Monday, October 27, 2014

Horse Breeds: Highland Pony

Of all the breeds of pony native to Great Britain, the Highland Pony is both the largest and the strongest. This surefooted little horse hails from the north of Scotland, one of only two breeds to truly originate in this area. The Highland Pony evolved naturally, with very little input from humans. It was shaped entirely by the harsh environment so characteristic of northern Scotland. This resulted in a strong breed with few natural flaws.

The Highland Pony was prized by farmers (also called crofters) in Scotland as an all-purpose horse. It could haul the plow one day and bring home a hunter's kill the next. Able to haul up to 200 pounds of deadweight, this larger pony was a favorite as a pack animal and trail horse. Today the Highland Pony is popular as a family pony, especially for young children.

Standing from 13 to 14.2 hands high, the Highland Pony is typically a dull dun in color. Other acceptable colors include black, brown, chestnut, and even gray. Most ponies have a flaxen mane and tail, especially the darker coat colors.

Because of its natural origins, this breed usually sports some primitive markings. This can include a dorsal stripe, zebra patterning on the legs, and feathering at the base of the legs. There may also be a short beard on the chin.

With a muscled neck and a broad forehead, these little horses have a strong and muscular appearance. They are popular for pulling smaller carts and are great with children and other animals. They also make an appearance in the show ring, particularly in driving and other sporting events. Today, The Highland Pony Society is the society most concerned with the breeding and preservation of this strong pony.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Horse Breeds: Hanoverian

Most warmblood breeds are named after their region of origin, and the Hanoverian is no exception. This majestic breed originates in Lower Saxony, which is now part of northern Germany but was once the kingdom of Hannover. Hence the name.

The Hanoverian, however, isn't an ancient breed. In 1714, King George I of England (who was the original elector of Hannover) decided to send several English Thoroughbreds to Hannover in an attempt to refine the native stock in that region. His son (George II) wanted to supply the military with top cavalry mounts and create the perfect working horse for the local farms. To do so, he created a state stud at Celle in 1735. At first, he used black Holsteiners, but eventually Thoroughbreds were added to the breeding program. And thus the Hanoverian was born.

The original station in Celle is still the center of the Hanoverian breeding program. Many of the best examples of this prime eventing breed come straight from Celle, and all true Hanoverians can trace their lineage back to this first stallion station.

The Hanoverian can stand between 15.3 to 17 hands high. Acceptable colors include bay, black, brown, chestnut, and gray. The Hanoverian is purely a sporting horse, so the conformation of the haunches is of the upmost importance. For this reason, horses that do not conform to the established standards are not bred. In fact, they are typically sterilized to avoid accidental breedings.

This breed has powerful hindquarters, but also possesses the grace necessary to compete in dressage. They can really move, typically covering ground with a spring in their step. The movement is full of grace, power, and impulsion, giving them an aptitude for jumping. They can also be used for farm work or employed as trail horses. In short, they are versatile enough to suit most purposes and beautiful enough to attract just about anyone.

Many of these stunning horses can be found competing and winning in dressage, jumping, eventing, and combined driving. They're even seen in the hunter ring. Today, the American Hanoverian Association is primarily involved in their breeding and conservation in North America.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Horse Breeds: Haflinger

The true origins of the Haflinger horse are a little murky, but they may have been present in the southern Tyrolean Mountains of Austria and northern Italy since medieval times. Perhaps even longer, though independent evidence of this is hard to come by. At any rate, this horse breed is named for the village of Hafling in the Tyrolean Mountains where they served as farm horses. This stocky breed has always been a general purpose horse, so its uses on farms was almost limitless.

The breed has been kept fairly pure throughout the centuries, with only one known outcrossing having occurred during the recorded breeding of Haflinger horses. This outcrossing happened in the 1800s when the stallion Folie was bred to a Haflinger mare. Folie's sire was half Arabian, making Folie only mostly Haflinger (he was one-quarter Arabian). All other recorded breedings have been pure.

All Haflingers have a similar appearance. Chestnut, whether light or dark, is the only acceptable color. The mane and tail are always white (or very near to white). White markings, particularly on the face, underbelly, and legs, are common. Standing from 13.2 to 15 hands high, the Haflinger horse is a sturdy but elegant medium-sized breed. They are also athletic enough for farm or other work.

Today the Haflinger is used primarily for riding and driving, though there are still some used for farm work in the Tyrolean Mountains. They are no longer confined to Austria and Italy, but can be found around the world.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Horse Breeds: Hackney

In the late 17th and early 18th century, rutted tracks were replaced with smooth roads in Great Britian, at least in the cities. This meant that the heavy cart horses of previous centuries were just too bulky and slow for the new carriages that were developed. A light, fast carriage horse was needed, and this is where the Hackney has its roots.

Thought to be descended from Friesians, the Hackney horse was selectively bread from the Arabian, the Norfolk Trotter, the Thoroughbred, and the Yorkshire Roadster. The Hackney was beautiful and had a lovely gait, but that wasn't all that led to their widespread use. When it became known that the Hackney could trot 60 miles in a single day, the demand for these lovely horses outshone the supply very quickly.

The Hackney ranges in size from 14 to 15.3 hands high. The smaller of the horses are more accurately referred to as ponies. Regardless of size, the Hackney horse is an elegant equine with a small head, delicate muzzle, and pretty little ears. They have a high-stepping gait that is their trademark and a lean and graceful body. Hackneys can be found in most colors and patterns, including bay, black, brown, and chestnut. Spotted hackneys, though unusual, are not unheard of and are particularly lovely.

Today, the American Hackney Horse Society is the most popular society to deal with this lovely show horse. Known for its graceful trot, this horse breed is a popular driving horse is found often in the show ring.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Horse Breeds: Gypsy Horse

Many people have heard of gypsies and their horses, but most don't realize the Gypsy Horse is a breed of its own. This breed, also called the Gypsy Cob, Gypsy Drum, or the Gypsy Vanner, are an ancient breed originating in Great Britain. It is likely that the breed is a combination of the Clydesdale, Shire, and ponies native to the British Isles such as the Dale Pony. Over the centuries the Gypsy Horse has been bred to make the perfect caravan horse, one that could accompany the gypsies on their long journeys to their gathering places. The modern Gypsy Horse is the result of centuries of selective breeding.

Though native to Great Britain, the Gypsy can now be found all over North America. There are established breeding programs in both the United States and Canada. All of the original horses were imported from England, but today most Gypsy Horses in North America were bred on that continent, just as most of the horses in Europe were bred in Europe. Most of the European horses are used for driving, but in North America the breed is popular for trail riding and shows. They are also excellent carriage horses.

The Gypsy Horse is gorgeous enough to attract a great deal of attention. Strong and compact, the breed is known for its short back, large hooves, and heavily muscled hindquarters. The tail and mane should be thick and the legs should be generously feathered. Though the Gypsy Horse is not a color breed (meaning all colors are acceptable), blagdon (solid color with splashes of white on the belly), piebalds (black and white pinto), and skewbalds (brown/red and white pinto) tend to be preferred. This breed may be of any size, but 14 to 15.2 hands high is typical.

The Gypsy is not a common horse in either North America or Europe, but they are excellent as driving or carriage horses. They have a sweet nature and make a good riding horse for children. Lovely to look at, the Gypsy Horse is one of those horses that attracts and delights people of all ages.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Horse Breeds: Gotland-Russ Pony

Though still new to the United States, the Gotland-Russ Pony is an old breed native to Sweden. This cute pony gets its name from the island of Gotland. It is here that the wild version of this breed thrived for centuries. The term "Russ" was added to the name because it is the Gutnish word for "horse". Because of this, the Gotland-Russ Pony is sometimes referred to as the Gotland Horse.

Up until the early part of the 19th century, the Gotland-Russ was commonly used for farming in Sweden and the surrounding nations. Then industrialization invaded Sweden. The Gotland-Russ was slowly replaced by machinery on the farm until very few were used for this purpose. Their native forests were cut down to make room for human expansion, limiting the number of wild ponies. Many domestic ponies were sold to mines in England, Germany, and even Belgium because of their small size and ability to haul heavy loads.

The arrival of the 20th century didn't help their numbers. Industrialization continued and numbers dropped even further. The establishment of stud farms for the Gotland-Russ Pony did help, but only a little. Numbers still dropped, but not quite as fast. The arrival of World War II (WWII) almost spelled the end of the Gotland-Russ as it was hunted to the very edge of extinction.

Just when the breed was about to disappear, the Gotland Agricultural Society stepped in. They enclosed an area of approximately 200 acres and let a few ponies roam free. They carefully selected the herd and allowed them to breed freely. To prevent inbreeding, a new stallion is introduced every three years. Health assessments are performed on all ponies a few times a year.

Today, the most active preservation society for the Gotland-Russ Pony is probably the Gotlandruss Pony Preservation Society. In the United States, the Gotland-Russ Association of North America, formed in 1997, continues to be devoted to this breed. Associations can also be found in Denmark and Finland.

The Gotland-Russ Pony is physically a very strong animal. They tend to be intelligent, healthy, hardy, energetic, and playful. These traits make this animal perfect as a children's mount. The most common acceptable colors include bay, black, buckskin, and sorrel. Disallowed colors include piebald, albino, and roan. The perfect height of a Gotland-Russ Pony is 12.1 hands.

This horse breed is not often seen in North America, but it is becoming more popular in Sweden for dressage, show jumping, driving, harness racing, and pleasure riding. The Gotland-Russ is also popular as an eventing horse.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Horse Breeds: Friesian

There are many breeds of horse native to Europe, but the Friesian is one of the oldest. Taking its name from a region of the Netherlands called Friesland, this horse was driven to the point of extinction in the early part of the 20th century. As trotting races became all the rage, the slower Friesian was crossed with other breeds to obtain the speed necessary to compete. By the beginning of World War II (WWII), there were only three verified purebred stallions left in the world.

WWII, which very nearly destroyed many breeds, actually saved the Friesian. A desperate fuel shortage throughout most of Europe forced farmers and other laborers to use horses for both transportation and fieldwork. They turned to the sturdy and reliable Friesian and began breeding the horse in earnest. Their natural strength and beauty makes them an exceptional carriage horse, a purpose for which they are still used today. The Friesian also exhibits precise elegance, which makes them accomplished dressage horses.

A little smaller than other horses of this type, the Friesian stands between 14.3 and 16 hands high. This breed has an arched topline, giving it a distinctive silhouette. The face is expressive and sculpted, the ears small and elegant. Only pure black horses can be registered. These horses are allowed to have a small white star, but must otherwise be solid in color. Some horses may be brown or even bay (or variations of these colors), but only true black Friesians are considered for breeding stock.

Well known for its beautiful mane and tale, the Friesian is a natural companion and loves to be around people. Though most commonly used as a carriage horse or for dressage, this horse excels as a trail horse and has a gentle temperament. Today, The Friesian Horse Society is devoted to promoting and preserving this loving and beautiful breed.