Mar./Apr. 2014 California Bountiful magazine
Story by Kirsten Fairchilds
Photos by Richard Green
Miniature horses are the mane attraction at Quicksilver Ranch
At the tender age of 3, Caleb Moon sure puts the "boy" in cowboy.
Born into a family that loves animals, Caleb has plenty of four-legged companions to keep him busy. Under the watchful eye of his mother Robyn and father Jonathan, Caleb feeds the family's goats and cattle, plays with Jaeger, the family's 90-pound chocolate Labrador, and often rides Slim, their 27-year-old full-sized horse.
The 20-acre Quicksilver Ranch draws visitors such as 3-year-old Caleb Moon, who is being helped by ranch hand Maria Arias as he gets a close-up look at a miniature horse.
Despite his constant access to animals, Caleb has the same request whenever his family finds itself driving on a particular road in the Santa Ynez Valley, a picturesque area in northern Santa Barbara County known for its vineyards, ranches and farmland.
"I want to go see the little horses." And little is the operative word.
Ranch hands, from left, Jose Meza, Jesus Luquin and Maria Arias take the horses for a stroll.
Located on 20 acres of green pasture just north of the Moon family's hometown of Solvang, Quicksilver Ranch is Caleb's destination of choice—and he's not alone. Established by Aleck and Louise Stribling in 1984, the breeding facility for miniature horses routinely draws visitors from around the world. It is open to the public every day but Sunday.
"Mr. Stribling told me the day they first unloaded the horses into the pasture there were so many people stopping their cars on the road to look, they were afraid someone was going to get into an accident," said Maria Arias, a ranch hand at Quicksilver since 2000. "That's why they decided to open the gates up to the public. We're now part of people's annual road trip—they come year after year."
Quicksilver Ranch does not offer guided tours. However, there is no entrance fee, which allows visitors like the Moon family to get an up-close look at the horses. Each horse at the ranch is registered with the American Miniature Horse Association, which requires its animals not exceed 34 inches in height. Most are sold as pets.
Spring, when the foals are born, is the busiest season at Quicksilver Ranch. This spring, however, will be a bit quieter because of the Striblings' decision to downsize the herd to about 20 horses from a recent high of about 70.
Ranch hand Jose Garcia feeds alfalfa hay to the horses.
"The owners have been in business now for 30 years and they want to get the herd down to a more manageable size," Arias explained.
The miniature horse breed is "the result of nearly 400 years of selective breeding … and a derivative of many sources," according to the AMHA website.
"There are a lot of different tales about the miniatures," Arias said. "Some say they originated over in Europe and were initially bred down to be pets for royalty. There is a lot of artwork that shows royalty with little, perfect horses.
"Technically, a miniature is just a big horse in a small package," she continued. "Our stallions don't know they're only eight hands tall. They think they're 16." (A "hand" equals four inches and is the unit of measurement for horses' height.)
28-year-old Quicksilvers Saltwater Taffy, left, and 32-year-old Komokos Little Salty are two of the oldest miniature horses at Quicksilver Ranch.
With colts going for about $1,500 and fillies ranging between $4,000 and $6,000, Quicksilver's miniatures are often purchased by people who already own full-sized horses or did so at one time, Arias said.
"We definitely get all kinds of people and all ages who would like to own a miniature horse, but a number are people who have ridden horses all of their lives yet are no longer comfortable riding for whatever the reason," she said. "But they still love horses. They need their fix; they want to be around them."
For Robyn Moon, who, along with her husband, grew up in a family that showed cattle, stopping at Quicksilver Ranch for her son to see the horses is a treat for her as well.
"These horses really are a marvel," said Moon, an education specialist for the Santa Barbara County Farm Bureau. "They really are amazing animals. Caleb thoroughly enjoys himself out here, so we'll come quite often.
"Driving by a miniature-horse ranch isn't something most people see all the time," she added. "So I think it just adds to the ambience of the Santa Ynez Valley."
Hooves at the hospital
Victoria Nodiff-Netanel and her miniature horse QS Black Pearl visit Sepulveda Veterans Hospital patient Jerry Amato, whose last wish was to see the horse; he died a few days later.
Horse 'brings smiles to everyone's faces'
"Loving," "patient" and "sociable" are a few of the words often used to describe miniature horses. In the case of QS Black Pearl, also known as Pearl the Wonder Horse, descriptions like "musical" and "showoff" apply as well.
Purchased from Quicksilver Ranch by Malibu resident Victoria Nodiff-Netanel at the age of 6 months, Pearl is now nearly 6 years old, stands 29 inches tall, weighs 147 pounds and is fairly famous, as far as miniature horses go. Certified by Pet Partners, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting positive interaction between humans and animals, Pearl, with her owner in tow, visits patients every Tuesday at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.
"Pearl and I go around the main veterans' hospital in Los Angeles County with a rehab specialist visiting patients bedside in their hospital rooms," said Nodiff-Netanel, who also owns two other certified miniature horses, Willow and Belle, both born at Quicksilver Ranch. "We also visit a lockdown psychiatric ward and various other wards. We visit the chemotherapy clinic and we've gone to the ICU—Pearl brings smiles to everyone's faces."
Nodiff-Netanel and the 29-inch-tall horse make pet therapy visits to Los Angeles-area veterans' hospitals each week.
Featured in newspapers, magazines and TV shows, Pearl has brought attention to the use of miniature horses as pet therapy in a medical setting.
"We first started in early 2009, and I realized that I was breaking new ground by bringing a horse into a hospital," Nodiff-Netanel said. "But I have always been very respectful and feel very privileged to be in the hospital. Pearl is always show ready. I always bathe her the day before. She smells good. She looks good. That's the same for all of my horses, and they are all completely house-trained.
"I've taught Pearl a lot of tricks," she continued. "She'll play a battery-operated keyboard with her muzzle; she's famous for that. She's definitely a ham.
"I knew nothing about pet therapy before I got Pearl, but it's been so rewarding," Nodiff-Netanel said. "My little horse has helped people feel better."
For more information, visit www.minitherapyhorses.com.