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.




Parasites in Paradise

The minis are officially out of quarantine. They’ve passed the two-month waiting period and had their follow-up Coggins test. And like all good horses everywhere, they waited just a few days after the vet was at the farm before they exhibited their first health issues. Spoiler alert: this post deals with diarrhea. If you want to stop reading now, I completely understand.

Just a few days after assuring the vet that the horses had adjusted well to their new environment and being assured by the vet that they looked to be in great shape, we noticed some loose stools in the daily poop pickup. I tend to not get too excited by the occasional loose stool . . . most animals, like people, sometimes get a little stressed or eat something that doesn’t fully agree with them and that can cause a temporary change in bowel habits. But when it went from somewhat loose to downright watery the next day, it was time to act.

First, I had to determine which horse had diarrhea. Neither of them seemed to feel bad, neither was dehydrated, and they were both showing up for every meal and drinking water normally.

Java never misses a meal and drinks somewhere between two and five gallons of water daily.

The next step was to simply lift their tails and check to see if anything seemed amiss. Or should I say, a mess. While little Java’s backside was clean as a whistle, Mr. Peaberry’s beautiful bushy tail was hiding a streak of runny green gunk. I sat and watched them both until they pooped and sure enough, my suspicions were confirmed. Java seemed normal, but Peaberry had the runs.

When our dog succumbs to diarrhea, it’s almost always because she’s eaten something awful. When a horse has it, any horse, the first suspect is almost always worms. Since I knew it had been at least two months since the horses had been dewormed, I decided to start there, even though the vet said we could go to a six-month deworming schedule. After all, they’d been on the road and in strange new places on their way to me, so deworming seemed the prudent thing to do.

Mr. Peaberry cooperated beautifully, taking a dose of ivermectin like a champ. I was able to simply squirt it in his mouth and although he didn’t look thrilled, he didn’t seem to mind. Java, as always, was not that simple. I ended up covering some of her favorite treats in the paste and she eventually mouthed them enough to get what I hoped was close to a full dose. To slow the flow from Mr. Peaberry so he didn’t get dehydrated, I also gave him a couple of Pepto-Bismol tablets which he decided were almost as good as his apple-flavored treats.

The following day I was rewarded with the observation of normal bowel movements for both. But the next day held a surprise – every pile of poop held a wad of worms. Long, icky roundworms, also known as ascarids. While it’s not unusual for horses to have worms (most carry a parasite load their entire life with relatively few ill effects), a heavy load of roundworms can be a problem for a young horse. I did not expect to see this many worms come out of my little horses. The good news is that the ivermectin appeared to work, as all the worms I observed were dead. The bad news is that these particular worms can cause quite a bit of internal trauma as they migrate through the horse’s organs during their life cycle, causing symptoms that range from a dry cough to diarrhea. When the load is heavy enough and you induce a significant die-off, you can also induce colic as the dying worms may create an impaction in the horse’s intestines. I had a moment of panic when Mr. Peaberry laid down and rolled in discomfort the next morning, but after he got up and pooped (normally), he seemed fine.

Mr. Peaberry, always alert and ready for more hay.

So we remain watchful and will dose again in a couple of weeks to make sure we’ve gotten the worms under control. It’s critical to keep their dry lot clean as these worms can produce millions of eggs that are passed back out in manure and then ingested as the horses pick at the grass that remains in their paddock. Wherever these worms came from, it’s a safe bet that our pasture is now infected. Once the horses are older (around 18 months), they will likely develop an immunity to these parasites, but while they’re still young, they are at continued risk. I’ll be taking a sample of manure up to the vet’s office to check for other parasites and make sure that we’re using the right dewormer to get this under control. For now, both of the minis are doing well, with good appetites and bright eyes.


December Vet Visit

The December 9 visit from the vet confirmed that the minis are doing great in their new home. Their 2-month quarantine period is almost over and Dr. Hamilton, from Veterinary Associates, came all the way from Waimea (an hour and a half drive) to check them out and draw blood for the required follow-up Coggins test. The Coggins test checks for equine infectious anemia and is usually performed anytime a horse leaves its home turf, for transfer to a new home or to attend a parade or show that would put it in contact with other horses. Horses that are imported into Hawaii from the mainland or other countries are subject to a two-month quarantine, staying at least 200 yards away from other horses on the owner’s property or under surveillance at a state-approved facility to ensure they’re not carrying any infectious diseases. Failing to provide the follow-up Coggins test can result in a $10,000 fine, so I was excited to find Dr. Hamilton and schedule the appointment.

The vet arrived with an assistant and a vet student from UC-Davis gaining additional experience on the ground. Having been through the time-wasting scenarios when owners don’t have their horses ready for the vet or massage therapist, I was prepared with the horses haltered and on lead ropes when the vet’s SUV pulled up just minutes after the appointed time.

Dr. Hamilton (in pink) and visiting vet student Jim listen to the horses’ hearts and lungs.

We got right to work, with Dr. Hamilton and the vet student taking over the horses and the assistant filling out paperwork, while I photographed and asked questions.

I explained that we were experimenting with new coffee-themed names for Comanche and after a few ideas were tossed around, the vet suggested “Mr. Peaberry”. I think we have a winner. For those not familiar with the coffee industry, a peaberry occurs every now and then when only one coffee bean develops inside the cherry instead of the usual two. Because it’s a single, it is usually larger than normal and some feel that makes it more robust in flavor as well as size. Peaberry coffee is therefore considered a premium product. Comanche, I mean, Mr. Peaberry, certainly seems to fit, robust and a little on the large side for Falabellas (although still extremely tiny at his current 29.5 inches). Certainly a premium product.

He was first up for an examination and right up until the time when a needle became part of the deal, he did great. He stood patiently while first the vet student then the vet took all his vital signs and listened to his lungs and heart through a stethoscope. He even stood still while they tried to wade through the long, silky hairs on his neck to find the jugular vein. It was just when the poke came that he lost it a little and reared. Now when a regular horse rears, it’s a terrifying thing. When you think about the damage a sharp hoof could do to someone’s skull when driven downwards with the force of a 1000-pound horse behind it, it’s a serious problem. When a miniature horse rears, I hate to say it, but it’s a little comical. Certainly, an ill-placed hoof or head butt could do some damage, but even on his hind legs, he still wasn’t as tall as the student. It didn’t take long for him to settle down to his usual easy-going self and the necessary blood was drawn. One down.

The entire time that Mr. Peaberry (still trying it on, but I like that!) was being poked and prodded, Java was standing close at hand, watching with calm, cool interest.

java vet
Java, always suspicious with new activities, seemed okay with having her vital signs checked.

After he was done and his halter was removed, she was up and although she’s normally the more skittish of the two, she stayed relatively calm through the whole ordeal. Well, the horses thought it was an ordeal, but I have to say the vet and her assistants did a very efficient and humane job throughout.

Everyone agreed that these were two of the cutest little creatures in existence, so of course, I’ve found the vet we’ll be using from now on. Since I’m still new to horsekeeping on the island, and it’s a very different environment than my previous horse experience, I asked a lot of questions and Dr. Hamilton was quite kind to answer them all very patiently. She said the feeding regimen I have them on seems to be just right to meet their nutritional needs, but suggested I might add a capsule or two of Vitamin E to their feed daily. Since hay and pelleted feeds have to be shipped in they are never as fresh as their mainland counterparts and tend to lose a little nutritional value along the way. This makes sense to me and I’ll begin adding that supplement.

She also clarified that annual vaccinations here are a little different than the mainland. The important vaccines are tetanus, rhinopneumonitis, and equine flu, which I can buy from the feed store and administer myself. Equine encephalitis and West Nile virus aren’t usually found here, and although there was an outbreak some time ago, most vets don’t currently recommend vaccinating for them. And rabies is nonexistent on the island so not even dogs are vaccinated against that disease. She suggested a quarterly deworming regimen, and double dosing Strongid to get rid of tapeworms.

Finding the vein amidst all that hair takes a lot of practice.

Since most tubes of dewormers carry a dose for horses up to 1200 pounds, I should be able to get a year’s worth out of one tube. Fortunately, the tubes are marked for weights ranging from 200 to 1200 pounds, so I can scale down the dose easily.

Dr. Hamilton liked my setup with the free choice mineral block and shade shelter (to which we’ve added rubber stall mats so the horses will always have a place with dry footing). She noticed I have a couple of small feeder goldfish in the water tub. I explained that I have always done that to avoid breeding mosquitoes, especially important right now since we’re facing a dengue fever outbreak on the Big Island. The horses also seem to get a kick out of watching the fish swim around and I imagine the water must taste better with a little fish waste – at least they seem to think so. I have to take them out when I clean the water tub, but they don’t seem to mind taking up temporary quarters in a cup for the few minutes it takes to do that every other day.

All in all, it was a great vet visit, and good to hear that I’m keeping my little ones healthy and happy. Although they won’t be out of quarantine in time for the Kailua-Kona Christmas parade this year, we’ll soon start working on crowd response and noise conditioning so they can participate in the next one.


The Daily Grind

Over the last six weeks, we’ve established a routine that varies only slightly from day to day, depending on whether we have meetings to attend or errands to run. It starts every morning with me peeking over the rock wall on my way to coffee on the lanai just to make sure the horses haven’t gone anywhere during the night. And of course, every morning, there they are, with their little noses pointed up at me, asking for breakfast.

This is the face you get when you’re late with a meal. Note the mottled skin, striped hooves, and white sclera – all Appaloosa characteristics.

After coffee and email are done (because of the time difference, you have to do email first thing or you won’t get a response from anyone on the mainland until the next day), I head down to the paddock to give the horses their morning ration of timothy pellets. They get two cups each, which translates to about half a pound each. I brush them while they eat, but since they’re so tiny, this takes almost no time at all, so I move on to picking up manure piles and transporting them to a bucket to be composted and redistributed among the coffee trees and vegetable gardens. At the same time, I’m attempting to clear the paddock of rocks, which may prove to be impossible in my lifetime. But I get rid of a few more rock piles each day and I do see progress.

The rest of the morning for me is spent on work – either my day job as a writer/consultant/trainer or my other day job as a coffee farmer. There is no shortage of outdoor work as we get our gardens growing and do the regular maintenance associated with our hundred or so coffee trees. Tim does much of the landscaping work, but for now, there are plenty of rocks to move, trees to plant or prune, ponds to service, animals to feed, fences to build, etc. Soon we’ll be adding a chicken coop to house half a dozen or so chickens. Chores and special projects are always waiting and best done in the cooler morning hours.

After we eat our lunch, the horses get theirs. Lunch consists of a half pound or so (each) of alfalfa cubes, wetted down with water or diluted apple cider vinegar. Sometimes I sit with them through lunch, partly to make sure no one chokes on a cube and partly because I just love to listen to them chew. Nothing says meditation like the rhythm of a horse chewing food, while you soak up fresh air and sunshine. After they finish eating, we do a little work. Right now, we’re mostly working on leading. Because they’re still young, they tend to plant all four feet periodically and stare stubbornly instead of automatically following along. When that happens, I patiently wait them out with continuing pressure on the lead rope. Once they move forward, the pressure is released – with that problem solved, they follow me like it was their idea.

We also work on foot etiquette. I pick up all four feet on each horse daily, picking out mud and small rocks from their soles and checking the overall condition of the hoof. Initially, this activity met with some resistance, and still does on occasion, with one or the other of the horses tugging the hoof out of my hand or kneeling down so I can’t get to it. But we’re making progress with all of these things, so as soon as they are completely accepted as routine, we’ll move on to more difficult tasks.

Gotta scratch, gotta scratch . . .

They get another thorough brushing and a couple of apple snack treats as a reward for their work . . . they really enjoy being brushed and they never complain about the treats. And I head back to the house to complete farm chores or other work. Or we go to the beach. Some days you just have to take advantage of great snorkel weather.

In the evening, the horses get a final meal of orchardgrass hay – a flake weighs about three pounds, so all total, they each get somewhere between two and three pounds of food daily or about 1.5% of their ideal body weight of 125-175 pounds. Because they tend to share their food pans it’s impossible to tell exactly how much each of them eats, but they both have healthy appetites and assessing their body condition daily helps me adjust if I feel they are getting too much or too little. If I asked them, they would tell me they get too little every day at every meal. There’s a good reason for the expression “eating like a horse.” Left to their own devices, they would eat nonstop, a throwback to the days of their ancestors who relied on unlimited grazing to supply enough calories to survive harsh environmental conditions. Today’s horses, and certainly my two little minis, don’t burn nearly enough calories to justify eating all day long. Of course, neither do I and that doesn’t seem to stop me either.

One of the best things about heading down to the paddock in the evening is the outstanding view of sunset over the ocean. Every night I am reminded of what a gift it is to be living on this island, especially with the even greater gift of these two little horses.

“Our tails are so pretty and fluffy when they get all combed out with detangler!”

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.