Pony Breeds Endemic to France

France has a number of horse breeds endemic to its regions. Heavy horse breeds, light saddle horses and ponies are all represented.

Some are well known like the Percheron, Breton, Selle Francais and French trotter while others like the Trait du Nord, Boulonnais, Norman Cob and Poitevin have only local reputations. As regards the pony breeds of France, many people know of the white ponies of the Camargue which live in the swamps and tidal flats and are used to herd the black bulls used for bull-fighting but the Merens, Landais and Basque are much less well known.

The Pony of the Camargue is characteristically grey, although sometimes bays or browns are seen. It stands 13.1 to 14.2hh. It has a rather large head with pronounced jaws, a straight to convex profile, broad forehead, short, broad ears and large expressive eyes. The neck is quite short and broad at the base. The mane is full but shaggy. The back is straight, the croup sloping and the tail full and flowing. The chest is wide and the shoulder quite short and straight. Legs are sturdy with long forearms, clean joints, and feet with tough horn.

The breed is thought to descend from the prehistoric horse of Solutre and over the years has had infusions of Barb and Arab blood. In 19th centuries it was crossed with Arabs, English Thoroughbreds, Anglo-Arabs and Postier Bretons. Despite all these additions, it has remained remarkably true to type. The Camargue spends much of its time in knee-deep salt water, grazing on reeds and sparse grasses. The Camargue region is on the Rhone delta and is open and exposed. The area is hot in summer, cold in winter and the animals also contend with mosquito and midgie infestations.

The Camargue' primary use is as a mount for the gardiens (herdsmen) of the famous black bulls of the region. Over recent decades, it has found a new vocation as a trekking mount. The pony faced extinction towards the middle of the 20th century. It has had its own register since 1967.

Camargue HorseCredit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tagli_the_horse.jpg

The Merens (or Ariegious) pony is a mountain breed from the Eastern Pyrenees and the mountainous Spanish border. It is similar in appearance to the Dales pony. Its early ancestry was influenced by oriental blood. It was formerly used in south west France for hauling timber and minerals. It is now found mainly on farms and in pony trekking establishments in mountainous areas. The Stud Book was instituted in 1948. It is energetic and willing and can withstand harsh mountain winters. However it needs shelter from excessive heat in summer.

MerensCredit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nickel_de_Vives.jpg

It is hardy and strong, well suited to mountainous regions. It stands between 13 to 14.2hh. Like the Friesian it is always black. It has a distinguished, expressive head with a straight profile and small ears. The neck is quite short, broad at the base, and well carried. Mane, tail and forelock are long and luxurious. The back is long, strong and straight, the croup is well muscled and sloping. The legs are short but well-proportioned with good joints, clearly defined tendons, and sound feet with tough horn. It is often cow-hocked.

The Landais (which incorporates the Barthais) is used for riding and light draft work. There are now few purebreds left since the introduction of Arab and heavier breeds through the ages. The pony stands between 11hh and 13hh and is usually brown, bay, chestnut or black.

The French Saddle Pony was created for the same purpose as the English Riding Pony. French native pony mares were crossed with a variety of breed stallions, mainly Arab, Welsh and Connemara. Other breeds used include the New Forest, Selle Francais, Merens, Basque and Landais.

The French Saddle pony is a good jumper, quiet but energetic. It stands from 12.1 to 14.2hh and all colours are permitted. The head should be small with a straight profile. The neck is long and well-formed. It has a light to medium build with good conformation. The withers are prominent, the back straight with a sloping croup and well set-on tail. The chest is wide and deep, the shoulder long and sloping. It has strong legs with large, clean joints and well-proportioned feet with tough horn. It is a great pony for competition events, jumping and dressage. It also makes a eye-catching harness pony.

The Basque pony (called the Pottock in the Basque language) is a tough and hardy pony from the Basque region in south-western France. The pony is regarded as an essential element in the culture of the Basque people. It was once used as a mine pony and is now used for light farm work, trekking and riding. It is a willing, strong and fertile with a calm but energetic temperament. It is a great little jumper and mainly black or brown. During winter, it may be forced to live on spiny plants and develops a protective moustache much like the New Forest pony of old. It ranges from 12hh to 13hh.