Depends on the type of mini. When it comes to miniature horses, it really seems to be more of a type then a breed in some cases. True "Falabellas" I'd say definately not. They are extremely fine boned, delicate and tiny. But often you get horses classified as miniatures that are actually part Shetland and while they're small, they're extremely stocky.
Small children can definately ride the latter. The average miniature really shouldn't be ridden by anyone though - they were designed as pets, not as riding animals. They're great for driving though!
People do it, but I don't think it's a good idea. I've never owned one, but thought about getting one for future children.
Then my husband pointed out that no adult could ride a mini to break it adequately for a child. I wouldn't want a child small enough for a mini to ride a horse that couldn't be broken and thoroughly trained by an adult rider first.
I think a smaller pony (11 or 12 hands) would be a better way to go since a small adult can ride and train it quite safely.
Miniature horses are not meant to be ridden,they are cart horses, though many people don't know that... they can actually be hurt from being ridden. If it's a larger (over 40") mini maybe setting a small child on there for pictures or for a very short ride probably wouldn't hurt, but nothing over 30lbs. They are actually "built" different than any other riding ponies... I got my daughter ( who's 2 1/2 y.o.) a shetland and she rides him. He's 42" but he's stocky and she never rides him more than 10 minutes...
The issue actually comes in with ponies having better bone density and joints. They're designed to carry larger weights - often a 12hh pony will have no problem carrying the same amount of weight the average 15hh can handle. True miniatures aren't ponies, they're horses and have the same refined structure.
You could actually get a mini and a Shetland that are the same height, and yet the mini can't properly handle the weight while the Shetland can.
DisneyCowgirl - I don't think you have anything to worry about. If that's them in the avatar, he can easily handle carrying her for pretty much as long as she wants to ride and for several more years as well.
The rule of thumb is the horse can carry 20% it's body weight, I'd never buy a mini specifically as a first pony for a child because of how quickly they'd out grow it, then what? Atleast for me I hate selling so would want something that would be useful for the longest amount of time. 12-13 hands is my favorite pony height for a child. Now if you had a very small child and already had a mini (just remember the 20% rule) I'd see no reason not to let the kid start out w/ it, but I'd never buy one just for that purpose. I really don't see it being that difficult to train one to ride, most kids are not going to be big enough to ride on their own during the time they ride the mini before they've out grown it.
None of my minis are trained to ride, one is trained to drive and another has been started. I have sat my 2 year old neice on each of these and know it would be very easy for me to get them riding for her. Already being trained to drive helps alot I'm sure.
We have 2 mini mares and sometimes we put visiting kids on their backs...the kids are like 3 and under. We sometimes walk a little, but never more then a couple of laps around the run. Our minis have never been really "broke" either (like you said, Snoggle, I have no idea how you would train a horse to ride that a professional couldn't ride first, so we actually kind of hold the child on the mini's back in case they spook) butboth minis are very sturdy with broad, short backs, short, strong legs, and large joints, so we decided there wasn't any harm in very gentle riding. I agree with those who recommend a pony, though...minis just aren't really meant to be ridden. They're very strong for their size, which is why they are excellent for pulling, but their strength is definetly not concentrated in their back, lower legs, and other support structures vital for supporting a rider.
When I bought my second mini they had her saddled up with two (fairly big)kids riding her around the ring :-( Poor baby was also nothing but skin and bones. So my little 3 yr old is "broke" but she'll never be ridden as long as I own her. I don't think just sitting a kid on her and leading her around would harm her but what she was being used for was NOT good! She's definitly not big enough to be packing all that weight! They probably had over 100 lbs on her and she's only about 37" and is pretty fine boned.
I have 3 minis 2 of witch are broke to ride and they enjoy small kids on their back my 3rd mini is 8 months old but will also be trained to ride and drive they are not ridin very often maybe 1 or 2 times a month for maybe 10 to 15 min at the most but have a blast you can see it in their expression they seem to light up with the kids.