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The Gotland

The Gotland or Skogsruss, meaning either 'Little horse of the woods' or Little goat,' is an ancient breed which still maintains many of its primitive characteristics. For centuries they were found mainly on the Island of Gotland in the Baltic sea, or in the forest of Lojsta on the Swedish mainland, although they are now bred all over Sweden.

By 1800 BC the Goths has established themselves on the Island of Gotland, and existing sculptures from 1000 BC shows them using Gotland-type ponies in harness. The Gotland pony of today developed from these ancient equines and is probably descended from the Tarpan. The Gotland, Hucul and Konik all bear distinct similarities and probably originated from the same ancient stock. The Gotland is extremely hardy, tough and surefooted, with very good stamina The ponies were used in harness, for pack purposes and farm work, although their main function today is as a child's pony.

In the mid-19th century the situation changed; the number of Gotland ponies dropped sharply. Many were sold to England, Germany, and Belgium where they were used for mining and other chores. On Gotland, formerly public lands were parceled out to individual farmers, which meant that more land was farmed and much of the forested area began to be cultivated. The expansive, contiguous forests were intersected by fences and cultivated land and could no longer function as foraging areas. In addition, the ponies caused great damage when they grazed and trampled down the sown fields, and they began to be seen as pests.

In the beginning of the 20th century only about 150 Gotland ponies were left but a few people with foresight had taken note of Sweden's most primitive horse. The Gotland Pony began to be exhibited at the summer fairs held by the Gotland Agricultural Society, and a few stud-farms were established to breed the horses. But the number of Gotland Ponies continued to fall. The meat rationing and food shortages of World War I led poachers to hunt the Gotland Pony. The forest ponies of Gotland were near extinction.

A few farmers, along with the Gotland Agricultural Society fenced in about 200 acres, where five Gotland Ponies that had been captured on the moor were let run, together with three other Gotland Ponies that were donated by a stud farm that had gone out of business. From this meager beginning, there is now a free-roaming Gotland Pony herd of about seventy to eighty head; about forty breeding mares, some fifteen fillies, and the rest foals. As a rule only mares born on the moor are permitted in the herd. A different stallion is used every third year to prevent inbreeding. In total, there are about 9,000 Gotland ponies in Sweden today.

Just as with other breeds of horses, there are standards for the appearance and characteristics of a Gotland Pony. The desire is to produce an easily-born, strong children's horse that can be used for trotting, dressage jumping, and driving ( The Gotland Pony is also the fastest trotter among ponies) . Good fertility is also considered important.

For a Gotland Pony to be pedigreed, the height measured at the withers must be between 45 - 51 inches (115 - 130 cm.), while the ideal height is about 49 inches (125 cm.). Its way of going should be energetic, elastic, and smooth. All colors are allowed except for total albinos, drabs, dorsal piebalds, and roans. In appearance, they have a typical pony head with small alert ears, lively eyes, and a straight profile. The neck is nearly always short and quite muscular and is set to reasonable withers for a pony breed. The back is long and straight with a sloping croup and weak, unstartling quarters. The shoulder has quite a good slope to it for a primitive pony type breed and this helps explain their prowess at trotting races, although they are unable to extend in gallop. The legs are strong and tough with good joints, but the hind legs often lack muscle development and can be poorly conformed. The feet are very tough and are a good shape.

They have an athletic jump, are extremely speedy and are popularly used in trotting races. Both these abilities are suprising since they are often poor in the hindquarters. They have good temperaments, being quiet and calm, though lively when required, but they can be obstinate. Significant influences on the Gotland were the stallion Olle, which was a Gotland/Syrian Arabian cross and is generally responsible for the popular yellow dun coloring. The other primary influence was from the oriental stallion, Khedivan, that introduced the grey coat coloring.

Gotlands are one of the newest breeds in North America, having been first imported only recently. They are used as in Sweden for pony racing, showing, and pleasure riding.

Written by Salina Covich. - 2004 (c)

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