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An ancient horse breed on Skyros in search of a new occupation

21 May 2014 / 16:05:08  GRReporter
3157 reads

Anastasia Balezdrova

Skyros does not belong to any of the island groups in the Aegean Sea. It lies below the Sporades and above the Cyclades, and very close to Evia Island. In fact, it looks like a part that has been cut off from it.

Upon approaching Linaria port in the western part of the island, visitors to Skyros see a totally different landscape. It is covered with thick forest to the north and almost devoid of vegetation on Mount Kohilas to the south. Strong winds but thousands of goats too do not allow the trees to grow tall and bear leaves, which is why most of the plants are like bonsais created by nature.

Over there, on Aris plateau you can see groups of small horses. They are Skyrian horses that have recently become very popular. They have the proportions of large horses, but in miniature. Their height reaches 116 cm.

All have owners who today use them for some agricultural activities, from spring to autumn. Then they set the horses free and they live in the wild until the following spring.

According to researchers, Skyrian horses are one of the oldest species that have survived to this day. Some even believe that they are the link between the ancient ancestors and modern horses. Skyrian horses are particularly resilient and adapted to their environment, and they do not even need shoeing, although they live in rocky areas.

"They should never be confused with ponies that are created by people through mating gnomes. Skyrian horses are a product of natural selection, therefore we make an effort to preserve the breed," Nikos Kritikos, president of Skyrian Horse Society ( told GRReporter.

Zoo technician by profession, in 2000 he returned to the island where his family originated. "I wanted to see all the horses, as this was the topic of my diploma paper. It turned out that only 86 horses had remained on the whole island, only 40 of which were full-blooded. This meant that the number of the population was critical and we had to take action to preserve the breed." With the support of the Ministry of Agricultural Development and funds from the European Union, the whole island was engaged in the rescue of the horses. As a result of these efforts, today 200 horses live in Skyros, and another 100 elsewhere in Greece and abroad.

The main objective of the association is to create a studbook of the breed and to register all pure-blooded specimens. "We use electronic chips for this purpose and carry out DNA testing to check that the father is pure-blooded," said Kritikos.

Furthermore, the association members provide treatment for the sick horses which are then released into the wild again. Those who could not survive on their own remain in one of the farms on the island. In winter when the weather is too bad, they leave food for the horses at different places in the forest.

In the past, the beautiful equines were widely used for various agricultural activities, especially for threshing. However, the introduction of machines in agriculture practically left these assistants without work. "This is the reason for the reduction in their number. It is good to breed the horses in farms but they need to begin participating again in some production process," said the zoo technician. In his words, an appropriate solution would be organizing horse riding for therapeutic purposes on the island. "The horses are very friendly and very easy to train. They are low and small, which makes them ideal for therapeutic riding by children with mobility problems," he added.

To those who love horses the association offers an adoption programme. "Everyone can choose a horse by sex, age and colour. The adoption consists in covering the annual costs for food and medical treatment of the horse. The fees are divided into the following three categories: 475 euro, 250 euro and 175 euro per year. The adopters have the opportunity to visit the horse whenever they want and we send to them, on a regular basis, pictures and information about the horse." In addition, every adopter receives an official document certifying that he or she is the guardian of the horse in the particular year.

Skyrian horses have enjoyed a particular international interest in recent years. This year, from 20 June to 22 June, the first festival of the breed will take place on the island, which will allow visitors to explore both the horses and the beautiful Aegean island.

Tags: Travel notesSkyrosHorsesAncient breedHippotherapyCompanies
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