HER LITTLE PONY Small horse, big personality.
"They come wearing "My Barn, My Rules" T-shirts and cowboy boots. Their trucks and trailers line the driveway of Journey's End Farm in Foster. As 9 am approaches, their horses munch hay and receive a final spritz of hair product. Then, the owners lead the steeds into a barn with a wide open dirt floor and a dusty Rhode Island flag hanging from the rafters. A metal sign on the wall reads: "WARNING . . . AN EQUINE PROFESSIONAL, UNLESS HE CAN BE SHOWN TO HAVE FAILED TO BE IN THE EXERCISE OF DUE CARE, IS NOT LIABLE FOR AN INJURY TO, OR THE DEATH OF A PARTICIPANT IN EQUINE ACTIVITIES." It is Sunday, July 22, and time for the Summer Sizzle to begin.
Before any of the horses do their sizzlin', though, they must pass through the measuring station in the corner of the barn to ensure they are under 34 inches. NEMHS (New England Miniature Horse Society) official David Goble has seen plenty of tricks, he says. Hoof-shaving. Owners who press down on their horses' backs so they slide under the measuring stick. "A quarter of an inch can make or break a horse," he says. He is not afraid to turn horses away.
There are over 100 different categories in today's show, and the (human) contestants are young and old. Mostly, they are literally young and old. Eight-year-old Tia Prabhakar — wearing jeans, a blue plaid shirt with silver stars, and a black cowboy hat — has traveled from Mansfield, Massachusetts with her parents and "Rodeos Call Me the Boss," the horse they lease from Norfolk County Mini Whinnies. This is her third show of the year, her mother Kate says. "Fourth!" Tia chirps, correcting her. Across the barn, Pete Stees, a gray-haired retiree from Chester County, Pennsylvania, is wearing a jacket and tie. He named his farm "Full Circle," he explains, because he started raising thoroughbreds, then moved on to milk cows for two decades, and now he's back to horses — miniatures this time. The reason for the latest change is simple: "Temperament." Minis are mellow.
But not everyone is here to trot into the ring. Jack and Lyette Segerdahl drove two-and-a-half hours from western Connecticut just to see the action. They have a mini named Nellie, but they left her back home with two miniature goats, Lucie and Bernie. "This is the first time we've seen what they do, other than eat and poop," Jack says. And there is plenty of non-pooping, non-eating activity to see.
Every few minutes a new group of horses — handsomely groomed and perfectly proportioned, neighing and snorting slightly softer than larger horses — preen and prance around the ring. Their handlers briefly pull back the animals' lips to show off their teeth for the judges. The judges take notes and hand the results to Missy Tansey, the show manager standing ringside.
The horses may be small, but they have big personalities, Tansey says between announcing winners. Their names speak to her point: "Mocha's C.C. Cherokee Treasure," "Ravenwood Deputy's She Be A Diva," "Falcon Ridge Impetuous Lady Hawk," "Buckin' Irresistable." Minis are cheaper to maintain and make wonderful aids for special-needs horse fans, Tansey says. She has even outfitted her minis with little sneakers and taken them to visit her grandmother's nursing home on Cape Cod. They were a hit.
At least one woman in the barn is less than convinced, though. "Bigger horse shows are way more exciting," she whispers to me as she walks past.