In September, we did a series of lectures in Norway and Poland on equine psychology and how it applies to horsemanship. We were in Poland less than a year ago, and a high point of this year’s visit was seeing several racing Thoroughbred colts that were imprint trained, with spectacular results. We were again overwhelmed by the reception we received.  The Revolution in Horsemanship is well underway in both countries and the enthusiasm for it is very gratifying. In August, Rick Lamb, Richard Winters, Tammy Pate, and Dale Mylar, and I led a series seminars and demonstrations at the annual Hawaii Horse Expo, held on the historic Parker Ranch. As always, we enjoyed the wonderful Aloha spirit and the company.

We introduced imprint training into Poland in 2009.  Several farms promptly adopted the method, as shown here with excellent results.  The 2010 weanlings were all perfectly mannered, calm, and responsive.

This month, our newsletter covers choosing the right size horse for your needs. Please send any comments or suggestions for future topics to  Have an idea for a cartoon?  Send it to, or visit


Wild horses are not very large.  Millions of years ago, the horse was the size of a terrier, but they evolved into creatures standing 12 to 13 hands tall, weighing 600 to 800 pounds. The mounted hordes who swarmed out of Asia conquering all in their path to Europe rode horses no larger than 14 hands. During the Middle Ages, horses were selectively bred for larger size in order to carry knights weighted down with armor, or for draft purposes.

Throughout my career, I noticed that the smaller, lighter breeds seemed less prone to lameness than the bigger, heavier breeds. Arabians, Morgans, and the pony breeds, for example, seemed to hold up better than the stockhorse breeds or the Warmbloods, regardless of the rider’s weight. In fact, the draft breeds, despite never being ridden, often developed lower limb lameness. I concluded that it was the horse’s own body weight, rather than the rider’s weight that was the more important cause of lameness, aside from other causes as injury, poor conformation or foot care, improper riding ground surfaces, or overworking immature horses. Yet, many people think that the bigger a horse is, the stronger it is, and will therefore be less likely to go lame. Also, in horses how classes many believe that, other things being equal, the larger horse will be more likely to catch judge’s eye. All I can say is that a judge who favors size or color over conformation and performance is an incompetent judge.

Many people who own horses for casual recreational riding have unnecessarily large horses. Owners of “backyard horses” used primarily for recreational trail riding would generally be much happier with a smaller horse. For example, the little Icelandic horses and the Rocky Mountain horse, which usually stand about 14 hands, are not only very smooth-gaited, but also very hardy. Most Arabians, as tough a horse as exists, are not very big. The great Thoroughbred “Whirlaway” stood only 15 hands, and horses that size have won Olympic medals.

The fantastic cutters, and competitive stock horses we see today are mostly small horses. The Haflinger, popular for both driving and riding, rarely exceeds 14.5 hands. That’s also true of Welsh Ponies. And what about polo ponies, one of the hardest workers of all? The very best calf-roping horses usually stand between 14 and 15 hands. I roped two summers as a student on a Thoroughbred-Percheron-cross mare.  She was great, but her 16 hands height put me at a disadvantage.

I have always preferred horses under 15 hands in height. Most dressage riders like very tall horses, but watch Eitan Beth-Halachmy’s video, “Dances with Cows” to see beautiful dressage (on a loose rein) on a 14-hand Morgan stallion. The horse looks much larger, but that’s because of his imposing presence and animation. The bottom line is, when choosing a horse, take into consideration what type of riding or other equestrian activities you plan on doing.

-Robert M. Miller, DVM

The holidays are just around the corner
Use Coupon Code “HOLIDAY2010”  for 20% off any of the following items.

“Yes, We Treat Aardvarks”: Stories from an Extraordinary Veterinary Practice, is the new edition of Dr. Miller’s 1985 memoir, “Most of My Patients are Animals”. With new chapters and cartoons, this is the story of how the small, mixed practice Dr. Miller established in a country town in 1956 grew to become one of the largest, most well-regarded animal hospitals in the United States.  Includes a foreword by Dr. Miller’s late friend and colleague, James Herriot, author of “All Creatures Great and Small”

A great gift for artists, craftspeople and musicians:  The Passion for Horses & Artistic Talent: An Unrecognized Connection


Cartoon Books make great gifts








Now taking advance orders Handling the Equine Patient – A Handbook for Veterinary Students and Veterinary Technicians CLICK HERE

Cowboy Dressage with Eitan Beth-Halachmy:  Dances with Cows and Poetry in Motion

Dr. Miller Recommends:

Dr. Jim Warson of Thinline Performance Saddle Pads, recently had an excellent article on his website, entitled, “Passing the Buck, or Why Science is Behind on Natural Horsemanship Techniques.” Click here to read in its entirety.

Besides writing many books himself, Dr. Miller has contributed to books written by his peers. He recently, he produced a chapter on “The Psychological Aspects of Rehabilitation” to a veterinary textbook, Rehabilitating the Athletic Horse (Nova Science Publishers, Inc.) by Drs. Jann and Fackelman. Both authors are professors of surgery at veterinary schools.

Also check out Part Two of Dr. Miller’s interview with Horses for Life online magazine, on the pitfalls of breaking horses too young.

Question of the Month

Have a question for Dr. Miller? Send it to We apologize that due to volume, we can’t guarantee Dr. Miller can respond to all emails, but we are building a more comprehensive FAQ page on our website to address your needs. All questions may be edited for clarity and space.

Q. My family is moving from Southern California to Montana. Our three horses have never experienced extreme weather, and I’m worried about winter. Do you have any suggestions on how to help them adjust?

A. Horses evolved in cold climates and handle low temperatures better than very hot weather. Blanketing during extreme cold may be a good idea the first winter, until your horses adjust to the new climate.

Interested in catching one of Dr. Miller’s lectures?  


Mark Your Calendars!

Interested in catching one of Dr. Miller’s lectures?
Summer and Fall Schedule:

Robert M. Miller, D.V.M.

January 25, 2011, Orlando, FL: North American Veterinary Conference.

May 19-22, 2011, Santa Ynez, CA: 4th annual Lighthands Horsemanship Clinic. For information, call 530-346-9125.     

For contact details and other dates and locations in 2011, go to

Coming in December: The barn sour horse.

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