This week at Manfeild is a big occasion for small horses and their enthusiast owners.

The New Zealand Miniature Horse Association Nationals are at the Feilding park for a second year, adding another equestrian aspect for a venue well established as a national hub for horse sport.

Starting on Thursday (March 30) and running to Sunday, April 2, celebration of a breed that usually stands between 60-90 centimetres tall and generally weighs around 80 kilograms - about the same as an extra-large dog - has drawn participants from all around the country.

Among those who have travelled from the South Island is Shirley Gollan, who hails from Rangiora.


Distance isn't an issue for the Cantabrian who has been involved in miniature horse breeding for 20 years.

She delights in showing her horses around the country, saying it's the best way to spread the word about the miniature movement which has close to 600 members and more than 11,000 registered animals.

Her horses travel in a regular-sized float with up to six filling the space designed for two full-sized animals.

Obvious difference in stature and weight aside, 'minis' are no different from any other horse, she explains.

However, their size and generally easy temperament definitely makes them more family-friendly than, say, Shetland or pit ponies, which are sometimes expected to make good pets.

Shetlands, she says, were bred foremost as working animals and that reflects in how they behave around children in particular

"Shetlands not meant to be around little kids to be poked and prodded and ridden around.

"These guys are fun. Their nature is calmer and their versatility ... they are a horse that the whole family can enjoy and use.


"They are a miniature, but they are a horse. They look like a horse."

The nationals deliver all the equine competition associated with regular-sized animals - not only showing but also obstacle, harness work and jumping, though they are led around a course rather than ridden.

Manfeild chief executive Julie Keane says the minis are a celebrated breed much-loved by everyone who has an equine interest. Like full-sized equivalents, they have various colours and coat patterns.

"What really makes the minis special is that they are wonderful characters - you could say they are truly larger than life in that respect."

The breed has been refined and perfected through the centuries and, because of their rarity were initially pets of high value for the preserve of nobility, notably Europe's Habsburg dynasty and French royalty.

Comparison with large dogs is appropriate: In some countries miniature horses are gaining a reputation for being excellent service animals, including as guides for the blind.