The Castillonnais, also known as the Cheval Ariègeois de Castillon, is a breed of horse that was developed in France. It is thought that this breed, like other horses that originated from the Pyrenees, is descended from horses that inspired paintings during the Magdalenian era. Eventually, Iberian and Oriental breeds were introduced to its bloodline. This breed was once used for a variety of purposes including draft work, carriage pulling, and military practices. Because this horse was not as popular as other breeds in that area and because it was crossbred with other draft horses, its population numbers decreased.
In 1980, a group of enthusiasts stepped in to save the breed and in 1992 the Ariege Pyrenees Association of Castillonnais Horses, or L’Association Pyrénéenne Ariégeoise du Cheval Castillonnais, was developed to manage the breed. It was accepted by the French Ministry of Agriculture as an official breed in 1996, despite its population of only fifty mares, after which time the name of its breed organization was changed to the National Association of Castillonnais Horses of the Ariège Pyrenees. By 2005, there were only about 260 members of this breed in the world, but a goal to double that by 2014 was put in place in hopes of increasing its small population.
Because the Castillonais is still changing physically, it can resemble greatly Mérens horses and Iberian horses. The breed standard calls for horses with slightly long necks, broad backs, and strong legs. The average height of this breed ranges from 13.1 to 15.1 hands and only dark bay and black individuals with lighter hair around the eyes, muzzle, and underbelly are accepted. It is known for having a calm temperament and is easy to care for. Because it is sure footed, it can be used for pleasure riding in the mountainous region where it was developed, but it has also been used in dressage competitions and driving.
Image Caption: Association Nationale du Cheval Castillonnais. Credit: Lamecast/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)