Built by hand on the farm | Miniature horse owners say carts give animals new purpose
PICKARDVILLE, Alta. — Like most good ventures, Kelly Miller and Patty Kramps’ business of selling harness and carts for miniature horses began with a need.
They had been looking for a cart for a miniature horse they had rescued from the auction market, but the ones they found were either cheap and disposable or expensive.
They started their own business to fill the need, and Patty’s Pony Place was started.
Four years ago, they imported 30 carts and harness from China, designed a website and got into business.
“When you send $15,000 to $20,000 to a bank in the middle of mainland China, that takes some cahoonies,” said Miller.
However, the carts turned out to be a hit and quickly sold. The pair was to be featured at a popular horse event, the Mane Event, but didn’t have any vehicles left. Instead, Miller, a handyman, decided to build his own with Kramps making the upholstery.
“I built a couple of vehicles and there was good response.”
He custom builds carts, carriages, wagons, buggies and surries. They can have added suspension, disc brakes or narrow frames to fit through small spaces.
Unlike other horse drawn vehicles, the ones that Miller builds are specially designed for miniature horses and ponies.
The vehicles are built on the couple’s Picardville farm, but they continue to import the harness from China, which is also custom designed for horse and rider.
Miller said 80 percent of their sales are to middle-aged women. They grew up riding and still like to be around horses but have gravitated to the miniature horses because of poor health or sore backs.
Other customers are grandparents who want a cart and harness to take their grandchildren for a drive.
Miller said many miniatures horses may do nothing but stand in a pen for a year, and the driving gives both animal and owner a new purpose in life.
“The next thing they are buying more ponies when a year ago they wanted to get rid of them,” said Miller, who jokes their farm could also be called Ponies on Pogey.
Nine of Miller and Kramps’ 22 miniature horses were rescued from auctions or farms. Miller said the minis have no useable skills when they come to their place.
“They come here on compo (disability pension) and we teach them basic job skills,” said Miller.
The horses are then sold or kept on the farm, he added.
Kramps said her lifelong connection and love of horses have led her to the miniatures.
One of their rescued horses came into the auction ring with a halter grown into its nose and crippled, curled-up feet.
“I looked at him and what I saw, he had life in his eye. That is what hooked me.”
Another of their rescued animals was an former wild horse race pony.
“We salvage a lot of these little farts,” she said.
Miller said keeping 22 miniatures requires the same feed as a team of draft horses, but they are easier and safer to handle. It’s the right amount of livestock for their 10 acres of farmland.
A half-mile long trail cut into a five-acre section of bush is lined with mini Christmas tree lights and 20 festive displays that are lit at night.
“When we turn on the lights at night, it is just magical,” said Kramps.
The trail began as a clearing by the power company and was extended through the trees with the help of friends and family. The lights and Christmas displays were added later.
The business has threatened to take over the house.
Upholstered seats are built at a long table in the kitchen, while boxes of harness and mini horse tack are stored in the living room. Kramps uses a spare room to sew the upholstery and build all the miniature horse tack.
Miller builds the carts in an unheated shop.
This summer, Miller wants to build a mini-sized disc and possibly a plow.
Horses have always been part of Miller and Kramps’ lives.
Miller’s family travelled to heavy horse pulls across northern Alberta and British Columbia when he was young, and he once competed at the Wanham Plowing Match in Wanham, Alta., with a team of large draft horses.
Kramps said she was practically raised on a horse and started flat racing horses at the local fair in Westlock, Alta., when she was 12. Her racing led to work at the racetrack in Calgary for a year, but she didn’t agree with some of the tactics required to keep a horse running.
“Let’s just say I didn’t approve,” she said.
Kramps eventually found her niche when she took a course that helps humans connect with horses.
“I became a healer,” said Kramps.
“I want to improve people’s lives and horses’ lives.”
Rescued horses have been taken to seniors’ homes and hospitals to help bring joy and meaning to people.
“We talk of rehabilitating the ponies, but I think we rehabilitate more people than ponies,” Miller said about the joy people get from driving their miniature horses.