Dreaming in miniature

Jul. 23, 2014 @ 10:53 AM

“I’m really a horse stuffed into a person’s body,” said Sheryl Owen laughing as she slowly makes her way down the freshly swept barn aisle on a rain-soaked July morning.  Glancing down at the array of nickering, velvet muzzles sticking up to nudge her outstretched hand, Owen stops and tenderly rubs the gossamer-like mane of a horse that appears to be shrunken down in the dryer to an extraordinarily extra, extra, extra small size.

“These are miniature horses, not ponies,” she stressed. As if the word “pony” sullies these overly-petite equines’ larger-than-life stature in some way. “And they’re like potato chips, you can’t have just one.”

The Long and the Short of It

Unlike their full-size counterparts that can grow upwards of 6 feet or 72 inches tall from the top of the wither, miniature horses measure between 34 to 38 inches—from the last hair of their mane to be exact—according to the breed’s two top governing bodies: the American Miniature Horse Association (AMHA) and the American Miniature Horse Registry (AMHR).  Minis are bred for the same ideal balance, conformation and athleticism as that of a normal horse and compete in many of the same disciplines such as jumping, driving, halter and showmanship classes. However, because of their delicate frames,  miniature horses should not be ridden or carry more than 70 pounds which means many classes such as jumping are done on a lead-line with a handler in tow.

At 65-years-young, Owen has spent the last seven years of her life collecting, showing and breeding an exceptional herd of 11 miniature horses at her farm uniquely named Kaprikorn Miniatures.  A nursing supervisor at Liberty Home Care in Thomasville by day,  this spunky, dyed-in-the-wool horsewoman has dabbled in various aspects of horse showing and competing for over 40 years.

“Being around my horses is the best stress reliever and therapy I know,” said Owen. “These babies keep me ground, sane and moving. Sure, my knees hurt, my shoulder hurts, my back hurts, but when I get to the barn, all that melts away. It keeps me young and happy,”

From Heartbreak to Happiness

However, it was out of horrific tragedy that Owen’s love for all things equine and small was born.

“Years ago, I was fortunate enough to own a breathtaking Quarter Horse stallion named Cabrio,” she said, voice cracking. Rubbing the back of her weathered hand as if wiping the dust from old photograph, Owen stops and breathes a deep breath. “He was the epitome of what a horse should be, but most of all he was kind. One day, he was brutally attacked by another stallion who broke out of its stall and came after Cabrio who could not get away.  He suffered a broken jaw and life-ending injuries. A piece of me died with him when I had to put him down.”

After Cabrio’s death, Owen swore she would never become that attached to a horse again, keeping them at an arms length—literally. She painted and showed Breyer model horses for a few years until eventually happening upon a miniature horse show being held at the same location she was showing her model horses in Asheville.

“When I saw all those minis trotting around I could hardly catch my breath,” said Owen. “I knew I would never be able to replace Cabrio and didn’t even want to. But something about these little horses was different and would not compete with his memory.”

An Eye for Excellence

After the show,  Owen was hooked. A trip to the miniature horse sale in Mt. Airy, resulted in her buying a 20-year old mini mare named Mama for $250.

“I thought I would start out slow and she was too cute to pass up,” Owen said looking sheepish. “But then I really got on a roll and started going to the sale every time they had one. I caught the ‘mini bug’ really bad,”

A girl’s night out, turned into a trip to the horse auction and landed Owen what is now her most prized possession, Kaprikorn Scottie Too Hottie.

“The minute Scottie walked into the ring to be sold it was love at first sight,” she said. “Back then, he was an unproven yearling but he had the look of champion. He glowed with a huge presence and personality.  I felt like he was looking right at me.”

Today, this pint-sized, palomino powerhouse is a ‘winning machine’ with more honors, accolades and titles than his silver-dollar sized hooves can hold including 2011 East Coast Miniature Horse Club High Point Stallion and 2011 American Miniature Horse Association World top ten stallion.

Watching Scottie the stallion canter and prance around his lush paddock, shaking his head and whinnying to the mares next door, it’s glaringly apparent that dominating the show ring is the last thing on his mind right now. 

Trotting up to the fence, Scottie sticks his muzzle through an opening and calls to a buff-colored, ‘mini-me’ version of himself. “That’s Wildfire, Scottie’s son,” said Owen, beaming with pride. “He’s four-weeks-old and is already on fire.”

At that moment, Wildfire bravely leaves the shadow of his mother’s side and walks over to greet his sire. Neck arched, eyes wide, Scottie gently and carefully sniffs his son’s diminutive features and inspects his newest creation.

“He looks just like his daddy,” Owen said. “Only time will tell if he has that same spark. But judging by his courage, I think we’ve got something.”