Aimée Hutchinson can't remember a time when horses weren't a part of her life.
"It started at the age of three when I fell in love with horses for no reason, living in the middle of the city with parents who didn't know anything about horses," she said of her childhood in Moncton.
"One day we went for a bike ride and there happened to be pony rides, right there" in the Kmart parking lot. "And I just couldn't leave."
From then on, Hutchinson knew horses were her destiny.
She began taking riding lessons, eventually got her own horse, an appaloosa named Daisy – "I still have her, she's 27 now" — and even made a horse lover out of her mother, who had always been "petrified" of them.
Years later, they all live on the same property in Irishtown, just north of Moncton, her mom and dad running Double Diamond stables and Hutchinson running Beloved Miniature Horses horse farm and therapy centre.
Every day feels like a dream, Hutchinson said.
And she can't imagine a life that doesn't revolve around the patter of tiny hooves.
Good things come in miniature packages
The first miniature horse trotted into Hutchinson's life seven years ago, enchantingly and unexpectedly.
A good friend of hers had a drill team with 10 miniature horses that pull little wagons while a soundtrack plays, like a musical ride.
Hutchinson would sometimes hop into one of the wagons for a ride, and said the feeling of euphoria that came over her was like medicine.
"How do you not smile when you're in a cart behind a tiny horse?" she said with a laugh. "You can't. My heart was just so happy."
She decided she had to have a "mini" of her own, and soon settled on a foal named Carlois.
"He's my heart horse," Hutchinson said. "He and I have a wonderful bond. He's hilarious."
Soon, Hutchinson decided that the only thing better than one miniature horse was two miniature horses, and a filly named Charlotte joined the fold.
By this time, Hutchinson was married, and she and her husband, Scott, and their children lived on a sprawling Irishtown farm with Hutchinson's parents.
Hutchinson wanted to stay home and raise her kids on the farm, but needed enough income to be able to keep her horses.
"So one day I was stressing about this," she recalled. "I remember going to the minis, we only had two at the time, to their little paddock ... I just wanted to smell their nose air."
That stable visit delivered more than just a hit of equine therapy.
"I thought, omigosh, how lucky that I can walk over here and do this when I need to? Outside. The sun, the horse, the quiet. And that's when it dawned on me."
Hutchinson decided that it was time to share her love and knowledge of horses with others, and in 2016, Beloved Miniature Horses came to be.
She has steadily built her stable up to 30 horses, including boarded horses, her and her mom's own standard riding horses, and nine miniatures.
Her farm offers pony rides, horse camps, therapeutic services, weekly classes, parties, daycare visits, visits to seniors homes, and one of her favourite new things: pony tea parties, where the tables — and the minis – are dolled up to the nines in lace and flowers.
The spring parties are already almost completely booked, Hutchinson said.
"It's just going to be so much fun. I'm so excited."
Miniature in size only
To qualify as a miniature, the horse can be no taller than 38 inches at the withers, or shoulders, which is about the same height as a kitchen countertop.
But as Hutchinson is quick to note, they're miniature in size only.
They have "all the lovable qualities of a full-sized horse" with zero intimidation factor for those who might be nervous around bigger breeds. They also come with some qualities only a mini can possess.
"It's almost like some of them are part Labrador puppy," Hutchinson said.
"They're curious, they're playful … and they like to try to really get away with things because, well, they're at your waist level."
They're also surprisingly affectionate, and about the only breed of horse that can walk into your home or office for a visit.
Hutchinson often allows her miniatures in her home, for example. And the farm's therapy horse, Party, has posed with Santa in malls, visited schools and is a regular visitor at seniors' homes.
"He gets right into their bed with them, sits with them for a minute, has a little look around, lets them have a pat, then he's off to the next," Hutchinson said. "That's his job and he loves it.
"And I'm not sure why, because at home he is like the worst-behaved out of the entire bunch of horses."
In the future, Hutchinson plans to add to her collection of miniatures, expanding into breeding her own and offering even more services for visitors of all ages.
"I thought when I got into this, 'This will be great for kids,' " Hutchinson said.
She's since learned that adults get just as much out of their visits to the "mini" farm as their children do.
"Parents work so hard. As adults and parents you need to just slow down sometimes and do something relaxing for yourself," she said.
"And let me tell you, there's not one parent who has not had an amazing time with a mini when they've brought their children here."