Name of breed: Pottok or Pottoka
Country of origin: Basque Country in France and Spain
Breed origin: Considered an ancient breed of horse, the Pottok is now endangered, due mainly to habitat loss, increasing mechanisation and cross breeding. Considered iconic by the Basque people in France and Spain, there are many differing accounts on the origins of this horse. It is deemed by the scientific community to have lived in the area for at least several thousand years. Some claim the Pottok’s origins derive from the horses on ancient cave paintings in the area and thus claim them to descend from the Magdalenian horses of 14,000 – 7000 BC. While others link its origins to an influx of horses through the Bronze Age. But neither of these theories has been scientifically verified.
Distinguishing features: Standing anywhere from 11.1 to 14.2 hands high, the Pottok has a large, square head, small ears, short neck and long back with short legs and small, tough hooves. But one of the key characteristics of this horse breed is its winter fur, which can often reach up to 10 centimetres in length on young horses of the breed.
Semi-feral Pottoks tend to live in small, territorial herds. They are able to predict the weather conditions, moving into the valleys in anticipation of bad weather and then upland when high pressure builds.
Aside from habitat loss, a major factor in the decline in numbers of this breed has been cross-breeding, leaving no more than 150 purebred mares north of the Pyrenees.
Modern day Pottok: In the past Pottoks have been popular as circus horses and pit ponies in France and Britain. But today they are in demand as children’s ponies because they adapt well to domestication. Efforts are also now being made to ensure the continued survival of purebred Pottoks.
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