"Woo woo," said almost-two-year-old Caroline, reaching out to pet a creature she had to look down at.
"No," I corrected her. "Horsey."
She looked hard at the colt, which, at six days old, weighed about 10 pounds. "Woo woo," she said firmly. At the Gettysburg Miniature Horse Farm, 51 such creatures, ranging from poodle-size to Great Dane-size, perform, let themselves be fondled and take kids weighing less than 30 pounds for rides. The guides emphasize that they are not freaks, not dwarfs or midget ponies, but pure-bred Falabella miniature horses.
"Senior Falabella discovered the secret of downbreeding in Argentina. He was able to miniaturize these horses from standard-size horses and still keep good disposition and confirmation, which you sometimes lose in downbreeding," said our guide, Barbara Ditzler. "The goal is not necessarily to get the smallest horse but to get one you can take a picture of with no one next to it and think you have a standard horse."
To illustrate, she took the horses out of their stalls one by one. There was Tommy, part Arabian and part English trotter; Peewee, an Appaloosa; Captain, part thoroughbred and part quarter horse. All were waist-high, but none had the stubby legs and oversize heads you sometimes see in miniature horses.
In the indoor area, with crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and bouncy Versaturf on the floor, the little horses proved they could do what big horses can do, and more prettily.
"It's a tough one, Don Juan," said the trainer. "Do you want to give it an eye?"
Don Juan, an Appaloosa in miniature, took the bush jump with grace and style, then progressed to the gate.
"The gate is 2'3" high. This little guy is going to have to work pretty hard to get over it - that's what he says, too," said the trainer. But Don Juan took it effortlessly, then put the whole course together and trotted off in triumph as flashbulbs popped.
When the curtain opened again, Sea Clipper, a three-week-old colt, came in with his mother, Jezebel. First Sea Clipper munched on the artificial greenery around the jumps, then he tried to nurse.
"He hasn't had brunch yet," said the trainer. The foal then frisked around the ring and came up to the fence, where adults oohed and aahed and kids tried to hug him.
"It's all right, Mom," the trainer comforted Jezebel. "Watch your dress," she warned a little girl. "He's going to chew." Then she picked up Sea Clipper, who now weighs about 30 pounds, and carried him off. Sea Clipper, like all the male horses at the farm, got his first name from the fact that the farm owners are former merchant marine officers. On a trip to Argentina, Tony Galuto saw some of the Falabella horses, fell in love with them, and got to know Julio Cesar Falabella, breeder extraordinary. Galuto persuaded Falabella to sell him 50 miniature horses and, with two fellow marine officers, started the Gettysburg farm eight years ago.
"We've had 30 horses born here already - all from Falabella stallions bred with Falabella mares," says Galuto. "Geneticists from all over the world have tried to figure out how Falabella developed the breed, but we hope Senor Falabella will let us in on the secret someday. He developed the miniatures to have a safe, gentle horse that children could learn to ride on. He only bred the horses with good dispositions - and stallions that were nasty he gelded."
Most of the Falabella descendants at Gettysburg are gentle, though visitors are warned that stallions like to nip and colts will teethe on anything handy. The stallions stay in a separate barn, but many of the mares and foals are in corrals kids can - and do - crawl into.
"How long before they stand up?" asked a visitor, watching six-day-old Laurie, who shares a separate barn and play area with her mother, Kim.
"A half-hour after birth they're up and going," answered the guide."Even Sea Power, the smallest foal ever born at Gettysburg, weighing seven pounds and measuring 13 inches."
At the end of the tour, the guide saddled up Carlitos, a full-grown miniature Appaloosa about three feet tall, and the kids lined up for rides.
"I've never ridden a horse, and I guess I never will," mourns a little girl told she's too big to ride. She brightens when told she can take a ride in a wagon pulled by a miniature horse around a quarter-mile track.
"These horses are strong - because their hearts haven't miniaturized," said the guide. "A miniature Clydesdale for instance can pull 900 pounds. We don't make them pull nearly that much, but at the end of the day, they're tired. After a day of cart rides, we give them a glass of iced tea."