Miniature horses can make great additions to a barn setting. They can be pasture buddies, used for driving, therapy animals and beloved pets. They can be adorned with tiny sweaters, eliciting squees from every direction. But used for endurance? Surely you jest.
Meet Kricket the wonder mini. No one knew she would turn out to be capable of trekking over 15 miles, but she did just that when she completed her first intro endurance ride in Southern California this past spring. And along the way, she stole everyone’s hearts – and maybe some cookies.
When Jennifer Arnautu adopted her last fall, Kricket was intended to be a companion to her mare. “She was the first one we spotted on the rescue’s site and had a cute little face and sassy pose, and we kept going back to her.”
But as a neglect case, she has been trapped in a small pen with two other mini mares for a few years, unable to even walk freely. She had no muscle tone when Arnautu brought her home and was incredibly out of shape – huffing and puffing after walking just 300 feet. It seems shocking that little Kricket would complete an endurance “ride” just seven months later.
Endurance wasn’t originally on the radar. But, per American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC) association rules, the sixteen-year-old who shares the ride on Arnautu’s “big” horse needed a 21-plus adult within one minute of her at all times during the ride. With both of them being somewhat new to the sport, their options were limited. Then, they discovered a loophole: the adult didn’t need to actually be mounted. Suddenly, they had a plan.
“It was really kind of a joke at first. And I thought, ‘you know what? We might be able to pull it off.’”
They picked a 15-mile intro ride that Arnautu had completed last year, so they would be familiar with the terrain. The plan was to pull up at the vet check at the halfway point and catch a ride back to base camp, giving the junior rider a feel for the sport and to experience the basic process.
At base camp for the ride, other riders appeared to meet their sight with a mixture of amusement, horror and disbelief. One even said to Arnautu, “I think you’re going to kill your mini.”
But Kricket was the camp superstar, attracting fans before the ride even began. When vetting cleared her, off they went – but they let everyone go first. They would be 100% walking while others would be doing some trotting as well. “And what Kricket was walking, I had to hike!”
Kricket handled the mountain terrain well, having practiced on hilly trails for months. At each vet check, she astounded the staff by vetting better than some of her much-larger counterparts. She even astounded her owner. At the halfway point, they decided to keep going.
The team finished in six hours, double the three hours or less that most other intro riders clocked in at. As they approached the finish line, the staff was actually waiting for the 50-milers to come in. But once everyone caught sight of little Kricket, cheers erupted.
“They were all like oh my God, you guys made it! We were just about to send some people out after you.”
After the final vet check, Kricket was positively prancing and danced her way back to her pen. “She knew that she had accomplished something and was on top of the world. High stepping, head high, ears forward, look at me, I’m the boss.” But once in her pen? Out like a light.
Arnautu has her sights on another possible intro endurance ride in October, but hasn’t firmed up any plans. For now, Kricket is happy being boss mare – and the tiniest superstar in California.