The Skyros is a breed of pony found only on the island of Skyros and thought to be a descendent of horses brought to the island by Athenian settlers between 400 and 700 BC. Possibly, the pony was used by Alexander the Great and portrayed in the friezes of the Greek Parthenon.
They mainly inhabit the southern mountain areas and some were caught by farmers for agricultural work. However, in the 1960s the population had dwindled and were no longer used for farm work. Wild donkeys also played a role of the breed’s low numbers by the Skyros crossbreeding with them and pure bred ponies became scarce.
A breeding program was implemented in 1970; though short-lived, the breed became a focus of protection and was declared critically endangered in 1991. It is considered one of the rarest pony breeds in the world.
The herds remain in the mountain ranges until rounded up for the harvest of threshing grain. They are also used as pack horses, harness racing and riding.
The Skyros stands between 36 and 44 inches tall and can be bay, dun, brown or gray in color. The mane is long and thick, usually darker than the body color. The legs are thin but strong with small hooves that are black, compact, strong and do not require shoeing. The disposition of the Skyros is friendly, robust and intelligent.
There are several organizations currently operating to protect, breed and preserve the Skyros Pony. Another organization is promoting to export herds to other regions of Greece and the world.
Image Caption: Skyros Pony. Credit: Andrew Frey-Lempicki/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)