Kansas Country Living April 1998
When It Comes to Horses, Some People Think
Smaller is Better
By Larry Freeze
Once a coach, always a coach.
Although it's been several years since Marion Schmidt retired after a successful career as head football coach at Thomas Moore Prep in Hays, he still has his coaching instincts.
But instead of honing the skills of young high school students, he's now turned his attention to miniature horses.
A peculiar change in direction? Not really. In his opinion, horses are athletes, too. They need to be trained at a particular skill, they need to exercise to stay in shape, and they need to practice until they get it right.
Marion and his wife, Donna, live in Hays. Their horses live at Blue Sky Farm, a few miles north of town in the Buckeye Community. The farm is served by Western Cooperative Electric Assn., Inc., WaKeeney.
Marion grew up just northwest of Hays and had been around horses all his life. So, it was natural for him to head back in that direction after retiring from coaching and as a field agent in the conservation division of the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC).
But why the interest in miniature horses?
" They are very intelligent and affectionate and it's fun training them," Marion said. "And they're very good around kids."
That's especially important to the Schmidt's. They have eight grandchildren, and they enjoy being around the horses.
"Young kids really like them," Marion said. "To see the look in their eyes when they're around the horses is very rewarding."
Miniatures make great pets and are ideal for children or adults who can't handle a full-grown horse, he said. Plus, the cost of maintaining a miniature is about one-tenth that of maintaining a large horse. Otherwise, miniatures are much like any other horse, Marion said. They are hardy and don't require stabling needs any different from large horses.
The Schmidt's feed alfalfa, prairie hay, and a mixed ration of oats, corn, and molasses to their horses. Feeding a miniature actually costs less than feeding a large dog.
Life expectancy for a miniature is also similar to a large horse - as much as 25 to 30 years. And, like an athlete, a miniature has several prime years as a show horse. The five to seven-year-old range is usually best, Marion said.
With so many positives, it's no wonder that miniatures have enjoyed a burst in popularity in recent years. Shows have popped up almost everywhere. The Schmidt's keep busy attending many of them. Their next outing will be in May at the Heartland Miniature Horse Show in Wichita.
Miniature horses have existed for centuries, but the American miniature has been developed as a distinct breed only in the past 30 years. A miniature can be no taller than 34 inches at the base of the mane.
Blue Sky Farm has become a real family operation since the Schmidt's bought their first miniature about eight years ago. One of the four children, Garret, is a veterinarian in Prairie Village. He visits the farm whenever the need arises to look after the horses' health.
The Buckeye Community has also become part of the family. One of the buildings at the farm was moved to its current location several years ago, and township members pitched in to help out. "They helped build fence, paint, you name it," Marion said. "Theyíve been very helpful."
Speaking of family, it's easy to become attached to the small horses and think of them as family members, Marion said. Each of the 11 horses are named and a log of their accomplishments is kept through scrapbooks, written records, and photos.
Since they are all registered show horses, many of their accomplishments are noteworthy. Several have won ribbons at American Miniature Horse Assn. (AMHA) and American Miniature Horse Registry (AMHR) competitions.
Blue Sky Farm horses have competed in all three phases of miniature horse competition - halter, pleasure driving, and obstacle course.
According to national regulations, a horse is considered a national champion if it finishes in the top 10 of is class at Nationals. Schmidt's horses - Little Angels Tartar Sauce, a mare, and Little Angles Valentine, the heard stallion -- placed top 10 in the nation in 1996.
IN regular competition, Regal El Jahan placed as AMHA and AMHR Grand Champion senior stallion at the Kansas State Fair in 1997.
The Schmidts breed and sell their horses, and hope to build their herd up to two-dozen in the near future. Although it's hard to part with a miniature, the Schmidt's realize it can bring pleasure to someone else.
Miniatures bring so much enjoyment to the Schmidts - and others - that they have no desire to quit.
"I like working with horses and training them," Marion said. "It's something I'll do for a long time, if the good Lord is willing and the creek don't rise."
For more information, contact
Marion and Donna Schmidt (785) 625-6725
Blue Sky Miniature Horse Farms
Hays, Kansas (USA)
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