Brailee Thompson dug her foot into the mud and nuzzled Cinderella, her tan miniature horse, as she waited to begin the obstacle trail.
Just 4 years old, Brailee was the youngest competitor Sunday morning at the Fort Worth Stock Show’s Miniature Horse Show. Brailee’s horse is 32.5 inches tall.
“This puts a smile on her face,” said her mother, Brandi Lehrmann of Fort Worth. “She loves to have fun, and she loves these little horses.”
Driven by interest from young children like Brailee, miniature horses have grown in popularity at shows in Texas and elsewhere, show manager Nancy Braesicke said. They also require less food, so they are not as expensive to raise.
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“We see people from age 4 to 100 showing minis,” Braesicke said. “They are easier to handle in every way than full-size horses.”
Miniatures are typically under 34 inches in height and were originally bred in the 17th century as pets for European nobility. Today, the American Miniature Horse Association, based in Alvarado, has nearly 185,000 registered horses and 11,000 members in 38 countries.
Lehrmann, who grew up showing miniature horses, said her family is drawn to the breed’s easygoing personality.
“Minis are friendly, good-natured and great with kids,” she said. “They are really wonderful animals.”
Margaux Malek, 14, began showing miniature horses shortly after her seventh birthday. Malek’s father hired a horse trainer with miniatures for her birthday party, and the trainer asked Malek whether she would be interested in showing the animals.
Malek tried once, won her competition and was hooked.
“I had always loved horses,” said Malek, who is from the Houston area. “Being able to show the animals is kind of extraordinary.”
Mae Malek, her sister, also began showing miniatures, initially because she wanted to do the same thing as her sister.
“Other people have their sports they always talk about. This is what I talk about,” said Mae, 12. “This is my life. I don’t know what I would do without the horses. They’re my family.”