The pregnant mother was sent to a specialist 90 miles away at the University of California at Davis. When mother and newborn daughter came home, handsome quarters awaited them, complete with wood paneling, oil paintings, TV and air conditioning. When not in the nursery, the 12-pound, 17-inch-tall baby gallops around the living room.
Gallops? Trots and canters too. The new addition to the Rayford Ely household in Hayward, south of San Francisco, is a miniature horse, a perfectly proportioned, affectionate creature with soft black, brown and tan fur. Her name is Golden Penny—and few children, not to mention pets, have ever been so fussed over.
“She’s perfect,” boasts Ely, “just like a little racehorse.” He keeps eight other miniatures on his two-and-a-half-acre estate, including Silver Dollar, officially the world’s smallest horse with a shoulder height of a mere 25 inches.
Ely, a Porsche-Audi dealer in his 60s, began raising the little animals 10 years ago after visiting the late Robert Kennedy’s miniatures in Hyannis Port. (Among current collectors: Queen Elizabeth, King Juan Carlos and Dean Martin.) Ely quickly bought two tiny mares, bred-down versions of Arabians, and later added a stallion to start his herd. Though he estimates each horse is worth between $7,500 and $25,000—and insures them against theft through Lloyd’s of London—Ely has sold only seven over the years. He grooms the rest for competition.
A Texas native, Ely was raised on an Amarillo ranch with conventional livestock. “I’ve been around horses all my life,” he explains. “These little guys have the same odor and are the same fun. It’s just that when they step on you it doesn’t hurt.” Ely admits they aren’t very utilitarian. They can’t be ridden, even by children, because their legs and backs are too weak. But he has found other uses. “When we have a party we bring in a horse,” Ely explains. “When we have enough to drink we bring in more than one.”
Proud as he is of his championship herd, Ely is not on a high horse. “They’re like a Porsche,” he figures. “No one needs one, but everybody wants one.”