A farm boy met a city girl at the local co-op, they got hitched, bought a team of Miniature Horses, became renowned breeders-drivers, rode off into the sunset and traded their ranch for a home-on-wheels to travel the world visiting their horses and friends.
That’s it in a nutshell.
However, Larry and Sue Elniff have many more memories to share as their life climaxes before taking an even more adventurous style during retirement.
Countless acquaintances around the nation, literally, are the biggest joy for the most personable couple. Interestingly though, of these vast friendships, few have a clue of the diverse affiliations, which could be described as romantic directions, the couple’s very active lives have taken.
For simplification, they are known as Miniature Horse breeders, competitors and leaders, but their relationships probably touch an even larger number through leadership work with farm cooperative associations. Acquaintances within each realm of those connections often don’t have an inkling of “the other side of their lives.”
Larry Elniff was raised on a farm near Randall in Jewell County, and despite the desire to pursue farming as a life’s profession, there was no such opportunity.“I graduated from Brown Mackey Business College in Salina and became bookkeeper at the Clifton
Co-op,” Larry recalled.
To be most concise, the job turned into a management position, and after serving in similar leadership posts for 16 co-ops from Oklahoma to North Dakota, Larry retired 39 years later.“ I started at Cliftonand retired at Clifton, which is quite unusual, too,” he noted.
While Larry was serving as manager at the Lewis Co-op in western Kansas, Sue came to work for the association. One could say the rest is imaginable history, but it can be
told in complete truth and still be quite colorful.
“I was raised in Colorado, where my parents still live at ages 88 and 97, and I moved to Lewis with my children after a divorce,” Sue reflected. “I’d only been at the co-op for a short while, and Larry put me in charge of the grain department. I really liked that, and the business expanded.”
Larry and Sue were married in 1986, but their heavy involvement in farm co-op leadership continued.
Larry was called throughout the Midwest to serve as interim manager of co-ops facing financial dilemma. “I was able to get some of those straightened out and moving forward, but there were others that I helped consolidate or had to close down,” he evaluated.
Sue maintained their home during Larry’s distance business and also served in different co-op management posts.
“In 1990, we first became acquainted with Miniature Horses,” Sue remembered.
“I had an antique Ford car that didn’t eat a thing, and Sue asked if she could trade it for two Miniature Horses,” Larry interrupted. “Let me tell you, they might be miniature, but they still have to eat,”.
“I was a city girl, so other than having worked with farmers at the co-op, I didn’t know anything about agriculture,” Sue admitted. “It was learning experience all of the way for me and definitely not all fun and games.”
The Elniffs originally bought a mare, Shelby, and a stallion, Few Acres Shamus, from Harold Bud in Colorado.
“We only had two horses and a small place, so we decided to call it Lil Bit “O” Country,” Larry intertwined. “That name has stayed with our Miniature Horse operation when we’ve moved, and it even became the prefix on the horses we’ve produced.”
The couple is appreciative that their initial purchases were excellent quality for the time period. “We were able to be quite successful with that mare and stallion, even
though we really didn’t know anything about what we were doing in the beginning,” Sue revealed.
Nature is always the dominating factor, no matter the endeavor. “We didn’t plan it, but our stallion got in with our only other horse, the mare, and in less than a year, she had another Miniature Horse,” Sue grinned.
In 1993, they added to their bloodlines with a “few excellent quality horses” from the NFC auction in Oklahoma City.
Initially, the couple exhibited in halter classes, and they are proud of the trophies collected during those early years and still prominently displayed in their home.
“The driving classes really attracted me, though,” Sue reminisced. “So, again we didn’t know much about what we were doing, but we started participating in the driving events, too.”
It wasn’t overnight that the Elniffs became Miniature Horse breeders, but it was
the beginning of a nationally-renowned production operation.
“We were fortunate that we started off with real good bloodlines, and we’ve generally
stayed with them,” Larry critiqued.
“Oh, we bought a few mares, but we’ve always had the best luck with our own bloodlines,” Sue insisted.
With Larry’s retirement and Sue’s position also coming to an end, the couple wanted to get closer to her daughter Lynette and husband Rick Rathbun and their children, Clara and Garrett.
“We found this ostrich farm near Ozawkie in JeffersonCounty, but we didn’t really think we could afford it,” Larry commented. “We decided to make an offer, and the owners accepted it.”
With a beautiful 5,400 square foot home, the property’s ostrich facilities easily adapted for Miniature Horses.
However, the couple only bought half of the land initially. “After we sold our place at Cimarron, we bought the other 20 acres and built an indoor arena,” Larry continued.
Sue accepted a position at the Leavenworth Co-op, and she now serves as manager of that business. However, evenings and weekends are generally dedicated to Miniature Horses.
“Our indoor arena permits us to train year around, and we have the opportunity to assist others with their Miniature Horses, too,” Sue stated.
“Helping others with their Miniatures is really important to us,” Larry inserted. “We basically learned what we know from trial and error. When we can pass our knowledge along to new owners, it often makes their experience more positive.”
Hosting annual field days and training clinics open to the public have been important to the couple with participants attending from several states. “We want to do whatever we can so others learn more about caring for and handling Miniature Horses,” Sue added.
Their grandchildren, Clara and Garrett Rathbun and Kole Peters, have been involved in Miniature Horse activities including exhibiting top entries at the American Miniature
Horse Association World Show and serving in leadership positions.
“Clara hasn’t been as active this year, and Kole was only able to show for one season due to living in Forsyth, Mo., but Garrett has continued to participate and had several top entries at the recent World Show in Fort Worth,” Larry detailed.
“Our only other grandchild, Kaytlyn Peters, hasn’t ever shown because of her young
age and distance,” Sue commented.
Both Larry and Sue also successfully again entered the world show this year, placing high in several classes.
Annually participating in a half dozen or more shows throughout the Midwest, Lil Bit “O” Country has dominated the winner’s circles at AMHA local shows in amateur and youth performance classes.
“We’ve really had our share of success in the show ring, even though we haven’t ever won a world championship,” Sue shared.
Reminiscent of their vast show ring success, display cases in their home are overflowing with trophies, plaques and large purple rosettes, but that’s not what makes the couple proudest.
“We raised and trained our champions,” Sue emphasized. “We didn’t go out and buy winners, and we didn’t send the horses we raised to a trainer. We did every bit of it ourselves.
“That’s the best part of it all. These are our horses that go back to our original horses, and we’ve done all of their training personally,” she re-iterated.
Last year, the couple decided to send a horse to the professional trainer, Tammi Nuttel. “We can see the difference the experience can do,” Sue granted.
However, the couple emphasizes that while they take personal pleasure from successfully producing and exhibiting horses strictly of their own lineage, the very best part of it all is the friends they’ve made and the people they’ve shared their horses with.
“We’ve had as many as 30 horses here. We’d raise more than a handful of foals each year,” Larry tabulated. “We have sold foals, but generally we liked to get the horses driving good before we put them on the market.”
Sue contended, “We always become attached to our Miniatures, and frequently it has been more important to us who we sold our horses to than for how much.”
“That makes it tough to be a profitable business,” according to Larry.
A member of the board of directors of the Heartland Miniature Horse Club from 1991 through 2009, Larry served as the AMHA Region 13 Director from 2005 through 2010.
Serving as the AMHA treasurer for the past two terms, Larry recognized, “This has been challenging due to the economy. All horse breeds have felt the economic pressure.”
Always having a strong fondness for traveling, the Elniffs have decided to disperse their Miniature Horse business and have the ranch for sale. With their exit from the beloved lifestyle, the Elniffs have no plans to forget Miniature Horses.
“Our exact future isn’t set in stone, but we might sell most of our possessions, possibly put some in storage, and just live out of a travel home,” Larry envisioned.
“Material things have never been really important to us,” Sue said. “We want to see more of the country, look at Miniature Horses and visit their owners and other friends we’ve made in our lives.”
The sun might be setting on Lil Bit “O” Country Miniatures, but it’s really just coming up out of the East for the most congenial couple ever: Larry and Sue Elniff.