we have learned a lot about keeping and caring for miniature Shetland ponies. We have read many books and sought all the information that is available on the internet. Surprisingly we have found that there is actually very little information that is relevant to miniature Shetland's.
Worming Advice The most common problem in horses these days is caused by the Small Red worm (Cyathostomin). This small worm is now the most common cause of gastro problems in miniature horses which end up resulting with Hyperlipeamia which is very serious and life threatening. All miniature breeders need to be aware of the fact that these worms are the most common problem worm around and that they need to be controlled effectively and regularly. The best way to control most types of worms these days is to use Equest horse wormer to rid your horses of most normal worm infestations, twice a year and then use the Equest Pramox wormer twice each year to control all the usual worms but to include the tape worms which most other wormers do not control. These wormers are the most effective available but they need to be administered carefully as they can easily kill a pony if they are given in a higher dose than they should be. Please use a weigh tape to assess your ponies’ weight and then dose accordingly. An equest wormer may cost £10 or so but it may do five miniatures so it only costs £2 for each. Please do not try to cheat with cheaper wormers as they just do not work any more, if you cannot afford £2 per pony four times a year for wormer then you should not own and breed these special tiny horses.
Other Contributions Are Welcome We will offer some advice below which may conflict with the views of some other breeders, if so we invite you all to help me by contributing your views to help improve this information, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Smaller Horses Are Different To Larger Horses We have found by experience that miniatures suffer different problems and sometimes more serious problems than Larger horses. For example hyperlipeamia is a common and serious problem with miniature ponies which is where the liver clogs up with fat. This problem does not seem to occur in larger horses and so very little study has gone into the condition. For more information see Hyperlipeamia below.
Minis Are Rarely Poorly In general mini Shetland's are rarely ill if they are kept well, but owners need to be aware of the main problems that can occur from time to time.
Zooepidemicus (The Snots) The most common problem that can occur in young miniatures is something called zooepidemicus, it usually affects foals and sometimes older ponies and the symptoms are usually just a snotty nose but can also make the pony feel a bit down for a few days. The best treatment for this is nothing but time which is usually three months. This is quite contagious and will usually go through most of the foals that are in the same field. It can also give symptoms similar to strangles. If it does no treatment is necessary as this is not a serious condition. Here is a detailed piece about the condition by Ben Moves MA VetMB MRCVS. MINIATURE "COUGHING" HORSES This is the story of a small group of adolescent friends and an embarrassing social disease. Not uncommon. In fact, almost normal in their age group but nonetheless, very debilitating on their performance in the Show ring. They had a cough and the snots. Yearling horses and ponies often develop a cough. This can be accompanied by the complete range of symptoms from frequent coughing, inappetance, and high temperatures, clear and runny nasal discharges to green thick nasal discharges and so on. Some untreated conditions can become very serious and should always be seen by a vet. The causes of Upper Respiratory Tract Disease in yearlings are many. As a rule of thumb, clear runny nasal discharge, off food for a day and then coughing is often caused by a virus. The most common URTI virus is Equine Herpes Virus, type 1 or 4. In fact, investigations have shown that up to 85% of 2 year olds have scroconverted (i.e. been exposed and developed an immune response to Respiratory Equine Herpes). Unfortunately, the immunity is short-lived. Vaccination to EHV 1 & 4 is available from your vet. It is not required for showing (unlike influenza vaccination) and boosters are required every 6 months. Influenza is another URTI and can be severe. It is less common due to vaccination. Vaccines are frequently updated to try and keep up with virus mutation. There are other URTI equine viruses including Rhinovirus of which there are several types. These infections tend to be less severe although this is not always the case. Viral infections are often followed up by secondary 'opportunist' bacterial infections. Although horses and ponies can fight these bugs themselves with rest, antibiotics often help and may be necessary in some cases. Obviously, but rarely, pneumonia can be a complication. Our little group of valuable showing miniature yearlings, however, had green snotty noses, not running, just crusty. When they started coughing they had a day or so of being 'off colour1 but certainly carried on eating. Within a few days they had the full blown disease. Not, very dramatic. Coughing, several bouts a day. And the snots. On examination the yearlings also had a very characteristic sign: the sub-mandular lymph nodes were swollen. The glands just inside the back of the lower jaw on both sides (normally marble sized) were egg-sized and sore to squeeze. They didn't start at once. First there was one, and then a week or so later another developed the symptoms. Attempts at isolation just prolonged the onset of eventual infection. After a month the whole yearling group had it. No other age group was affected. The symptoms were never that bad. Just a cough, snots and swollen glands under the jaw. Powdered antibiotics and Ventipulmin (an oral bronchodilator) seemed to help for a while, but the symptoms didn't really go away. After a month and when it had become obvious there was group involvement I investigated more carefully. I took a nasal swab of the most recent case. It isolated beta haemolytic Streptococcus zooepidemicus. A common bacterium that often lives in horses' and ponies' upper respiratory tracts but can cause disease, especially in young stock - especially in yearlings. The most common treatment in most horse industries e.g. racing, is to leave the horses alone and allow the disease to run its course. This can take time. Up to three months, or more. But SHOWING MINIATURES don't have the time. They should be showing. Some say that horses take so long to recover from the symptoms because they are so mild that the immune system takes longer to realise that it has a problem. I admitted two of the group to our clinic. One was the most chronically (longest) infected, the other the most recent. I x-rayed their chests. They reminded me of my previous days in small animal practice - but the x- rays were normal. Unfortunately, I didn't have a fibre optic endoscope small enough, so I took a blind tracheal wash using a mare catheter and sterile tubing. All the lab grew was beta haemolytic Streptococcus zooepidemicus. I spoke to the Animal Health Trust. I spoke to a specialist vet in the USA. We opted to treat the group with intra muscular cetifur (Excenell) daily for 7 days. The symptoms had disappeared by day 4 BUT a week after we finished treatment back they came, COUGHS, SNOTS and SWOLLEN GLANDS. Now, none of the glands abscessated. This can happen with this bacterium although it cannot cause true Strangles like Streptococcus equi. However, it did hide from the antibiotics in a similar way by living inside lymph node cells. Other treatments were tried, including immune support and homeopathy. These may well have helped. But at the end of the day, the best and only treatment was time. All the symptoms went after three months. Almost to the day.
Gastrointestinal Tract The most common serious problems that seem to affect the miniature ponies more so than larger horses, especially ponies under 31" are with the gastrointestinal tract. These problems when they occur are very hard to cure because the treatment and drugs that are available can often cause liver failure by Hyperlipeamia before getting on top of the actual problem. The stomach of a horse is very different to that of a cow, cows can eat or be fed all sorts of bad and mouldy hay, straw, haylage and silage without hardly ever having any problems. The stomach of a horse is very different and much more susceptible to problems which are often caused by poor quality hay, haylage and silage. Haylage Is Bad For Small Horses We know many people who feed haylage, we used to ourselves a few years ago, the ponies love it, but often it contains toxic mould and bacteria which the ponies’ livers cannot deal with for long. We also found that haylage causes placenta previa or red bag during foaling. We would recommend never feeding haylage to pregnant mares especially or any miniature ponies on a regular basis with one exception, if you have a pony that has gone off its food, try some fresh haylage for a short time until the pony is eating well again. Colts and Stallions Are More Resilient We have found that stallions and colts seem to be much more resilient to illnesses than their female counterparts even when being born, if you are going to lose a foal it always seems to be a filly. It would be interesting to hear from other breeders if they have had any cases of illness with their colts or stallions. Salt Licks and Naff Blood Liquid One of the most important things that we believe will keep ponies healthy is making sure that they have regular access to a salt lick, real chunks of rock salt are the best but there are plenty of salt blocks available. We have also found that giving a ten day course of Naff Blood Liquid to a pony that is a bit down and not eating properly seems to work well. It is a quick and tasty way of getting the correct balance of vitamins and minerals into the pony. We have also tried the Red Cell liquid but the ponies do not like the taste of that. Strangles Strangles is a very common condition in many horses large or small, it is usually diagnosed by finding an abscess or swelling under the throat, it can be very serious in larger horses but does not seem to be as bad in the miniatures as we have never known anyone who has lost a miniature pony with strangles. If you know different please let us know. It is very contagious and so ponies diagnosed with this need to be isolated until the abscesses burst and then kept isolated for another six weeks. Most ponies are not infectious after this time but a few can continue to be carriers for up to six months. Hyperlipeamia Hyperlipeamia is the most common serious problem illness in miniature Shetland ponies. It is caused by various things indirectly which then affect the liver, diarrhoea, gastro problems, foaling stress, any type of stress, poor food, eating dead leaves, eating frosty grass, salmonella, being too fat, being given steroids, being given most drugs, being given butte (No miniatures should ever be given butte for more than one or two doses). The list is endless but the result is that these tiny horses have a very specific problem which is directly related to their smallness, they have a very small liver which cannot tolerate any large changes in their blood. When they feel poorly and stop feeding for a while their bodies switch to using body fat instead just like other animals and humans, however in miniature horses this change happens to drastically. The fat goes into the blood so fast that the ponies’ liver gets clogged up fast and when it happens it fails quickly. The first warning signs of hyperlipeamia are on finding a pony that is down in the mouth, lacklustre, no spirit, not eating properly, messing about with their food but not eating. In the later stages the pony will not eat at all even when being force fed, often they will not drink although some drink well. Usually these ponies do not respond to any treatment although we have found that getting a vet to infuse glucose mix into the pony can reverse the fatty blood quickly when it has been caused by a quick stress i.e.: foaling. In the later stages of hyperlipeamia the pony will not want any food or water, it will be grinding its teeth and trying to eat dirt of the floor, it will sometimes try to drown itself in a water trough, and all in all it is very distressing to see a pony at this stage. It is best to have the pony put to sleep before this stage but it is very difficult when the pony is still maybe walking around. If you see the pony pulling its front feet up to its belly it is obviously in great pain, this is the time to call in the angels if not before. Our best advice would be that on finding a pony that does not want to feed in the stable, to put it out on the best green grass even in the winter but to also supplement its feed, put another couple of healthy ponies with it because this will encourage it to keep eating grass. We have recently had a bad period where we had several poorly ponies, who seemed to be getting the same symptoms of Hyperlipeamia but we seem to have pulled them through by throwing them back out into the cold fields and supplementing there feed morning and afternoon with Spillers Mare and Young Stock Mix, 1 scoop per pony morning and night. We have used Dodson & Horell Mare & Young stock mix for years but this year none of the foals wanted to eat it. This is interesting, please comment if you have any further views. Update, we have recently used Baileys Mare and Youngstock mix.
The 2012 winter was a bad year for Shetland breeders; please email me with your experiences so that we can all find the best ways to look after our tiny equines in the future. Our vet has told us that he has put many Shetland’s to sleep in 2012 winter in our area due to Hyperlipeamia. A strange very dry winter with lots of mould in the fields. Horses Live On Protein Not Grass Our vet Ian Taylor of Spire Veterinary practice in Chesterfield, Derbyshire is one of the most knowledgeable veterinary surgeons in the UK. He once explained to me a simple thing but one which has stuck with me. He asked me what do horses live on, I said grass and hay etc. he said no, they live on protein which is produced in the processing of the food that they eat, this is recovered from their colon at the end of the stomach process. It is all about bacteria in the gut and the colon of the ponies being in balance. If something goes wrong with this balance it often causes diarrhoea, we asked him if there is any product that could help to add back the damaged bacteria to correct the balance. He told us of a few but then told us that the best way to get the correct bacteria back into the pony is to feed it some of another healthy horses droppings. This is what new born foals do, they eat mums droppings. It seems bad but our vet explained that the ponies’ droppings are just processes grass or hay which includes the important bacteria just like Actimel for humans. When a pony won’t eat we have found a good way to help them, we get a 20mm syringe and cut the whole end off so that it is just a plunger, and we wrap some tape around the first inch of the plunger so that it does not get stuck at the end. Then we mix a very simple mix of oats-so -simple or ready break with grass nuts and lots of sugar and some boiling water. When cool the mash is semi solid and sticky. We then go to "force" feed the pony. We pull the whole plunger out off the syringe and then keep stabbing the syringe into the paste until it is nearly full, then we put the plunger back in and carefully insert it up into the poorly ponies mouth and then press the plunger. Hey-Presto the sticky mush gets chewed on and swallowed. Sometimes we help it down with a squirt of sugar water. Sometimes we add droppings to this easily by just plunging the syringe into some fresh dropping. We then add sugar water to help the pony to accept the food. Please do not be afraid to try adding bacteria back into your poorer ponies from better ones when they become poorer than the rest. It is only like humans drinking Actimel. There is also another very important lesson for breeders here and that is to not clear up mums droppings to quickly when she has foaled as the foal needs these bacteria to make her gut work. I hope that this information has been useful. Please email me with any further useful information or comments if you disagree, I am not an expert and so will amend any information if we all learn better ways.
Eye Ulcers Eye ulcers can occurs occasionally in horses, the first symptoms are the forming of a white area somewhere on the eye, and this is dead or damaged tissue. Horse’s eyes are very good at healing. As the eye starts to heal lots of new blood cells will form to bring oxygen to the damaged area, this is called Neovascularisation. At this stage the eye can look very bad, being very blood shot and milky. It is best to treat the eye twice a day with Chloromycetin 1% Ophthalmic Ointment. The ulcers will usually clear up after a few weeks sometimes leaving a little blemish.
Needs & Costs
To keep a couple of these lovely ponies you would need a paddock with at least a one acre paddock of well kept grass land with a shelter or stable and clean fresh water must be available by way of an automatic drinking trough.
Filling buckets does not work in hot summer days when you are taking the moment.
If you forget the ponies for just a few days they will die. Setting up an automated drinking system is very easy, it costs about £150 to put a trough in a field with all the fittings and pipe. You need to dig a small trench to bury the pipe though.
They are relatively cheap to keep, eating grass when available or good hay. (Ponies are much happier if they have a companion so it is best to have two if possible).
Cost of keeping a couple of ponies. The cost to keep a couple of miniature Shetland ponies per week is as follows:- If not on good grass then one miniature pony would eat just one or two bales of hay per week at £2 - £4 per bale.
The ponies would need to have their feet clipped three or four times a year which costs about £10 - £15 each time. They would need worming regularly at eight to twelve week intervals depending on the product. This costs about £3 - £4 each time as a £12- £16 syringe will do four little ponies. (One syringe will do four mini Shetland's or one four times).
Veterinary costs are rare if you look after your ponies well. So total cost of keeping a mini Shetland pony for a year is approximately £140 - £200 excluding vet fees which are rare. This is actually cheaper than keeping most dogs if you have a large garden or some grassland. We are not breeding after the 2010 foaling season – but we will use our pet ponies to graze our land and to keep it tidy.
Please do not confuse these wonderful miniature horses with the slightly larger Falabella’s which used to be the smallest horses twenty years ago, mini Shetlands just got smaller over the years.
Falabella ponies are taller but finer. A pony is just another name for a horse smaller than 14.2 hands so a miniature horse is the same as a miniature pony.
The smallest horse is 17" and is a miniature dwarf Shetland pony in the 2007 Guinness book of records.
We regret that the respected Guinness Book of Records decided to put a faulty horse in its books because it will now encourage bad breeders to breed faulty dwarf horses if they wish to get into the record books.
We will always know that we bred the smallest perfect horse in the World, we sold it for a tiny price to the best people in the World who may get it to stardom soon in their way, all that matters is that all of our ponies, however special will get a special life and not a commercial un-loved life.