The Skyrian horse is one of Europe’s oldest breeds, existing almost exclusively on the Greek Island of Skyros for 2,000 years. Up until World War II, they numbered in the thousands. Locals used them for agricultural purposes due to their incredible strength, but loss of habitat and interbreeding have decimated their numbers and continue to threaten the existing population. Here are six fun facts you may not know about this ancient endangered breed.
1. They stand just 3.2 to 3.6 feet tall.
From a distance, the Skyrian horse could easily be mistaken for a larger horse. They share many of the same proportions of traditionally larger horses, but are sometimes called Skyrian ponies due to their small stature. They stand a mere 3.2 to 3.6 feet – or 100 to 110 cm – tall. Scientists believe that their tiny stature is an adaptation to the conditions of the secluded Greek island of Skyros.
2. They tend to be solid colors.
You are not likely to find any white stars or socks on a true Skyrian horse. They tend to be solid block colors like bay, dun, black or dark brown. They also have thicker manes and tails than your average horse.
3. They may once have carried Achilles to Troy.
While there is no concrete proof that the Skyrian horse was present for the Trojan War, they do bear a striking resemblance to the tiny horses that appear on the frieze of the Parthenon temple in Athens. In The Iliad, Achilles spends many years on the island of Skyros, so it is not completely far-fetched to wonder if they are the “small but mighty” horses that drove his chariot to Troy.
4. Only 200 – 300 true Skyrian horses remain.
As the use of horses in agriculture decreased around the time of the second World War, the Skyrian population began to decline. Overgrazing of livestock on the island, as well as interbreeding with donkeys has also contributed to the decimation of the breed. Only about 200 horses are left.
5. Efforts Are In Effect To Preserve The Breed.
The Skyros Island Horse Trust was established in 2005 in an effort to preserve what remains of the breed. They currently care for 41 horses and focus on isolating the animals’ genetic information to prevent inbreeding. They are working to reconstruct the pedigree as well as educate the local communities on the importance of conserving this remarkable breed.
6. Successfully Bred Horses Are Trained & Dispersed.
The horses are trained for multiple purposes in order to establish them as valuable in modern Grecian society where there is not a long history of equine activities. The 41 animals in their care are currently being trained for riding, driving, agility and even use in horse-therapy programs. Skyrians are known to be kind, playful, intelligent and quick to learn.
The Skyros Island Horse Trust plans to promote them throughout the world, raising interest and conservation efforts. There are several ways that you can get involved with the project. Visit their website to find out how you can help.
H/T to National Geographic
Featured Image via Facebook/NEMIRE Skyros