|They Grow ’Em Small in Curry|
George Russell starts his mornings like most folks. After a short while in the house, he heads out to see to his animals.
He feeds the chickens, ducks and turkeys. He tends to the horses, donkeys and mules.
The only difference between his place and others is that most of his animals are less than three feet tall.
Russell began raising miniature horses about two years ago on his family farm in Curry. Since then, he has acquired miniature donkeys and has begun raising miniature mules.
At the moment, Russell has 20 head of all things miniature. Last year, he over-wintered 46.
Russell said although the animals are much smaller than their full-size counterparts, they are quite hardy. They require no special housing during the cold months—just access to a barn and stable like you would provide for a full-size horse.
“They put on a thick winter coat, which they shed in the spring,” Russell said. “I give them plenty of shelter, but they prefer to be outside.”
Russell, a native of the American Southwest, said that he takes a natural approach to caring for his miniature animals. “I’ve tried putting the mares in the barn to foal,” Russell recalled. “Now I let them foal in the pasture. They seem to do better on their own.”
Even though the shelter is available to the animals all the time, they seldom stay inside. “They seem to like the weather,” said Russell, noting the heavy rain on the day of the interview.
Unlike full-size horses that can demand an acre or more per head, miniature horses are perfect for smaller areas. “I can put up to six head on an acre,” said Russell. “Of course, it depends on the condition of the grass.”
Russell noted that the small horses are even compatible with full-size horses. “As you can see, I have some miniatures in the same pasture with my full-size horses,” he said. “We have no problems with them getting along.”
To house the animals, Russell converted an old chicken house into a stable. He outfitted it with stalls for all of the animals. It offers easy access to the pastures.
Also contained in the stable are the farm’s chickens, ducks and turkeys.
Russell said he has tried on numerous occasions to relocate the ducks to the pond. “I take them to the pond and they keep coming back to the stable,” he said.
Can You Ride Them?
The first question many folks ask about the pint-sized horses is “Can you ride them?”
Russell said that small children—up to 70 or 80 pounds—can ride the miniature horses. He noted that many times the animals simply become pets. “They are very gentle and like to be scratched,” he said. “Even the studs are rarely aggressive.”
When this writer pointed out that some of the mares were nibbling at her coat pockets, Russell said they were looking for their favorite treat—cinnamon sugar graham crackers.
In his two years with the miniature horses, Russell has taken great care to learn about their needs. He has enlisted the help of his local veterinarian to properly vaccinate the animals.
“Our first year we lost 50 percent of our foals,” recalled Russell. “None of the animals were properly vaccinated against diseases that cause problems with the foals.”
According to AFC Feed Nutritionist Jimmy Hughes, rhinopneumonitis is a virus that can be spread between horses by contact with other horses or by contact with contaminated stalls.
Russell said that this year he lost three out of 11 foals. “As the animals get healthier, we hope to improve our survival rate even more,” he said. Miniature foals weigh approximately 20 pounds at birth.
Russell relies on quality products from the Walker County Co-op in Jasper to help him maintain a healthy herd.
Manager Ricky Aldridge said that Russell feeds 12% Champion Choice pellets. He supplements with corn and locally acquired Bermuda hay.
Walker Co-op board member Garry Rowland supplies Russell with hay. Russell noted that the animals have a tendency to overeat so he has to watch their daily intake.
You may wonder how a person would become involved in an endeavor like miniature horses.
Russell gives full credit—or blame—to his wife, Marsha. “She thought it would be interesting and asked me if I would support her in her new venture,” said Russell. “I said I would and here we are.”
When Marsha inherited the place a couple of years ago, they decided to keep it in working order. The 132-acre farm was originally purchased in 1944 by Marsha’s parents, Bourbon and Pearl Payne.
Russell noted that both he and his wife have had considerable experience with horses and decided they were up for the challenge of something new.
While he has more miniature horses than anything, the mules seem to stir up quite a fuss. “Not many people have seen a miniature mule,” said Aldridge, noting that this was his first time.
Russell has a small covered wagon that his miniature mules pull. “They are hard workers,” he said. “They can pull the cart with two adults in it.” The wagon, which stands no higher than six feet, is currently home to one of Russell’s setting hens.
Russell sells his miniatures through private sales. He said many folks simply see his sign and drop by his place on Highway 257 in Curry.
Asked about the cost of purchasing a miniature horse, Russell said that prices start at $500. Typically the smaller the animal, the more expensive it is.
Russell is a member of the American Miniature Horse Association. The website, www.amha.org, has information about the organization and miniature horse programs.
Russell can be reached in Walker County by calling (205) 387-7180.
Susie Sims is a freelance writer from Haleyville.