Falabellas are tiny horses that bring big joy

Sonny Long

April 7, 2010 at midnight
Updated April 6, 2010 at 11:07 p.m.

Zoey, a miniature Falabella horse, walks through a pasture of wildflowers on a sunny spring day. Falabellas  come in  solid colors and a wide variety of colorful pinto and Appaloosa patterns.

Zoey, a miniature Falabella horse, walks through a pasture of wildflowers on a sunny spring day. Falabellas come in solid colors and a wide variety of colorful pinto and Appaloosa patterns.

Jacqui Hyden, twice-widowed, has known her share of sorrow. But she also knows joy is right outside her window.

Hyden, who raises Argentinian miniature horses on her DeWitt County ranch, says the tiny creatures bring her great pleasure.

"You can have the worst day, be incredibly sad and not want to get out of bed. Then you look out and see them and they make you smile," Hyden said. "They make you feel good. You want to go outside and be with them."

She has one of the largest herds of Falabella in the United States and has raised the tiny equines since 2003.

Hyden, 44, recalled first getting interested in the horses.

"When I was young, I read in the 'Guinness Book of World Records' that Falabellas were the smallest horses in the world, and I said I wanted one when I grew up," Hyden said. "One led to two, led to three, led to 43. Plus or minus."

The native of New Zealand said she increased her herd when her husband, Larry Hyden, a DeWitt County assistant district attorney, died in 2005.

"When he died, I already had a few horses, but decided I needed more," she said. "I had four or five when he died. He's probably turning over in his grave seeing how many I have now."

Hyden admits being a little nervous at her first attempt at being a horse breeder. She credits Cuero veterinarian Cindy Garrett with helping her keep it together.

"I'd call Dr. Garrett in the middle of the night if they hiccuped, especially when they were pregnant," Hyden said. "She'd come out. Check them over. Tell me it wasn't time for them to deliver."

Garrett said Hyden has grown into the role.

"She's gotten a lot more comfortable with the situation," the veterinarian said. "Once they get past birthing stage, they are very hardy and make wonderful pets."

The herd grew as large as 48, but sales got it closer to 40. Then came spring births and the number is back closer to 45.

"Instead of adding onto the house, I added onto the herd," she said. "I don' think I could never have these guys in my life. Sometimes, I buy older ones, just so I know they'll always have a good home."

Her compassion for animals isn't limited to Falabellas. Hyden has rescued dogs, cats and even has a deer she nursed back to health that hangs out with her full-size horses.

Though she does buy and sell the miniatures under the name Irish Creek Falabellas, named for the creek that runs near her ranch, she still has some of the first ones she bought, including Del Coronado, her first purchase from Canada. Midnight Margarita, known as Maggie, and Dixie are also two of the old-timers.

Regalo, the first breeding stallion she bought, also still roams the pasture.

"Reg" gets help with the ladies from an Appaloosa named Tamboro that Hyden calls the "perfect stallion." She had to buy an entire herd to acquire the horse she calls Tam.

Some of her purchases have had a hefty price tag, up to $10,000 for breeding stallions.

She drove to Kansas to pick up one purchase.

The horses she sells range in price from $500 to $2,500.

Her customers include other breeders in New York, Pennsylvania, and most recently, one colt she sold will be going to Branson, Mo.

Hyden said the miniatures are easier to maintain than full-size horses.

"First of all, they don't eat as much. They get a cup of food a day," she said. "Then they just kind of do their own thing."

A farrier comes out every six to eight weeks to trim the horses hoofs. Annual immunizations are given each spring.

The mother of a 17-year-old daughter said she lets the miniatures "be babies as long as they can."

Each horse has its own personality and generally sweet temperament, Hyden explained.

"They are gentle, kind and loving," she said.

The hardest part of raising the miniatures Hyden said is being tied down to the ranch.

"I like to travel, and my family is in New Zealand. But it's hard just to pick up and leave when you have 40-something mouths to feed," she said.

She credits Jenny and David Calliham with providing her with a lot of assistance. They ran the ranch when Hyden temporarily moved to Victoria after her husband died. They continue to help her with the herd of Falabellas.

The biggest misconception about Falabellas is that people think they are just miniature American horses or Shetland ponies, Hydensaid.

"They don't have any American bloodlines in them," she said. "They have been selectively bred for more than 150 years. There are less than 1,000 of them in the U.S."

And 43, plus or minus, are in DeWitt County.



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