The Basque Mountain horse is a breed that is developed in the Basque Country in the western Pyrenees, in Navarra. That country spans the border between Spain and France, so the countries of origin are previously mentioned Spain and France. It is a semi-feral horse, also called Pottok, which means pony by the Basque language, because itís very small. This breed is native to the Basque Country and their population is very low, so the breed is considered to be nearly extinct.
The Basque is considered to be an ancient breed, living in the area for several thousand years. From a genetic point of view they are similar to the Asturcon, Losino, Landais horses and Galician ponies. There are many theories about its origin, but they arenít scientifically verified till today. In some opinions they descend from the Magdalenian horse and as proof are the cave paintings in the area. Others claim that they are an influx of horses during the Bronze Age.
In fact the breed itself has several genetic differences, so itís divided into 4 indigenous horse breeds, among them are Basque Mountain horse and Pottok. In 1970 there were approximately 5500 purebred Pottoks in the Basque country, but that number is significantly decreased through habitat loss, mechanization and crossbreeding. They have been crossed with Iberian and Arabian horses and Welsh ponies. These crossbreeds contributed todayís populations of the Basque breed being with no more than 150 purebred mares north of the Pyrenees.
The breedís overall appearance is a small horse with a large head and winter coat. The head is large and square with small, forward-facing ears and lively eyes, set on short neck with a thick mane to the withers. The chest is broad, back is long, and croup is short and sloping with a thick tale. Legs are slim, but strong and hooves are small, black and sturdy. The average height is between 11.1-14.2 hands and weighs between 300-350 kg. One of the most distinguish features of the breed is its winter fur that can reach up to 10 cm in length on young horse. The most common coat color of the breed is bay variations, but shades of black and brown can appear in Pottok herds, as well as pinto, but never gray. The period of maturity comes quickly, so fillies are fertile at age 2, usually mating at age 3 and giving birth at age 4.
These semi-feral horses live in small territorial herds with 10-30 mares. They are shy and able to predict the weather conditions. In winter they are broken up in smaller groups of 5-10 horses while in spring they reunite.
In the past they were ideal as smugglers for transporting goods or persons, because of their adaptation to mountain life and coloration. They were and still are popular as circus horses and as childrenís mounts. In the early 1900ís they were used as pit ponies for work in French and British mines. The influence of Arabian and Welsh pony blood made them good as riding and competition horses. They are shown at agriculture shows and town festivals.
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