Pint-sized Ponies

Coupeville residents Pat and Linda McGinnis were simply looking for a new hobby when they found something that has brought them to the national competition stage — albeit a small one.

Four years ago, the couple came across a newspaper ad selling five horses, a cart and a trailer. Despite being a little on the small side, it was quite a steal and quite the appropriate selection.

Linda had become ill a couple years before and had to give up her love of riding horses. But when the McGinnises found the ad selling miniature horses, the pint-size equines became a perfect fit.

“We bought them sight unseen,” Linda said.

Although far from common, the miniature horse has been around a while. It was first brought to the United States in the 19th century and was typically used in coal mines until the 1950s. Horses registered with the American Miniature Horse Association must meet the group’s standard of perfection and cannnot exceed 34 inches at the withers, the high back part of the horse.

“They’re just like a big dog when you get down to it,” Pat said last week while his grandson, Anthony McGinnis, 4, was out frolicking with the horses. “They’re real gentle and not very aggressive.”

Pat said the care of the horses is similar to regular horses, except that food lasts longer. A bale of hay can last as long as three weeks.

Since buying the initial horses, the McGinnis’ herd has increased to 11. But the horse count is temporary. Two of their mares are pregnant, and the McGinnises expect colts this spring.

Being former dog trainers, the couple was immediately interested in entering their horses in competitions. They now compete regularly in shows around the Pacific Northwest. Linda prefers obstacle riding, which she finds more challenging than the “beauty contest” aspect of horse shows.

The horses have provided the couple a fun break from their jobs — Pat works at Whidbey General Hospital and Linda works for Compass Health in Mount Vernon.

The couple had a productive year of horse competition in 2003. At the national show — sponsored by the American Miniature Horse Registry in September in Tulsa, Okla. — Linda placed second in the obstacle driving competition and Pat was second in the pleasure driving competition.

Not everything is competition, though. Whidbey Island residents can get a chance to see the little horses during one of the various parades on the island. Pat and Linda, along with their horse and cart were part of the Greening of Coupeville’s holiday parade, and many said they are eager to see them during warmer weather.

As the new year begins, the McGinnises are preparing to enter more shows. Pat and Linda are training the horses to negotiate an obstacle course and are making sure they stay in shape with plenty of exercise.

Their first show of the year happens in a couple months. They head down to Boring, Ore., for a schooling show, an event which Pat says gives them a chance to acclimate younger horses to the competitive show environment.

He said the horses have to get used to being around hundreds of fellow miniature horses before they are entered into larger shows later in the year.

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