Big fun, small horses

Jessica and Maribeth Brunst fell in love with miniature horses two years ago and have been raising them ever since. This week they will show off their prized animals at the county fair.

July 31, 2005|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Minis are diminutive, docile and sturdy, with all the equine characteristics of their larger relations. They make great pets, but not for the house. Sweet grass figures heavily into the diet of most minis, but two, stabled in Uniontown, also love peppermints.

Willie and Dakota, miniature horses or minis, will make their debut at the Carroll County 4-H/FFA Fair this week. Their owners, sisters Jessica and Maribeth Brunst, asked whether they could enter their noticeably smaller equines in the Western Horse Show Wednesday.

"Of course they can take part," said Sally Cappadora, horse coordinator and vice chairwoman of the fair, which runs through Saturday at the Agriculture Center in Westminster. "After all, a horse is a horse is a horse."

The teenage sisters have raised the miniature horses at their family's small farm in Uniontown for the past two years.

The soft brown geldings, with impeccably groomed dark manes and tails, are about a third the size of a typical horse. They each stand about 30 inches tall and weigh about 150 pounds.

"They are about average for a mini, who can't be taller than 34 inches," said 16-year-old Maribeth, a home-schooled high school senior.

Jessica, a 19-year-old sophomore studying nursing at Pensacola Christian College in Florida, added, "They are smaller than our Great Dane. You just have to remember that it's a horse, not a dog."

Willie and Dakota were scheduled to take part in the miniature horse show yesterday, the fair's first for the small breed, and both minis will compete in the horse competition Wednesday.

"There will be all these huge quarter horses and I will come in with my little mini," said Maribeth. "He doesn't spook at all. He can do all the same stuff the big guys do. I just walk him through it."

The first time Maribeth took Willie to a horse show, Pat Brunst simply removed the back seats from the family van and loaded her daughter's animal by way of the sliding side door.

The mother of three daughters said rattling a bag of peppermints can usually get the minis to perk their ears and do just about anything.

Maribeth, the first to own a mini, initially had a little trouble persuading show organizers to allow her horse to enter.

"I remember one time when they thought we didn't have a horse and didn't want us to park with the other horse trailers, but I finally convinced them that the horse was in the car," said Maribeth.

The sisters won't be riding their horses in the fair show, but they will lead their minis in the obstacle course, as well as the jumping, pivoting and other trials involved in naming a grand champion. Willie will wear his red bridle, while Dakota will be arrayed in green.

The fair will not include cart trials - a competition in which Willie, a 3-year-old Maribeth bought two years ago, really shines. He can only carry a 60-pound rider, but hitch him to a cart and he can pull as much as 800 pounds.

"He loves to drive the cart," said Maribeth. "He took to it like a fish to water. He whinnies when I take the cart out of the barn."

Dakota, a year younger than his stablemate, has yet to be cart-trained, but he will trot through the other courses.

"Minis are easy to train, really fast learners," said Jessica, who has also raised a large paint mare since it was a foal. "It could take a big horse six months or more to learn these things. A mini gets things down pat in three months tops."

In the Brunst family tradition, a daughter's 14th birthday offered the possibility of horse ownership. Each daughter - older sister Sarah is 21 - chose within the parameters of her savings and what her parents would supplement.

Maribeth, the youngest, opted for a mini and within a year, Jessica, who was already raising a mare, had to have a mini, too.

"She started it," said Jessica, pointing at her younger sister. "They are so cute that they sell themselves."

Maribeth added, "I have always had horses, but I became interested in what a mini could do. They are so low-maintenance and easy to train and have really neat personalities, much sweeter than ponies."

"What she means is: Minis are not quite as stubborn or bratty as a pony," said Jessica.

4-H is also a family tradition. Pat Brunst runs the Flaming Arrows 4-H Club, which has nearly 70 members.

"We are into 4-H all year and it has taught the kids a lot," said Pat Brunst.

And the girls, who also raise rabbits and basset hounds in addition to the Great Dane, will be at the fair all week. In addition to the horse trials, they have entered the rabbit and dog shows. Maribeth is exhibiting artwork and both will participate in the popular cake auction.

"We live at the fair," said Maribeth, who owns "the top lop" rabbit in the nation. "4-H is a great learning experience that really teaches responsibility and how to work hard."

Carroll County 4-H/FFA Fair

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