You might imagine you have suddenly happened into a farm in Lilliput, the land of miniature animals and folks immortalized by Jonathan Swift in his classic novel, Gulliver’s Travels. There at the entrance to Jackie and David Hook’s horse farm begins our odyssey through the world of miniature horses. The little horses are everywhere; in the corrals, tied to stakes, in the pasture and in the stalls of the big red barn.
We were greeted at the front corral by at least a dozen inquisitive little horses eager to check us out. Some really tiny horses were having a nap in the sun, but most came to the fence looking for new friends. Even Mr. Wiggles, the self-appointed guard dog, was friendly after he barked his obligatory warnings, and then begged to be petted.
After a while Miss Lacie Dunson greeted us and told us about each of the miniatures in the coral. Lacie is fourteen- years-old and already has won the Senior Division 4H Championship in Lexington, Virginia with her miniature horse Wonder Horse Zeek’s Moonlight. Zeek’s Moonlight is Lacie’s pride and joy. As she described the mares and foals, her warm affection for each one was obvious.
Winston Churchill once wrote, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” Certainly that goes for women and children as well. One woman I met was busy training her horse Blaze for a horse show at North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh, North Carolina. Dale Dean bought her first miniature horse for her daughter. Dale now has 12 miniature horses and actively participates in mini horse shows.
The guiding lights in this world of miniature horses are Jackie Hooks and her husband David. Jackie became interested in miniature horses when she watched them at a horse show in Lexington, Virginia. She and David decided they would buy a few and try to breed them for people who wanted ponies for young children. Jackie explained that in her experience, many ponies turned out to be mean and were not really good around small children. Often the owners who had bought them for their child had to get rid of them because they were not to be trusted around children. Minis, in contrast, are very gentle and wonderful around children. That fact was obvious as we watched three year old Lucas Blakeman immediately take to the minis and embrace them with no a sign of fear. The feeling seemed to be mutual as minis huddled around him.
Jackie and David wanted to breed good looking affordable miniature horses. Soon she had six miniature horses, two stallions and two mares with their foals. One of those stallions, Romeo eventually won 22 national championships. Her mare, Julie, won 24 national championships.
Jackie learned to train miniature horses and began training them for the late Ms. Genevieve Dupont. At the time, Ms. Dupont owned approximately one hundred minis and devoted a great deal of time to providing horses for the handicapped. Since her passing, Jackie and David have sponsored all of the classes for physically challenged contestants in Genevieve Dupont’s name at the Miniature Horse National show in Tulsa, Oklahoma. When Ms. Dupont passed away, Jackie inherited some of her miniature horses, more than doubling the number of horses at the farm.
Jackie has been training a three-year-old mini mare named RCM Silver Meadows Bay Masterpiece. She has been showing in a horse cart for four months and has already won three National Championships. When we spoke to Jackie, she was lovingly grooming the mare to show at the North Carolina State Fair Horse Show at Raleigh, NC. A little later Jackie put her through an obstacle course, trained on the lunge line and over hunter class jumps. Jackie predicts this horse will have a long and winning career.
Miniature horses are being used as guides for the blind and they are particularly good with challenged children. As we saw for ourselves, the miniature horses will run to any child while ponies seem to shy away. Jackie said she trusts her minis around her own grandchildren who spend summer vacations at the farm. You can actually buy a mini for the price of a pedigreed dog.
Jackie Hooks is modest about her accomplishments. You might never imagine just how many ribbons, silver trophies, silver plates and all sorts of awards she has won at some of the more than 250 American Miniature Horse Registry (A.M.H.R.) sanctioned miniature horse shows across the county. Her home is decorated with the evidence of her skill and devotion to miniature horse.
For a horse to be registered with the A.M.H.R. in the A division, the horse may grow no taller than 34 inches. In the new B division a horse must be over 34 and under 38 inches. It is an amazing sight to see miniature horses in competition. Regaled in colorful driving attire, contestants like Jackie, sit in specially made carts hitched to beautiful groomed minis highly trained to high step and keep in the proper gait. In a split second, they must change gaits without a misstep. They must then line up and stand dead still while the judge inspects them and makes the tough decision as to which is the best of a class that will most probably include the finest miniature horses in the country and from around the world.
People often ask what can you do with a little horse if you are not into showing. It is probably easier to ask what can’t you do with a miniature horse. Certainly only young children are light enough to ride miniature horse. In the past young children rode ponies of various sizes. Jackie says “The minis are ideal around children because they are so sweet, gentle and very intelligent.” The fact that they are used as guide horses for the blind and work just like the traditional guide dog for the blind proves how smart they are and how adaptable they are to training. When it comes to mentally challenged or physically disabled children, they are gentle enough to be trusted with the sometimes inappropriate touching and pushing that might occur. I spoke to the parent of a challenged child for whom she had purchased a mini. She said her child immediately responded to the mini that was more her size than a conventional horse. She said the child wanted to take care of the mini and grew in her ability to do so, motivated by her love of her little companion. The mom said she felt the miniature horse was a gift from the almighty that gave her challenged child joy she would not have otherwise enjoyed.
Jackie explained that selective breeding has come a long way from the early days of miniature horses when some of the horses were not particularly attractive. Jackie said “it took time for the breeders to get it just right to where the proportions are correct. Wonder Horses Top Bananas Rambo was one of Jackie’s foals I recall seeing just after he was born several years ago. Today Rambo, still owned by Jackie, is a fine looking mini that is beautifully proportioned and a wonderful example of Jackie’s efforts. He won top ten in several classes this year at the Nationals.
You will find the farm on a quiet country road just past a goat farm, past tranquil Barricks Mill pond, then up the hill to the Little Wonder Horse Farm.
Jackie, David and their staff love to show off their minis to anyone who drives into the Little Wonder Horse Farm. The farm is located at 722 Barricks Mill Road in Topping, Virginia, just up the hill from Barricks Mill Pond.
Jackie and David do it all, breeding, sales and training. They have a website where you can see some fine looking examples of their miniature horses and learn more about minis, www.wonderhorsefarm.com. The telephone number is (804) 776-6701.
Better yet, take a drive with your family and stop by the Little Wonder Horse Farm. They’ll welcome you with a friendly greeting and short education about the wonderful world of miniature horses. Your kids are bound to be thrilled and, unless I miss my guess, they will touch your heart as they have ours. In the words of little three year old Lucas when he visited the minis for the first time, “I wove dem!”