Central Florida's Agri-Leader
In the middle of Okeechobee, just adjacent to the Ag Center, lies a little girl’s fantasyland - 84 miniature horses in every color of the rainbow.
Paddock Farms Miniature Horses began as a dream for two grandparents. Jerry and Nancy Jolicoeur wanted to buy a miniature horse for their granddaughter. They ended up buying two in 1998. Two years later they were fully hooked on the tiny trotters and bought 40-plus acres of property in order to raise and breed the adorable equines.
“It’s like you can’t eat just one potato chip,” joked Nancy.
Miniature horses are recognized by the American Miniature Horse Association (AMHA) as measuring no more than 34 inches from the bottom hair of their mane to the ground. The American Miniature Horse Registry (AMHR) recognizes a “B” category where horses can be as tall as 38 inches.
Some standard horses can be bred down to miniature size. The Jolicoeurs have several of those, including Jerry’s favorite horse, R.C. “He’s the third generation son of Albatross. Albatross was one of the highest winning standard horses,” explained Jerry. R.C. measures 36 inches.
Why breed a standard racing horse down to miniature? Because these little guys love to race, too, but instead of carrying a jockey on their back, they pull a cart behind them, called “driving.”
The Jolicoeurs have built several tracks on their property to train the horses. Jerry harnessed R.C. to a cart, and the little black stallion whinnied and pawed with excitement.
“You can tell a horse that really enjoys racing,” said Jerry.
Riding in the cart, Jerry urged R.C. around a pole track, a barrel track, and then an obstacle course with over 20 stations. He held a whip in his hand, but it wasn’t used to strike the horse. A tap on the bridle was a cue to communicate with the animal.
“People don't think that these horses can do anything,” but they can do the same things a big horse can do, said Jerry. “They are very competitive. Once they do it a couple times, the horse knows what they are doing.”
Miniature horses don’t have any special veterinary needs as compared with standard horses. They weigh about 15 to 20 pounds at birth.
These New York natives, who did not have any previous horse experience, are in the process of turning their farm into a special center for little horses. They want to build a community of miniature horse owners, encourage people to enjoy these special animals, and even hold regular races and events on their multiple tracks.
They also offer a 30-day conditioning program where they will help train horses and build their strength and respiratory stamina. “We get them up to three miles, then we start teaching them to pull a cart,” said Nancy.
With 35 brooding mares currently out in the pastures, the Jolicoeurs sell miniature horses as well. But Jerry doesn’t like the terms “buy” and “sell.” The way I look at it is we have horses available for qualified new owners, he clarified.
“We like the owners to have a love for their horses, spend a lot of time and give them attention,” added Nancy. “It doesn’t have to be fancy. Horses don’t care. They need human attention,” she said, adding that when owners take time with their horses, they end up with a nicer animal.
The regular attention the Paddock Farms miniature horses get is reflected in their friendly, curious manner with visitors. If you go for a visit (which you are welcome to do if the gate is open), you’ll be greeted by a big, shaggy Great Pyrenees dog named Jake, who might be a bit tired from his self-imposed job of herding and managing the mares in the fields.
The stalls may appear empty, but don’t be fooled. Look for a pair of curious eyes and a snout poking over the top. These little guys are so short, you’ll have to peek over the side for a better look.
The granddaughter who was the original inspiration for the miniature horses is 19 now, but the Jolicoeurs have a 5-year-old granddaughter nearby who loves the horses, and they also get to share their animals with a local 4-H club. The kids regularly come to help out with the horses, brush them, care for them, and learn how to handle and race them.
They also participated in Okeechobee’s Ag-Venture program, shared their stallions for FFA judging practice, and participated in a Heritage Day program at the schools. Nancy, a former teacher, enjoys sharing her horses in an educational setting.
This couple, who are just into their 70s, are enjoying life and jokingly stated that anyone who wants to volunteer should be over 70 as well. “It’s good therapy!” the active seniors grinned.
And if there’s one thing Paddock Farms isn’t short on, it’s a love of horses. “Our number one priority is that the horse is well kept,” said Jerry.
“Miniature horses are a real joy,” Nancy beamed.