- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 11, 2000

Sandy and Ray Hawkins planned eight years ago to trade their hassle-filled lives running a medical laboratory in Frederick, Md., for a slower-paced life in the South.

They went north instead and became the proud proprietors of the Land of Little Horses, a popular tourist site just outside Gettysburg, Pa., that features miniature performing horses. Mrs. Hawkins says that being hands-on managers of a 100-animal menagerie and a 100-acre farm has not slowed their pace, but running the farm is a dream come true.

"I have to admit that it's more my dream than my husband's, and I also have to admit that it's a lot harder than I ever imagined," says the onetime horse trainer. "But it absolutely is a labor of love."

Visitors to the well-kept farm pay their entrance fee in the newly built gift shop, where toys, souvenirs, jewelry and collectibles make it hard to resist making a purchase on the way out. The next stop is the spotless barn, where guests can visit many of the horses in their stalls while trainer Dawne Smith or another staff member tells the history of the Falabella horses.

More than a century ago, the Falabella family of Argentina began breeding horses that would be the size of a pony but have the disposition and proportions of a horse.

In the late 1960s, Tony Garulo and Stewart Ericson heard about the horses and imported 25 mares and geldings to their farm near Gettysburg. A few years later, the Falabellas visited and agreed to send the two a stallion. Thus, the farm became the first place in this country where the horses were bred. The miniatures are very valuable the smaller the pricier and have been known to sell for as much as $100,000.

"There is no one type of Falabella horse," Ms. Smith says. "They could be quarter horses, Arabians, drafts, Standardbreds or mustangs. But the smaller the better."

Falabella horses stand around 29 to 34 inches from the ground to their withers, Ms. Smith says. In comparison, standard horses tower 64 inches or more.

The horses perform a few times a day in the nearby arena, which this year has been decorated with a beach-party theme.

"Every year it's different," says Nonnie Johnson, a Gettysburg native who oversees marketing and sales for the farm. "Plus, we're always adding things to the show."

Though the horses are the stars of the show, they have stiff competition from a pack of dogs that have been rescued from the pound and given new lives as canine performers.

In an outdoor ring, Vietnamese potbellied pigs race along a track as visitors are divided into teams to cheer for their assigned competitors. On this laid-back spring weekday, it's hard to imagine that these well-fed pigs could be inspired to move, let alone wage a competitive race.

The miniature theme carries into the farm's other attractions. For a small additional fee, visitors can take a 15-minute train ride on a track that passes through the property. A small antique carousel that was built for the 1921 New York World's Fair has been restored, and visitors can ride the aluminum horses for 50 cents a ride. Pony rides are available for younger children.

"We used to offer rides on the Falabella horses," Mrs. Hawkins says, "but over the years, it seemed that the horses were getting smaller and the children were getting bigger. Now we use Shetland and trotting ponies. Those can hold older children."

Mrs. Hawkins, an unabashed animal lover, has amassed a collection of "alternative life stock" that guests can visit during a leisurely stroll on the nature walk. These include miniature goats and lambs, peacocks, show chickens and pigeons and a few llamas. The most obvious exception to the miniature rule is Shamrock a huge camel who towers over every other creature.

"He thinks he's a horse, and we don't tell him any different," Mrs. Johnson says during a tour of the property. "But at Christmas, he's the star of the show."

In addition to the Christmas show, when the Land of Little Horses reopens for the five weekends preceding Christmas, there are special events including races of trotters on the farm's large track throughout the summer. Visitors should call ahead for information.

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