By Britney Anderson
When Sarah Schaaf met her miniature horse Patrick, she had no idea just how “big” he’d turn out to be. Now, after 17 years together, they’re making a huge splash not only in the world of miniature horses, but of horses in general and in the lives of thousands of people.
Sarah was 2 on July 4, 1998, when her parents bought the 4-year-old GTR Patricks Vindicator. Sarah describes it as the best thing that ever happened to her. Since her mother had owned, trained and raced Standardbreds for over 15 years, Sarah was born into the horse world and she and Patrick entered their first horse show when Sarah was 5.
“I only came up to his eyes, and he could be a bit difficult to handle,” Sarah remembered. “The first class that I took him out in by myself was youth halter. Patrick was very well behaved as we walked and trotted past the judge, and even for a moment in the lineup. But then he started to paw at the nice, soft dirt in the arena. Of course, I had no clue what that meant, and didn’t hear my mother yelling across the arena. So, Patrick had a nice, very long roll, which he enjoyed thoroughly!”
Equine Ambassador Extraordinaire
Though their career together may have had a dusty start, Patrick and Sarah have grown to become icons in the miniature horse world. They received the 2013 Kentucky Association of Fairs and Horse Shows High-Point Youth award, Patrick was nominated for the 2015 KVMA Hero Animal award, was used in Purina’s “Purina Proud” campaign, and is the official mascot of the Secretariat Festival where he is adored by Penny Chenery, Ron Turcotte, Charlie Davis, Pat Day, Chris McCarron and other racing greats. Known as the “Equine Ambassador Extraordinaire” and the “Equine with Altitude,” Patrick is helping Sarah spread her love of these tiny horses.
“I always say, anything you can do with a normal-sized horse, you can do with a miniature — just without a rider,” Sarah said. “Over the course of our 17 years together, I’ve trained Patrick in a wide variety of disciplines. Patrick competes in halter, showmanship, obstacle, horse agility, costume, hunter, jumper, liberty and tricks.
“Although horse shows are fun and rewarding,” Sarah continued, “I enjoy exhibiting Patrick at large events. Promoting the miniature horse breed has become a mission of mine, as I’ve seen interest in them decrease drastically over the past five years or so: only one of the seven shows we normally attend was held this year; the other six were cancelled due to low attendance.
“At such events as Breyerfest, the Secretariat Festival, the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event, the Kentucky Derby Parade and as a special guest performer at the Kentucky Horse Park, Patrick demonstrates the versatility of the American Miniature Horse breed. The crowd always loves his jumping and tricks — Patrick can jump up to 4 feet. He’s always an enormous hit, and attracts large crowds of people, young and old. I just love educating people about our wonderful breed, and horses in general. To those who may have never touched a horse before, Patrick is much less intimidating.”
For a horse only 33.5 inches tall, Patrick has a huge personality. “At shows, Patrick is often bored — he’s been doing it so long, it doesn’t interest him anymore!” Sarah explained. “At demonstrations, however, Patrick is always excited and on top of the world. He puts his whole heart into everything he does at demos, and adores big crowds. He definitely feeds off a loud audience’s energy.”
Dressed as a buffalo to complement Sarah’s Native American costume at the 2009 North American Livestock Convention, Patrick learned to step up on a pedestal for pictures. “Showing what a ham he is, every time someone walked by with a camera, Patrick would step up on the pedestal all by himself and pose! At home, Patrick is always independent. His favorite thing is, of course, eating. Exercising and baths are at the bottom of his list.”
Certified Therapy Team
Matching the oversized scale of his personality is Patrick’s heart: He has that special sensitivity to those who need his calm comfort, such as the sick, the elderly, the handicapped or children. After six months of online courses and a long approval process, Patrick and Sarah put their big hearts to work as a certified therapy team. Approved to travel to locations such as hospitals, schools, nursing homes and mental institutions, they’ve helped bring joy to many who need it.
“On our first visit, we went to a facility where most of the patients in the unit we visited will never be able to leave the hospital again, and many can’t even talk,” Sarah said. “Two patients embodied the reason I do this work with Patrick: The first was a man, about 20 years old, who was restricted to his bed. When we first entered the room, he was very cautious with Patrick, and stroked his muzzle with only the tips of his fingers. It wasn’t until we were just about to leave that he leaned over to Patrick’s face and said, ‘I love you, Patrick. Thank you.’ In a few minutes, we had been able to make at least a little difference in this man’s life and bring some joy to his otherwise lackluster day.
“We also visited a 30-year-old woman who was in a coma. After having surgery to remove a brain tumor, she never regained consciousness. Her family had kept her on life support since her surgery, but she had seldom responded to outside stimuli. When we went to her room, Patrick walked up to the bed and set his chin down by her arm, and the nurse put the patient’s hand on his nose. Patrick didn’t move, but the patient did! Although she didn’t wake up, there was suddenly at least a small sign of life.
“I feel that Patrick and I were able to bring love, hope and charity to the people we visited. Bob Hope once said ‘If you haven’t got any charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble,’ and there was never a truer word spoken. When I’m volunteering at the hospitals, I’m overcome with joy, and my heart swells when I see the happiness that my little horse brings to everyone, including the hospital staff, who need support to do their difficult jobs.”
Dreams of Being a Breyer
Though Sarah has just begun to pursue her art major at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, where she’s on the hunt seat equitation team, she still has big dreams for her 21-year-old best friend — foremost of which is to get Patrick immortalized by Breyer Animal Creations. “It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little girl, and I want Patrick to be able to bring joy to little girls and boys across the globe. I’m also working on writing and illustrating a children’s book about Patrick. I hope that with his sphere of influence, Patrick and I can bring joy and knowledge to thousands of young horse enthusiasts. I hope that we’ll spark more interest in miniature horses and show everyone that even though these horses are small in stature, they have huge hearts and endless talent. They may be mini, but they are very mighty!”
Join Patrick’s 12,800-plus-strong fan club and help make Sarah’s dreams a reality by following them on Instagram (@PatrickTheMiniHorse) and Facebook (facebook.com/PatrickTheMiniatureHorse).
About the Writer: Britney Anderson believes in following one’s dreams, currently pursuing her own of being involved in professional equestrian events. When not riding an OTTB at Creekside Equestrian in Payson, Utah, Britney can be found working at home with carefully mismatched socks and possibly a princess crown. Read about her journey at horseworldlife.com.
Photos courtesy of Sarah Schaaf