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Small Horses, Big Passion

By: Emma Slater

September 26, 2013

A herd of miniature horses runs through Jim and Barbara Amblos’ pasture. The couple currently has 28 of the dog-sized animals.


For Jim and Barbara Amblo, owning miniature horses is a hobby they just can’t quit

The experience of visiting miniature horses in their pasture is reminiscent of Alice Liddell’s adventure down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland, when she swells to an outlandish size. If you took a picture from a distance, you wouldn’t be able to spot the difference between a full-sized horse and a miniature horse. 

In person, though, a miniature horse’s shoulders come up to just below an adult’s waist. These animals are known for being exceptionally curious and friendly, as well as playful and intelligent. The moment one gives a playful buck, they race around the pasture to keep warm in the crisp autumn air. 

These miniature horses are part of Jim and Barbara Amblos’ farm off Route 7 in Charlotte.  At its height the herd had 60 head, but it is now reduced to a more manageable size of 28 mares, geldings and stallions. The Amblo’s’ ten-acre farm also includes chickens and a flock of peacocks, whose sole purpose, Jim says, is to “get rid of extra money.”

The miniature horse is a draft species that was bred by seven original families who first imported miniature horses to the United States in 1962 from Argentina. These horses have always had somewhat of a novelty factor due to their size, and were once quite valuable as a result of their rarity. According to the American Miniature Horse Association, the ideal conformation for a miniature horse should resemble that of a full-sized counterpart in proportion. Although these little animals are similar to a large dog in size, they clearly exhibit the personality of a horse, and have specific dietary requirements.

The first miniature stallion that the Amblos purchased was from a jockey who lived in Richmond. The man would stop by regularly with a trailer of horses he was interested in selling, and one day he called them up to show them a mini. In order to keep the stallion company the Amblos bought him two “girlfriends,” and the herd began to grow. Although they have made efforts to downsize, Amblo says that the process was more like “sell one, buy three.”

When the Amblos first began to develop their miniature horses, it was nearly impossible to find harnesses, bridles or any other pieces of tack designed specifically for a miniature horse. The best option was to take a piece of pony tack and adjust it by punching new holes and cutting the straps, a process Jim compares to cutting a dress to fit a new person. Like people, each of the horses has a unique conformation. 

The quality of the final product was invariably unsatisfying, though, so he went back to tinkering and began to construct his own tack. The process of cutting leather straps can be very frustrating, so he jokes that he and Barbara could only make six straps at a time without it ending in divorce.

Similarly, Jim, a carpenter by trade, began to experiment with building his own carts. Each cart has slightly different features and varies in how it carries weight, displaying an evolution in the craft. Almost all of the materials are things you could find in your garage or at your local hardware store. With a little welding, Jim fits together copper and steel plumbing pipes, recycled wood and a section of couch cushion to create a quality cart. He is constantly troubleshooting with the rig to improve. 

“Every time we go out we change things around,” he said. 

The pinnacle of this cart construction is the miniature-sized replica of the Budweiser wagon, identical down to the hydraulic brakes and built-in sound system. The Amblos bring this cart to fairs in the back of a trailer that has been retrofitted to also fit a maximum of 10 adult miniature horses—essentially a party bus for minis.

The Amblo’s’ team of eight miniature horses is a familiar spectacle at the Addison County Field Days and the Champlain Valley Fair. TheseE horses are named after Snow White and the seven dwarves. Preparation for these events is year round, as Jim trains the horses himself and builds all of the equipment. In addition, he tends the horses’  voluminous, disco-ready manes, which manage to tangle with burrs shortly after being brushed out. (This is an arduous process that involves copious amounts of WD40, which Jim endorses as an effective detangler with a great scent.)

After these visits to the fair, the horses are each trained to step up onto an antique Toledo scale to have their respective weights measured and recorded for comparison after the stress and activity. They typically weigh in at just less than 300 pounds and obligingly hop off the scale to receive a small handful of treats, just like kids getting stickers after a trip to the doctor’s office.

A visit to the Amblo’s’ farm is impressive, not only to appreciate the Amblos’for the hard work, ingenuity and excellent animal husbandry but also to seefor their generosity  and support and passion for miniature horses.

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