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Breed Focus: The small but mighty Fallabella

The Falabella miniature horse rarely exceeding eight hands, but despite their tiny size AMANDA MAC was intrigued to learn that you never call them a pony ™.  

HorseVibes September 2019

Other than their size, Falabellas are proportioned similarly to other horses. Reminiscent of Thoroughbreds or Arabians in their conformation, they have small, compact bodies, a sleek coat and slim frame. The neck might be somewhat stouter, and the head slightly larger when compared to a full-sized horse, but with very few other pony-like characteristics, they are referred to as miniature horses rather than ponies. Interestingly, they have one less vertebrae (17 instead of 18) and one less pair of ribs than their full-sized counterparts. But don’t be fooled! Despite their diminutive size, they’re surprisingly strong as strong, in fact, as a horse considerably larger than themselves.

A little Falabella history  The story of the Falabella began in South America during the 15th century, when the Spanish, who at the time were intent on conquering the continent, arrived with horses bred from Andalusian and Barb stock. However, the Spanish armies were eventually defeated and they withdrew from the region leaving their horses behind to roam freely. Due to the isolated, and oftentimes harsh, conditions in the southern end of the continent, considerable inbreeding occurred. The result was that a number of small but extremely strong horses began to appear within the herds, particularly in Argentina.

In the mid-1800s, an Irish jockey by the name of Patrick Newton (some sources suggest his name was Newtall or Newtoll) took an interest in these little horses. Using the smallest he could find, he began a breeding program specifically designed to further reduce their physical size with the object of establishing a true small horse breed. When Patrick died, the herd and breeding methods were passed on to his son-in-law, Juan Falabella.

Juan introduced additional bloodlines to the herd, including the Welsh Pony and the Shetland Pony, as well as some small Thoroughbreds. Taking over where Patrick left off, he embarked on a program of selective inbreeding that produced a consistently small size a true miniature horse.

Establishing Falabellas as a breed  It wasn’t until the 1940s that Juan Falabella’s descendant, Julio C. Falabella, established a formal breed registry using the family name, the Establecimientos Falabella, more recently known as the Asociación de Criadores de Caballos Falabella (the Falabella Horse Breeders Association). Julio was also responsible for standardising the breed to a consistent height, achieving an average size of under 10 hands. The modern standard, Falabellas that average approximately 7.2 hands, was developed by later breeders.

The Falabella abroad  Either in the late 1960s or early 70s, the first Falabella horses were imported into the United States when John Aleno, who had purchased 12 Falabella stallions from Julio Falabella, resold them to the Regina Winery in California. The winery used them to pull a small stagecoach in parades to promote their wine. Most of the Falabella miniature horses in the US today are descendants of these 12 original stallions. Other than Argentina and the US, Falabellas are now found in many countries including Europe, the UK, Canada, and Australia.

Although a date for the arrival of the very first Falabella in Australia is a little hazy, it’s thought that several were imported in the early 1990s. One certainly was: Falabella Mohican, born in December 1992 at the Establecimientos Falabella stud in Argentina, was brought out to Australia with his mother early the following year. Interestingly, the stallion’s Certificate of Authenticity includes a duck logo, which is the brand used on all horses born at that particular stud.

Good things, small packages  At birth, a Falabella foal will generally stand somewhere between 30 and 55 centimetres tall, and will have reached its adult height by the time they’re around three years old.

Bred in every solid equine colour, including chestnut, brown, black, and bay, as well as some of the usual equine patterns, Falabellas are known for their sweet temperament. They appear to genuinely enjoy spending time around people, adapt to new situations and environments with relative ease, and because this breed is both friendly and gentle, they make an ideal mount for very small children.

As with other miniature horses, Falabellas are shown in-hand, in harness classes and also participate in performance events such as in-hand jumping, for which they have considerable ability. Easy to train and highly intelligent, the Falabella makes for an ideal equine companion and many are kept as pets.

Caring for a Falabella  Caring for a Falabella is not that much different from managing a full-sized horse the basics, such as ensuring they receive attention to hooves and teeth, are regularly groomed and have plenty of room to exercise, all apply. That said, there are some breed specific factors to consider. Ensuring that your Falabella’s paddock is securely fenced is one such issue their jumping ability really is significant! Because of their size, separating them from larger horses is preferable, as a strong kick could cause a potentially life-threatening injury.

Falabellas can run to fat quite easily, so care must be taken not to overfeed. A range of detrimental health issues can result should they become overweight. And as is the case with many miniature horses, they have a tendency to drink too little water, which can lead to pre-drying and colic. Providing adequate access to salt will help solve this problem.

If you’d like more information, the Miniature Horse Association of Australia is a good place to start.  

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