|First Poste: July 18, 2009|
Sep 26, 2010
Skyros PonySkyros Pony
The Skyros breed generally stands between 9.1 and 11 hands high, and may be gray, bay, or palomino. They tend to be fairly unattractive horses, with poor conformation, although this may be a product of their native habitat. With better management and more than the subsistence diet that they normally eat in the wild, they tend to have better conformation.
As of 2001, there were ninety-three breeding mares and fifty-two studs. It is not clear if all members of the herd are pure-bred. The breed is considered by many to be endangered, although no government or international authority has made such a declaration. Nevertheless the existence of such small numbers of ponies is conducive to inbreeding and is therefore likely to endanger the ponies' survival even further.
A possible obstacle to the recovery and expansion of the herd is a ban on exportation of the animal from the island. The export of Skyros-derived hinnies or mules is not illegal, and consequently there is a great economic incentive to breed hybrids for export instead of purebred ponies to continue the bloodline. A group called the Silva Project is currently working to promote the foundation of Skyros herds elsewhere in Greece and abroad.
The Skyros breed is believed to be descended from horses brought to the island of Skyros during the 5th to 8th centuries BCE by Athenian colonists. It is possible that they were used by Alexander the Great in his conquests, and also possible that they are the horses depicted in the friezes of the Parthenon.
They developed mainly as semi-feral horses in the mountainous area on the southern part of the island, although individuals were caught and tamed by farmers for agricultural uses. The advances in agricultural mechanization during the 1960's called into question the survival of the breed, as they were no longer needed for farm work and their numbers were already low. The prevalence of feral donkeys in the same area of the island that the Skyros calls home is also a threat, as the two groups cross-breed and prevent pure breeding by the Skyros ponies.
During the 1970s there was a short-lived breeding program focused on the Skyros breed. This program brought publicity to the breed, and resulted in them being declared critically endangered in 1991.
The ponies are often kept semi-wild, ranging the mountainous interior of the island until they are needed at the harvest for threshing grain. Skyros ponies are also used as pack horses, harness horses, for riding and for breeding hinnies or mules.
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