By Jane Fryer for the Daily Mail. The 28 extremely small residents of the Munchkins Miniature Shetland Rescue Centre toss their teeny heads, stamp their tiny hooves and swish their shaggy manes in the golden afternoon sun like little princes and princesses. Their tummies are round and full. Their eyes are bright. Their spirits are high — judging by the odd well-aimed kick or lunge. And their appetites are insatiable. They eat all day, every day — munch, munch, munch —barely lifting their heads to take in the stunning views from their pasture.
Miniature Shetland ponies running through a meadow. Over time they have been bred smaller and smaller, to barely 38 inches high. But these miniature Shetland ponies have been through seven circles of hell. Many have been physically and mentally abused. Some were abandoned in water-logged fields, sheds or outhouses; left tethered, thin and louse-ridden, in car parks. Others spent years cooped up in suburban back gardens — neglected pets that had lost their novelty value — before being offered on second-hand websites for as little as a fiver.
They have been bred smaller and smaller, to barely 38 inches high — not slowly over time by evolution, but quickly by unregulated breeders to meet a passing fad. Closer up, the scars are visible. Butterscotch, a gorgeous cream dun, has an open wound on his face where horse-sized teeth far too big for his miniature head have caused an abscess. The six-year-old is scheduled for an operation next week.
A comparison showing a full sized horse with a tiny Shetland Pony.
Patchwork, a ten-year-old piebald with a gorgeous flowing mane, had such bad laminitis a potentially devastating condition affecting hooves caused by the wrong diet of over-rich grass that vets recommended he was put to sleep the day he arrived at Munchkins, four years ago. And miniature Shetlands are just the latest in a long line of animals to be catastrophically overbred to satisfy human fads and fashions. They are the equine equivalent of miniature hand-bag dogs, or pugs with faces so trendily flat that the poor, benighted animals struggle to breathe. One, in , was for the mobile phone firm Three, in which, thanks to special effects, a Shetland pony appears to be dancing to a Fleetwood Mac song.
The second, far more damaging, was an Amazon advert in which a miniature Shetland with dwarfism was shown popping in and out of a cat flap and watching television.
Suddenly, it seemed, everyone wanted a pet pony — and the smaller the better. All they could see was an impossibly cute horse that could join their family as a designer pet, be saddled up for their tot to ride, cost next to nothing to care for and even mow the grass into the bargain. Ponies recovering from poor treatment at Barnby Horse Centre. While small in stature, they need lots of exercise and space — the same as a fully-grown horse — or they soon become overweight with diabetes and joint problems.
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Some become so fat that their legs can no longer support them and they have to be put to sleep. They should live for about 40 years the oldest Shetland on record is But as a result of the unregulated overbreeding to make them still smaller, they end up suffering from all sorts of horrific medical complaints. So the vicious circle continues. Treated like pets — given sweet morsels and dragged about on leads — they can quickly become difficult and prone to kicking and biting.
Children, of course, outgrow them. The market is saturated so many end up as dog food. The lucky ones find themselves in rescue centres such as Munchkins. Tammy has been horse-mad since childhood, but it was the horsemeat scandal when it was revealed that meat products in supermarkets routinely contained horsemeat in that galvanised her to set up Munchkins. The setting is spectacular — 12 acres of Devon pasture owned by Tammy and her husband Paul, 65, a former maths teacher who had hoped to enjoy a relaxing retirement of golfing and gardening.
An Amazon advert showing a tiny pony that helped spark a craze.
Miniature Shetlands are just the latest in a long line of animals to be catastrophically overbred to satisfy human fads and fashions. Instead, the couple — and their team of volunteers — regularly work hour days coaxing their teeny charges back to life, grooming them, taking their pulses every morning, dishing out medication and monitoring their health. The steeds are kept on short, thin grass, taught to forage again, encouraged to walk and graze together. They also have regular sessions with an equine behavioural expert, who seems to work wonders with broken spirits. Bruno, a chestnut with flaxen mane and tail, had terrible behavioural problems when he arrived — constantly rearing up on his hind legs to kick and bite — but is now contently chomping away.
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January, a piebald, who stamps, swirls and kicks her heels up in a flurry of excitement, was skeletal, louse-ridden and terrified when she was rescued from a field that also contained a dead foal and emaciated horses. Jane Fryer goes the Munchkins rescue centre in Devon, to see the miniature horses there. Smaller breed are being neglected and abandoned as owners believe their small size means they are easier to care for.
Birthdays for the animals are marked with home-baked equine-friendly ginger cookies. Come Christmas, the tinsel will go up and, thanks to a charity lucky dip, all ponies will receive presents — halters, hay-bags, polos. While some will never be fit enough, physically and emotionally, so far more than 30 ponies have been happily rehomed. Towards the end of my visit, an emergency call is received about three ponies discovered cooped up in a lorry container in Kent with an Alsatian dog. The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline.
Plight of my very little Pony: How our obsession with ever-smaller pets has seen Shetland ponies go from 'trendy' to neglected - with many suffering HELLISH existences before being abandoned in car parks across Britain These miniature Shetland ponies have been through seven circles of hell Many physically and mentally abused, some abandoned in water-logged fields Others spent years cooped up in suburban back gardens — neglected pets that had lost their novelty value By Jane Fryer for the Daily Mail Published: GMT, 3 October Updated: GMT, 4 October e-mail shares.
From a distance, it seems they glow with good health. It is ruining our horses. In the wild all horses and in fact all animals have a season when food is not as abundant. They are supposed to use the body fat for energy.
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When the summer grass returns the horses gain body fat because….. I was very disappointed in the ECEIM consensus report because only a few sentences were devoted to protein. Studies in horses and humans both show the importance of adding protein to reduce fatty liver and fat in the blood hyperlipemia.
Guess what is found in all horses with EMS? They have hyperlipemia. In essence the report suggests to starve the horse by removing all grain yea! If I were a horse then just shoot me rather than starve me! There is nothing worse than starving a horse.
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Yet in my experience, horses with an adequate protein intake decrease their appetite and they naturally lose weight. They also add top line, flatten their hay belly, improve their hair coat, skin and hooves and have a generally more improved outlook on life. I cannot understand why chronic protein deficiency is not being addressed at professional meetings. It is the missing link and was missing in this lengthy report on EMS.
What was clear in the report was that there are a lot of fat horses out there. And half of the horses in the USA are considered obese. Can you say epidemic? As always, excellent article. I have a horse with cushings Friesian 18 years and a Q-horse 0ver 28 boarder with the same. Both do not have EMS. Both are on a 9 BCS, no crest, and have a bit of trouble shedding out. No real symptoms at all. But these are the factors that have kept me up to date with EMS info.
I know of one EMS morgan gelding and the owner has found certain hay cubes to help.