Catching Up

The minis have been with us now for over a year, having arrived in October 2015. I’m aware that I had great intentions of keeping this blog active at least once a week and have not kept anywhere close to that schedule. For my followers, sorry about that. I’ll try to do better this year.

So I just thought I’d take a minute and catch up on what we’ve learned and experienced in the past year and a half with some updates on horse-related projects on the farm. First, the horses themselves. At just shy of two years old, they’re still enchanting on a daily basis. They do everything big horses do, but more quietly, more easily, more cheaply. A big plus for owning minis. If you don’t need or can’t ride, but still need to be around horses, they’re the perfect solution.

Mr. Peaberry, the stud, is now closing in on 33 inches tall and maintains weight around 195 pounds. He still has his magnificent spots and black stockings. Java, the mare, is just a hair under 30 inches and maintains weight around 165.

Java’s color changes a little month by month. I try to keep both of the horses clipped to make it easier to groom them so they can stay a little cleaner. Fungal skin infections are a problem in this island environment, so good skin care is a must.


Her overall dark bay has become a sort of bay roan with a spotted blanket over her hips. I expect she will end up being mostly white with some nice, but small Appy spots. Their feeding regimen includes timothy hay pellets in the morning, a light serving of alfalfa cubes in the afternoon, and orchard grass hay in the evening, along with free access to plenty of water and a salt/trace mineral block. Depending on how their overall body condition looks, I might skip the alfalfa cubes for a few days or trade out alfalfa cubes for the hay on some days – they seem to pretty flexible about that, as long as they get their timothy pellets in the morning. There’s nothing sadder than their little faces if you try to switch that out on them. With a daily supplement of Vitamin E, and regular (every two to three months) deworming, their hair coats, manes, and tails, look great. Because their pen is fairly rocky, their hooves stay trimmed with only occasional filing needed. All in all, we’ve had no major injuries or illnesses, so knocking on wood that stays the norm.

Fencing of their roughly 2400 square foot pen has required a little shoring up. Though it seems to be a good size for them and they get up a good gallop in there, once the vegetable garden went in adjacent to the north side fence, Mr. Peaberry figured out just how long it would take to worry the fence wire enough to make a hole big enough to poke his nose into the garden. We’re taking steps to strengthen that fence and to move the accessible plants a little further away. But overall, it’s worked out well. We are also improving the little shed where their food, grooming tools, and tack are kept to allow easier access and more storage. Hay bales are bigger and less accessible here than they were in Colorado, so I didn’t allow enough room to store more than one bale. Because we’re never sure exactly when new hay will come in on the boat (it all has to be shipped here from the mainland), it’s become regular routine to keep at least two of everything in storage, just in case.

We have enough 6-foot lightweight panels to create a flexible space of about 216 square feet (12’x18′) maximum or stretch an extra wall across their pen or enclose their loafing shed if we need to isolate one or the other. These came in very handy when I had to put Java on stall rest for a few days, so that Peaberry couldn’t entice her into running around the pen.

The temporary fence panels we put together out of PVC pipe (see previous posts) have come in handy for keeping them confined when we’re working on a project in their pen or allowing limited grazing in other places on the farm, but we learned that the bungees with little balls on the end are just too much fun for Peaberry to pop off (even though they sometimes pop him in the face). I have to secure each panel with at least three or four bungees to make sure they stay secure.

Training wise, they halter and lead pretty nicely and love to stand for thorough brushing and fussing. We are converting a Windstar van to a transportation system for them, and I guess when it’s ready, we’ll find out just how well they halter and lead in strange situations. We’ve had a new county facility with an arena go in just a few minutes down the road where I will be able to reserve time for me (and other local mini owners) to use the arena for training. I’ve bought harness and now that they’re two and ready to think, I will start ground work to prepare for cart driving with them.

Tim with Mr. Peaberry decked out in his Christmas parade outfit that we didn’t end up debuting this year. Java has a green blanket and halter with red sequined poinsettias. We’ll try for the 2017 parade.

I had hoped to put them in their first event in December (the Christmas parade), but a few days before the parade, Java had a little bout of lameness (a bruise, apparently, cured by a few days of stall rest). Since this would have been their first public outing, I decided not to stress the situation. We’ll try for the Kamehameha Day parade in June instead.

We’re planning to expand their space a bit . . . after a year and a half of living here, we’ve realized the quonset hut greenhouse that came with the property is going to be more useful as a stallion refuge/foaling pen. The plan is to convert its 600+ square feet into a completely covered area where I can move Peaberry when needed, or separate a mare about to foal. We’re hoping to add one or two more mares to our little herd, so that we have one or two foals per year for sale. The market for them seems to be pretty good on the island (and on neighbor islands) but there’s not a lot of breeding going on, so I think we won’t flood the market with that approach.

I’ve started a Facebook page for people on Hawaii Island to share information about their minis (Hawaii Island Miniature Horses), and we’ve had people from some of the other islands and even a few mainlanders join in on there.

So overall, things are going well. I’ll try to do more posting of the cute things they do and photos because they’re just fun, along with documenting the van transformation.

A hui hou.




Temporary Fencing

One of the many reasons to have miniature horses is that they can help with the lawn mowing. We don’t have a lot of grassy areas on our little farm, but we do have a few and we thought it might be good if the horses could get out and graze a little. I’ve never been a fan of tying horses out or hobbling to keep them from roaming where they’re not supposed to. After checking several sources on line for temporary fencing, I decided I might just as well make my own.

I needed something lightweight that could be used in a variety of circumstances. I might want to take one or both of the horses to a festival or farmers market, enclose a temporary grazing area that can easily be moved, set up side panels in the back of the pickup for transporting the horses, separate stallion from mares and foals, change the size or configuration of their regular pen to allow grass to grow in certain areas, etc.

One finished panel – the photo angle makes it looks a little like it’s taller on the ends than in the middle but it’s not. 

I settled on a fairly simple design of a six-feet long, three-feet tall panel made of plastic pipe and fittings, figuring that if I made eight of them, I would have complete flexibility in how I might use them. I used black ABS pipe and fittings because it was slightly less expensive than the white PVC pipe and fittings, but either would work. I also found that buying “contractor packs” that included 10 pieces for the fittings and packs of 5 10-foot pipes saved a little on the overall cost. To get the height I wanted and still have a secure fence that the horses couldn’t squeeze through, I went with four bars on each panel.

Construction was easy – after cutting the pipes to length (32″ inches on the rails and 7″ inches on the uprights between fittings), it was just a matter of sanding the cut edges, applying ABS cleaner followed by the ABS glue, and assembly of all the pieces. Having said that, there are a few tips I would share about the process. If you haven’t worked with plastic pipe, be aware that the glue sets really fast and really hard, so have your assembly plan ready. I found it easiest to do all the sanding in one sitting. Then just before assembly, apply the cleaner to all the sanded edges for one panel. Get all your pieces for that panel where you can grab them quickly. Be sure you put down some sort of tarp or work in an area where a few blobs of glue won’t matter.

It’s a messy job no matter how careful you try to be. It helps to have something to lean the partially assembled panels on once you get the rails in but be careful that you don’t get the gooey wet glue on anything if you lean it on something.

Since I was using black pipe, I also used black glue, and it really shows up wherever it lands and trust me, it will land where you least expect it. Wear gloves and old clothes when you do this. After a few trials and errors, the most efficient assembly order seemed to be: 1) put caps on both legs; 2) build one end upright at a time, starting with the capped leg – make sure your openings are aligned perfectly for insertion of the rails because there is no going back once the glue sets (almost instantaneously); 3) build the middle upright with the t-cap on top and bottom; 4) insert one set of rails into one end upright; 5) cap the rails with the middle upright; 5) insert the second set of rails into the middle upright; 6) cap the second set of rails with the second end upright. Be sure you’re tapping everything in fully as you go to seat all the pieces properly; otherwise, you end up cockeyed on your end product. It may still function as a panel, but it doesn’t look as nice. I finished four panels in about three hours total from start to finish.

Once I had four panels assembled, I wanted to test them with the horses to make sure all my theories about how well they would work were accurate. Not knowing how the horses would react to the panels, I fed them and while they had their heads in their buckets and watched me from the corners of their eyes, carried all four panels into the pen and set up them up into a six-foot square, leaving one corner open. I used bungee cords, the kind with the little balls on the ends, to attach the panels to each other. So far, so good. Java couldn’t wait to check out the weird new thing in the pen and walked away from her food to go sniff it carefully. She moved all the way around the outside of it, touching it gently with her soft little lips, then went into the square, walked around the inside of it, shrugged (as much as a little horse can), and went back to her food, not terribly impressed with my handiwork.

Peaberry finished his meal before checking it out. We all have our priorities, and his is always food above anything else. He immediately grabbed the rails in his teeth (he is a boy, after all) and tried to give the panel a good shake. It stayed upright and connected so this was a good test.

Checking it out from all sides.

He went inside, then outside, then inside, then outside, fascinated with the whole thing, biting the rail every now and then just to see if it was something else he could eat. Then he got to the bungee cords. While Java had completely ignored these, Peaberry decided that yanking the little blue ball and watching it snap back into place was a great new game. It took him all of thirty second to destroy the first little blue ball and snap himself in the face (didn’t stop him from going after a second one). I think I’ll have to find a different way to attach the panels to each other.

I closed him in completely to see if he would mind the small pen. Nope. He stuck his head through the rails and was able to get it back through easily so the spacing seems to work well. I suppose you could make a tighter rail spacing if you don’t want any heads sticking through at all, but I wanted to make sure that they couldn’t get their heads partially stuck so I like this spacing. The height seems right also.

The ground here is not level so an added benefit of these panels is their adaptability to uneven terrain.

Although he was a little puzzled by being put into this small corral, he didn’t seem particularly upset. When I let him out, I began taking off the bungees so he didn’t mess with them and two of the panels clattered to the ground. Neither horse flinched. That kind of rattle would have sent most full-size horses scattering, but they just took it in stride. Once the panels hit the ground, they walked over and through them like experienced dressage horses over cavaletti bars. Miniature horses just seem to be calmer overall than full-size horses – nothing seems to get them too excited. Except more food.

With a few refinements to the connectors, I think I’ve got a workable temporary fence that will give us lots of flexibility and enable us to expand the little horses’ world a bit. They weigh almost nothing and cost very little (relatively speaking) to make. With eight panels, I can make a 12’x12′ enclosure, a decent round pen, or stretch 48′ of fence.

Can I come out now?

Coming Home

After several false starts, October 17 was designated as the flight date from Los Angeles to Kona. That morning, we were putting the finishing touches on the paddock and loafing shed right up until time to leave for the airport. I had an email from Andee at Pacific Airlift confirming that the horses were loaded and the flight would depart on time. It was a very long day, but we had been instructed to arrive at the airport at 2:30 with the trailer and we would be given further instructions for pickup when the horses arrived.

At 2:30 on the dot, an enormous airplane pulled up on the tarmac at about the same time as our new friend with the trailer. The plane looked like any passenger jet, but instead of people coming off, metal livestock containers were being conveyed via a lift onto waiting flatbed trucks that drove away someplace we couldn’t see. We knew one of those containers had to be holding our precious little cargo, but it was impossible to see into them from our location on the other side of the runway fence. So we watched as the last container came off and waited for further instructions.

About 3:00, the state veterinarian called with directions to the location for pick up. We found them in typical Hawaii fashion . . . standing on the side of the road with the state veterinarian trying to fill out paperwork in the wind, and the groom that had traveled with them holding two lead ropes with two very perplexed, and very tiny horses on the other end. Transactions on the side of the road seem to be the norm here, so the informality of the transfer was no real surprise. Everyone assured us these were the cutest little horses they’d ever seen and of course, we thought so too. The veterinarian performed a quick check to make sure the horses were okay and that the paperwork was in order and gave me instructions regarding their “quarantine.” Horses imported into Hawaii must stay at least 200 yards away from other horses or be sprayed with an approved insecticide daily for a period of two months after which they have to undergo a follow-up Coggins test submitted to the state veterinarian’s office.

The horses seemed to be no worse for the wear of the trip, though they looked a little surprised to suddenly find themselves in a distinctly different environment with a bunch of strangers surrounding them.

Mahalo to Linda Bloomfield (leading Java) of Therapeutic Horses of Hawaii for the use of her mini-trailer.

After we signed the paperwork, we loaded them into the trailer without any fuss, Java huddling next to Comanche for comfort. We arrived at our place 45 minutes later without incident, and they unloaded like champs, preferring

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Leading the horses into the paddock on arrival. Java (in the back) was anxious to catch up with Comanche.

to leap out headfirst. We led them into their new paddock and removed both halters after showing them where to find fresh water. Within minutes, they were eating the kikuyu pasture grass, grazing peacefully together as though nothing unusual had happened that day. Never mind that they had traveled almost 5000 miles over the past week, leaving their former pasture mates far behind. They were a new herd of two now and they stuck together as though glued at the hip as they explored their new paddock. By the time we had satisfied ourselves that they were settled in, the sun was going down. It was time to leave them for the night, so we closed the gate and headed indoors. We checked on them before we went to bed and they were still doing fine, so heaving a huge sigh of contentment at the smell of fresh manure now wafting through the air, I slept, with visions of all the fun we would have with these two swirling in my dreams.

The next morning, Tim got up as usual to make coffee, and of course, he went out to check on the horses first thing. I did not think it was funny when he came running back to the bedroom with the news that the horses were gone. Unfortunately, he wasn’t joking. The gate was open and the paddock was empty. I remembered hearing the dogs barking around midnight, but I hadn’t checked to see what set them off. Apparently, it was the horses making their escape. Tim started checking the coffee groves around the house and I jumped in the car to check the roadways. Now I was having visions of their little bodies crushed on the road. They’re about the same size and color as the wild pigs in Kona, so someone might easily hit one on the road or shoot at them thinking they were pigs. They might catch their tiny legs in a pig snare and be struggling somewhere. Any number of things could happen to them and none of them were good. I knew they wouldn’t know their way home after just one night in the paddock, nor would they know who I was if I found them. I comforted myself that maybe someone had stolen them and then I worried about how we would get them back from that unfeeling person who had taken them. After twenty minutes of wondering how this could have happened and torturing myself with the worst possible thoughts as I searched every possible road within a few miles (there aren’t many on this part of the island), it occurred to me that neither of us had grabbed our phones so even if we found them, we had no way to tell each other. In my haste to start the search, I had also made the rookie mistake of going out without a rope or halter.

I headed back to the house to find Tim holding my phone out to me. We agreed that we needed to calm down and be more thoughtful about how we approached the problem. He asked if I had seen any tracks and foolishly, I had to admit I had completely forgotten to look. So I took my phone, a halter and a lead rope, and starting at the open gate, sure enough, there were tiny hoofprints leading away from the paddock, around the fence, and uphill past the house. Clearly, that was what started the dogs barking. I should have trusted them, though it would have been impossible to round up two little horses in the dark.

I thought if I could just pull on what little tracking skills I had left from studying with a master tracker thirty years ago, maybe we had a shot of recovery. There were no people print, so my theory of theft fell by the wayside. This was a simple escape. Following the hoofprints was a study in patience. They led uphill, a typical horse behavior when faced with this sort of topography. But the ground is rocky and doesn’t hold a track well. I resorted to looking at overturned pebbles, scraped places in the rock, and trails through the morning dew on plants. Here I would find a tail hair caught on a branch and there was a chewed-off piece of grass. I kept after it for another twenty minutes, hoping our neighbors wouldn’t mind me traipsing through their coffee groves at dawn, and then, wonder of wonders, I saw two little horses calmly eating grass at the top of the neighbor’s property. A rock wall that ran across the back and one side of the property stopped them, just about two hundred yards directly behind our house. My heart rate slowed back to normal and I called Tim to report where I found them.

They weren’t panicky, but they were in a completely foreign place on a steep slope with treacherous footing and of course, they had no clue who we were. Since they’re so young, and they arrived with halters on, I wasn’t sure how reliably halter broken they might be. Was this trip the first time they’d ever worn halters? Every time one of us would get close enough to lay a hand on one of them, they would both shoot past us and into the coffee trees. Now, coffee trees aren’t very tall, but these little horses would simply disappear among them. Tim brought a pan of feed with hopes that they would recognize that time-honored sound and come running to us, but they didn’t seem to care much about it after a full night of grazing.

After we were both exhausted from going up and down hill, trying to avoid the pukas (holes) and rocks that littered the landscape while keeping the horses as calm as possible, we finally had them sort of sandwiched between us on a relatively level stretch of ground.

Waiting patiently for a chance to get a rope on one of them.

We sat down and waited, slowly ooching towards one another when the horses had their heads down and eyes averted. We now had totally calm horses standing in the twenty feet between us. As Comanche’s curiosity got the better of him and he started investigating the pan of timothy pellets, Tim slowly draped a loop of lead rope over his head. I held my breath as the rope caught on one ear but we finally caught some luck as a little head flip slid the rope completely down around his neck. Once we had him secured by the rope, I was able to get the halter on. Java watched all of this with interest, but was unwilling to come close enough for a repeat performance. With Comanche now in hand, Tim led him in a scramble down the slope back to our house, with Java following close behind. It took us three hours from the time we discovered they were gone until we had them safely back in the paddock.

What we learned was that our latch apparently was not fully closed. It looked like it, since the clip was fully around the chain, but in fact, the chain simply slipped through the clip when one of the horses pushed against the gate. A stupid mistake that could have ended very badly, indeed, and one that neither of us will ever make again. We now check and double-check the chains and clips to ensure that the clip goes through the chain and have even put a secondary clip on the gates in case one opens accidentally, so that there will always be a backup closure. These horses are too precious to risk losing them through carelessness.

two cute
How cute are those little faces?

Our new charges were off to a rather inauspicious start, but we were happy to have them back safe and sound, and even more happy that they didn’t seem to be concerned at all about any of the events of the past twenty-four hours. As we checked on them throughout the day, I was flooded with relief that they seemed to be okay. Now that the crisis had been averted, I couldn’t wait to get to know these remarkable little sprites.

Making a Home for the Horses

Over the years, I’ve built many a fence for horses and with each one, I swore I’d dug my last posthole, ever. So here I was again, needing another horse fence. Only this time, there was no hope of digging postholes. When you live on hard lava rock with very little soil cover, it’s time to look for other options. But when your horses are just two and a half feet tall, some of the traditional fencing methods for regular horses won’t work anyway. Openings need to be smaller, height can be lower, and hardware doesn’t have to be industrial strength. Still, the basics are the basics. Health and safety of the horses come first and just like their larger counterparts, they need fencing that won’t fall apart when they scratch or lean against it, shade and shelter from the elements, latches that can’t be pried open by inquiring lips, dry footing, adequate water and feed, places to roll, and enough room to run.

My rule of thumb for larger horses has always been to fence at least half an acre per horse. That much space means your horse can get up to a gallop, but you will always have a dry lot without grass. Dry lot feeding instead of pasture has some advantages – you can always tell exactly how much your horse is eating and there is no chance of colic from too much wet green grass. The down side is that your dry lot becomes a muddy mess with rain or snow and you have to provide enough feed and hay to keep your horse’s need to forage satisfied, monitoring the horse’s weight daily to ensure he’s getting enough, but not too many, calories. Horses are meant to forage for their food, eating small amounts but all day long. A horse that’s fed in a dry lot needs multiple feedings per day and runs the risk of boredom which may manifest in some bad habits like pacing, pawing, fence-chewing or other undesirable behaviors.

The rock wall on the east end of the paddock serves as one side. The upper terrace includes our septic tank – this works for us, but in some places livestock is not allowed on a septic field. Check your local regulations.

I found that the recommended rule of thumb for miniatures is, not surprisingly, much less than regular horses – at least 600 square feet per horse. While our house construction project was underway, we converted a slope in front of the house pad into two terraces with the aid of the earthmoving team and equipment that put in our septic tank. This allowed us to have two level areas comprising about 2000 square feet in a roughly square shape. The rock wall that created our house pad eliminated the need for 50 feet of fence, another bonus of creative thinking about the available space we had.

The bottom rail rests on the concrete block that supports the post. The 2″x3″ grid on the coated fence is small enough so that the minis cannot get their feet caught in it. Note Mr. Bean’s nose intruding on the right side of this photo – it’s hard to take pictures when they want to be in each one.

To build the fence, we scaled down my favorite horse fence design with a few modifications to accommodate our unique landscape in Hawaii and the size of our horses. The basic design is a top rail and bottom rail with wire horse fence attached to both. I like this design because it keeps the horses from getting legs or heads in awkward positions between rails. It also keeps dogs out and foals in. Ordinarily, I would run the bottom rail with just about an inch or two of clearance off the ground, but since we couldn’t reasonably dig postholes, we opted for setting the posts in concrete blocks and filling in the gap with rocks from the property (an ongoing process).

Because we needed both affordability and ease of maintenance, we used treated 4”x4” posts with a coat of paint and 2”x6” Trex composite decking for the top and bottom rails. We capped the posts to discourage damage from bugs and rain and used rolls of 36” coated fencing to avoid the rust that eventually attacks anything metal here on the island.

Post caps at the gates have solar lights while the rest of the fence posts have simple metal caps.
Post caps at the gates have solar lights while the rest of the fence posts have simple metal caps.

With regular sized horses, I’m always careful to sandwich the fence between the rails and posts with the rails on the inside of the posts, so that if your horse leans or rubs against the fence, he’s pushing the rail against the post instead of off the post. With the minis, I thought we might be okay with the posts on the inside which admittedly is more aesthetically pleasing when you’re on the outside of the enclosure. Either way, I always use screws instead of nails to attach the rails to the posts and lots of fence staples to attach the fence to the rails. All in all, this makes a strong, attractive, and affordable fence that lets you see in and the horses see out. With the height of the cement post blocks added to the width of the fence and rails, the entire structure is just about four feet tall.

We had a hard time finding gates of any sort here on the island without having to ship something in at great expense. So although we’ll probably replace these at some point with something more substantial, we opted to go with a simple paneled garden fence found at Lowe’s.

The fence design also accommodates changes in elevation easily. The gate has the same grid as the fencing.
The fence design also accommodates changes in elevation easily. The gate has the same grid as the fencing.

We put one panel to serve as a gate on either side of the paddock to allow ease of access no matter which side you happen to be on. These gates would never do for full-size horses, but for the minis, they seem to be working fine. We did have to add a small panel of fencing to close the gap between the bottom of the gate and the ground.

We created closures using chains and snap hooks. This is the only system I have found to be horseproof, especially if you have clever horses that love to let themselves out. Zipties were critical to using the simple garden gates as they were designed to be part of a system that links each panel to the next using a pin system.

Zipties are a “must-have” around the barnyard. If the horses should figure out how to lift the pin out of the eyescrew, the ziptie will hold the gate in place.

To finish out the paddock, we added a loafing shed by attaching plywood panels to 4”x4” posts to make an 8’x8’ shaded area, covered by scraps of the same powder coated steel roofing we used on our house. A coat of paint helps guard against weathering and makes the whole paddock fence and loafing shed look more finished. I included a 4’x4’ tack and feed room at one end so that I don’t have to haul things back and forth from the house, and poured a concrete pad for this room to keep hay and feed off the ground and out of the path of rainwater. Within the feed room, pellets, alfalfa cubes, and treats are kept in half-size metal garbage cans to keep rodents out. I put in hooks for halters and lead ropes, and have a shelf ready to install to hold fly spray, brushes, and other odds and ends. Another panel of the garden fence keeps the horses out of the feed room.

The shed and tack room could probably be a little taller - they're perfect height for the horses, but require me to stoop a little to get into the feed bins.
The shed and tack room could probably be a little taller – they’re perfect height for the horses, but require me to stoop a little to get into the feed bins.

Tim installed a hose bib just outside the gate that allows access to water with easy filling of the water tub. We threw a couple of small goldfish in the water tub to make sure we have no mosquitoes attempting to use it as a nursery. I do have to remove the fish when I clean the tub every other day, but they’re easy to catch with a small net and don’t seem to mind the disruption in their routine. The horses have free access to a salt and mineral block in a plastic tub with drain holes, which is kept under the roof so that rain won’t dissolve it away. I feed them in tubs on the ground so that waste is minimized and they can “graze” in a natural position.

The last addition to the loafing shed will be done next week when we level out the floor of the shaded area with sand and cover it with stall mats. That should give the horses a mud-free option when it rains and provide them with a softer place to rest when they choose to lie down.

Java checks out her new ball.
Java checks out her new ball.

Finally, I’ve provided a Jolly Ball for them to kick and nose around to help keep them occupied. The entire cost for creating the paddock ended up right around $600 for materials. We put it up ourselves over the course of about five days. We probably could have finished it more quickly, but didn’t want to spend too many hours in the hot Hawaiian sun at one time. Now all we needed was horses to put in the paddock.