The Asturcуn or Asturian horse is an ancient and extremely
rare breed of small local pony that originated in the Asturias
region of Northern Spain and has inhabited this planet for
the past 3000 years. It is said to be the oldest horse species
alive and they were highly appreciated by the Roman invaders
who referred to them in their texts circa 80 A.D. Pliny (23-79
A.D.) described them as a small breed that did not trot, but
moved in an easy gait by alternately moving both legs on one
The Asturias region covers a little less than 100 square
kilometers with a population of around 4.000 people. The ponies
live in a feral or wild state, mostly high in the mountains
of the Sierra del Sueve, but the largest and most important
group is now concentrated in the western part of Asturia.
These ponies are hardy and frugal and able to survive in areas
where other horse and pony breeds would perish. In the Asturias
they are used for working the ground, riding, driving, and
trekking as well as pack horses.
The exact ancestry of the Asturian horse is unknown, but
many believe that it developed from crossing the original
Sorraia saddle horse of Iberia with the Garrano pony of Northern
Portugal and Spain which is also a direct descendant of the
ancient and now extinct Celtic Pony. However, the ambling
gait of the Asturian is not present in either the Sorraia
or Garrano, so some other horse must have been present in
the breed's lineage. Some strains of Celtic pony may have
been amblers since there is a small, but clear, trail of ambling
horses found in Turkey, China, Mongolia, and Siberia, that
can trace the route of the prehistoric Celtic pony to the
once available land-bridge at the Bering Straits. The now
extinct Spanish Jennet was an ambler and it is probable that
the Asturian was the source of the Jennet's gait, rather than
the other way around. The Spanish Jennet's gait has spread
far beyond Spain and has had a strong influence on many other
gaited breeds for which the Asturian receives no lineage credit.
The Asturian horse has been referred to by many names over
the centuries including being known as its close relative,
the Galician, which at one time the Asturian horse was combined
with, but presently the Galician is nearly extinct in its
pure form. The Asturian horses have also been referred to
as palfreys in England. In France, they were called haubini,
a word that later became hobbye and eventually as hobby horse
throughout Ireland, France and England because of the rocking
motion of the ride and was even taken to Ireland to produce
the now extinct Irish Hobby Horse that was developed prior
to the 13th century.
As a result of their comfortable and naturally occurring
ambling gait, the Asturian became popular as ladies' mounts.
They were popular with the French during the late Middle Ages,
but it was after the Spanish civil war, that they started
to go into decline. That was when crossbreeding to other horses
to obtain more height and weight to increase their market
value, both for meat and for work in agriculture started to
lead to the decline of the pure breed.
The Asturian breed itself has faced the danger of possible
and imminent extinction, but recently their plight came to
be known in the ecological consciousness of the 1980's and
now many societies have been formed protect the pony and ensure
its survival as a species. So far, they have managed to curb
the breed's dramatic fall. One of these is the Asturcуn
Pony Breeding Association (ACPRA) or Asociacion de criadores
de poneys de raza Asturcуn, which is a non-profit association
in Asturia for promoting, protecting and registering the breed.
Another is the Asturian Association of Friends of the Nature
(ANN) and they are also being bred at the Asturias Bed and
Breakfast among other places.
The Asturian is a small equine of horse body type but of
pony-size and stands between 11 to 12.2 hands high. The horse
has a rather heavy head and a straight profile with small
ears and large eyes. The neck is long and quite thin with
an abundant flowing mane and a forelock that often grows to
cover their eyes for protection from the elements. The withers
are moderately high; the straight back is strong with a deep
chest and a low tail-set. They have very hard hooves and the
breed is seen predominantly in either chestnut or black with
no white markings.
The last few of these famous Asturian horses can still be
seen in the county of Colunga in the Eastern part of Asturias
where they are admired greatly and where the annual Fiesta
del Asturcуn (Asturian horse festival) is held in Mid-August.
It is held in the Espineres Fol., deep in the Sierra del Sueve
where the wild Asturian horses are rounded up for culling
and branding and various traditional games are played. Some
specimens, especially the offspring of the previous year are,
marked for re-development and sale or breeding.
Once tamed, a noble temperament is seen. This calm, quiet
nature was influenced by their Sorraia ancestry and they are
an ideal pony for children. Their action is soft, simple and
the breed is a natural for jumping. Under harness, they demonstrate
an exceptional aptitude.
Author Resource:-> Crystal Eikanger is a writer for