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JANESVILLE, Wis. (AP) - It's difficult to look at one without smiling.

It's the miniature horse, the wee equine which galloped into the hearts of Ken and Joyce Diehls 36 years ago.

"Some people have dogs. Miniature horses are our pets," Joyce Diehls said. "They are very sweet."

The Diehls, who run Leyden Acres in Janesville, shared a little bit about their journey with Type A miniature horses.

The unique breed not only makes great pets, but allows owners to reap the rewards of horse ownership for a little less upkeep and money. Because of their size of about 250 pounds, miniature horses require less space and feed than their full-sized counterparts.

"Our 17 miniature horses eat as much in a day as two regular horses," Ken Diehls told the Beloit Daily News.

The horses, which have a thick inner and outer coat, can withstand chilly temperatures and are generally very hardy. They require a clean pen, vaccinations, hoof trimmings and plenty of love.

It was Joyce Diehls who convinced her husband to get their first mare after watching a news show about them in 1983. She went up to Portage, Wisconsin, and fell in love.

"We were only going to have one," Joyce Diehls said.

The couple's team grew. A few times. To help pay for their growing herd, they started breeding and selling them. They said the pets can cost anywhere from $600 to $10,000 depending on breed and pedigree.

Miniature horses became a fad about a decade ago, but many sellers got out of the business after realizing the intricacies and costs associated with animal raising.

Today, the Diehls are one of the few breeders in the area and are often sought out when people are looking for a miniature horse pet.

The Diehls said miniature horses have an array of talents. They were once used for coal mining due to their small stature. At only 3 months old, they can start learning to lead.

In Illinois, miniature horses that are trained can be service animals and are allowed in public places.

Miniature horses can participate in cart-pulling, costume contests, obstacle courses or dressage competitions.

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The Diehls show their herd at a show put on by the Heart of America Miniature Equine Club and sanctioned by The American Miniature Horse Registry in Belvidere every July.

However, their most happy moments with the furry miniatures are just spending time with them and sharing them with others.

They fondly remember them serving as the backdrop for a wedding reception at their farm.

"The barn was a hit," Joyce Diehls said.

The Diehls have many memories of awaiting births. When the time is close they would mount an infrared camera in the barn, similar to a baby monitor to track when the first signs of labor occur.

"Nine times out of 10, moms have them in the middle of the night," joked Joyce Diehls.

One time a bus for nursing home residents in Footville passed the farm and stopped, with the driver inquiring if the couple would bring a miniature horse for a visit.

Later, the Diehls brought a well-behaved stallion to the outdoor areas of the home.

Although miniatures have unlimited potential, Joyce Diehl said: "Most of all, they make a dear friend."

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