The Pottok is a breed of pony that is native to the Pyrenees in France and in Spain. It is an ancient breed that has adapted to the harsh mountain environment it inhabits. The Pottok is considered to be an endangered breed as of 1995, from habitat destruction, mechanization and crossbreeding. It is considered to be an iconic breed of the local people and efforts are being implemented to protect the Pottok’s future. Currently there are only around 150 purebred mares north of the Pyrenees.
Other names for the breed is the Basque Pony and Pottoka in the Basque language. Although there are many claimed origins of the Pottok, scientifically the breed has lived for several thousand years in the area. It is genetically similar to other breeds like the Asturcon, Losino, Galician, Landais and Monchino horses. However, genetic testing has shown that the Northern Pottok and Southern Pottok are considerably different, leading some to believe them to be separate breeds.
Some claim the Pottok to be a descendant of the Magdalenian horse depicted on cave paintings from 14,000 to 70,000 BC. Others state it derived from the Bronze age, but neither claim has been scientifically proven. The test indicate that the Pottok most likely to be descended from the Basque Mountain Horse.
The Pottok stands between 45 and 57 inches tall and weighs between 661 to 772 pounds. Its head is large and square with small ears. The neck is short, it has a long back with short slender legs and small sturdy hooves. In the winter, the coat of the Pottok can be 3.9 inches thick on young ponies and range in color from bay to shades of brown and black. Some Pottoks have appeared with pinto coloration beginning around the 1850s. The difference between the mountain herds and the valley herds is that the mountain herds are typically smaller, ranging in height from 45 inches to 52 inches.
The Pottok tend to be shy and live in small herds. A unique quality is they are able to predict severe weather conditions and the herd will move into the valleys in bad weather. In autumn the herd will disperse into smaller groups of five to ten and re-unite in the spring. Fillies will become fertile at two years and usually mate at three and give birth at four years old. There is an eleven month gestation period and the foal will be born in spring or early summer and are weaned in six to seven months.
Smugglers used the breed because of their coloration and adaptation to mountain life in the early years. From the 1500s on they were used as pit ponies and were popular in the circus. Today, they are easily domesticated and used by children as pets and to ride.
Image Caption: Pottok Pony. Credit: Lankide Gorritxiki/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)