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.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Horse Breeds: Florida Cracker

In the late 1500s there was an influx of horses into the southern region of what would eventually become the United States. Some of these breeds would eventually mix, including the Barb and the Spanish Jennet, to produce the modern Florida Cracker. This horse has much in common with the mustang, but it was geographically isolated and so developed independently of other breeds, resulting in some distinct physical features.

Standing 13.2 to 15.2 hands high, the Florida Cracker isn`t the largest horse. Still, they make excellent riding horses for smaller riders and are particularly suited to teens and older children. Their heads are refined and their eyes are keen. The Florida Cracker can be found in any color (though solid colors are preferred) and may or may not be gaited. Gaited horses may have a variety of gaits, including trot, amble, the flatfoot walk, and running walk.

The Florida Cracker was originally ridden by southern cowboys called crackers for the sound of the whips they used when rounding up cattle. This name was eventually applied to the horses they rode, and the name stuck. The Florida Cracker was used in the deep south for roping cattle up until the 1930s when they were replaced by the American Quarter Horse. The Quarter Horse was more stout and better suited to the rigorous roping needed to administer the new screwworm medications to cattle, so the Florida Cracker began to fade away.

Luckily, horse enthusiasts are a stubborn lot. Efforts to preserve and revive the Florida Cracker continue today and their numbers are slowly increasing. The stamina of this breed makes it perfect for endurance racing and many traditional western ranching tasks. Today, the Florida Cracker Horse Association is charged with locating and promoting this beautiful breed.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Horse Breeds: Fell Pony

The Fell Pony has it origins in ancient times. Its ancestors arrives in what is now Great Britain back during the ice age, crossing from the mainland by means of an ancient land bridge. Those ancient ponies moved around the Great Britain, eventually settling in the hills surrounding what would eventually become the beautiful Lake District in Cumbria, located in northwestern England. This environment helped shape those ancient ponies into the modern Fell Pony.

The name Fell comes from the Middle English term for hill, which was, not surprisingly, fell. So these ponies are named for the hills upon which they make their home. Today, there are approximately fifteen herds of Fell Ponies running wild in England, and these are far from the only Fell Ponies in existence. Children and even small adults can ride these ponies, but they really excel in combined driving. Their small stature makes them quick and nimble, two qualities that help them pull ahead in the cross-country phase of combined driving.

Standing only 12.2 to 14 hands high, this pony is small but powerful. Most Fell Ponies are black, but bay, brown, and even light grey are acceptable colors. White markings are acceptable, but these are usually confined to socks or a white star on the forehead. Because this pony has existed mostly free of human intervention, it tends to retain its more prehistoric characteristics. This includes a thick mane and tail, feathers on the legs, and a thick undercoat, all designed to help keep water away from the sensitive skin.

Moving with an easy gait, the Fell Pony is a beauty to watch. A concentrated effort is being made to ensure this doesn't change. Though many societies have risen up to protect and preserve this breed, The Fell Pony Society does more than most. It also handles the registration and export of ponies from the United Kingdom.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Horse Breeds: Exmoor Pony

Of the nine breeds of horse native to Britain, the Exmoor Pony is the oldest and the one least effected by outside breeding. Despite its small stature, the Exmoor was valued by invading Roman armies as a prime chariot horse. This pony is certainly strong enough to pull chariots and other vehicles and is frequently found at driving events around the world today.

Standing only 11.3 to 12.3 hands high, the little Exmoor Pony has a primitive appearance. The eyes are heavily hooded, the coat is doubled to protect against the elements, and all Exmoors have a seventh molar, a trait not seen in most horse breeds. This horse also has a tail that is wider and thicker at the top than normal. Referred to as an ice tail, this protects the pony from the extreme winds of the moors upon which it is bred. The colors of the Exmoor Pony are simple and ancient. You'll find bay, dun, or dull brown, usually with mealy markings on the legs, muzzle, and underbelly.

Today this ancient breed is still bred upon the moors of Britain. It is thought that if the Exmoor is bred in the quiet of a stable, they're lose the ancient characteristics that are prized. Though typically a driving pony, the Exmoor is also used for riding and to keep foliage under control in protected areas of Britain. They conservation and protection of this unique breed is handled by the Exmoor Pony Society.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Horse Breeds: Dutch Warmblood

The end of World War II (WWII) meant that horses were used less on farms throughout Europe. Instead, mechanized farming methods became increasingly popular. This spelled the end of several horse breeds, but also birthed new ones. Farm horses were not necessary, but sport horses were in demand, so two breeds (the Gelderlander and the Groningen) were combined to form an entirely new breed with the best qualities of both.

The resulting horse was named the Dutch Warmblood, mostly because it was bred by the Dutch. This new breed inherited the strong hindquarters of the Groningen, making jumping and collection easier, especially in a sport setting. From the Gelderlander the Dutch Warmblood received beautiful action. This meant this new breed was well suited to dressage. But it wasn't until Thoroughbred blood was added to the breed that the Dutch Warmblood truly came into its own. The horse now had the stamina and speed necessary to truly compete with other breeds often seen at sporting events.

The Dutch Warmblood stands 16 to 17 hands high and horses may be of any solid color. This breed is divided into three basic types. Riding horses are used for dressage and jumping, harness horses are used for carriages and other harness work, and Gelders (the more traditional Dutch horse) are used both under the saddle and in a harness. All of these types are strong, elegant, and possess beautiful action. The studbook for these horses, at least in North America, is managed by KWPN of North America, Inc.