Pottokas, the native horses of the Basque Country

The Pottokas have been in Euskal Herria since the Palaeolithic, forming part of the traditions and life of the inhabitants of the Basque Country, converted into draft and work animals. Currently there are only about 700 copies, although their survival is assured.

What does the word Pottoka mean?

The three provinces that make up the Basque Countrymainly Guipúzcoa and Vizcaya, draw an environmental setting with its own very defined characteristics and so special that in this territory us we find the presence of a prehistoric breed of native horses -Pottoka- that, as with asturcones, navarra jackfruitetc., can be considered as the first horses “made in Spain”.

in basque “pottoka” refers to the breeding of any animal and experts think that the first inhabitants of the Basque Country they called “pottokas” to the foals of the horses who shared the territory with them, a word that with the passage of time it became a proper name for animals that, thanks to their muscles and resistance, first They were used to perform all kinds of jobs rural, pulling carts and wagons in mining activities and lately are in charge of keep the meadows clean and can even be seen in equestrian activities and even horse riding.

Origin and history of the Pottoka horse

The mountains and valleys of the Basque Country were inhabited by the great-great-grandparents of the current Pottoka from the Paleolithicabout 40,000 years before the birth of Christ, an antiquity that comes tested by his presence in the drawings, bones and other remains that the “humans” of that time left in the Guipuzcoan caves of Ekain and Santimamiñe.

pottoka horses

Since then the Pottoka have formed part of the tradition and myths of Euskal Herria for their important role as draft and working animals.

Physical Characteristics of Pottokas Horses

As in other breeds of wild horses the Pottoka is an animal accustomed to living in small herds. Each of these groups has their own territory and is usually made up of a dominant and breeding male that mounts the females between spring and summer, some young males and between 10 and 15 females with their foals, among which there may also be a dominant specimen. It is curious but it is proven that in each group It is the oldest and most veteran mare that performs the functions of “guide”.

How big is a Pottoka?

Because of his small lift (approximately 1.24 meters) the Pottoka have more ponies than real horses. But what no one can take away from these rough and rustic-looking animals is that have learned to survive in a somewhat hostile environment and that in all this time they have developed some zootechnical characteristics specials which has turned them into unique specimens Worldwide. But this peculiarity has not saved them from being in Danger of extinction given the small number of copies that currently exists.

How much does a Pottoka weigh?

The average height at the withers is 130 cm in both sexes, having a average weight of males that varies between 200 and 250 kg and that of females between 170 and 200 kg.

Potokka Project, the wild horses of Lucy Rees

What inhabitants who are from forested areaswhere the vision of the other specimens of the group can be difficult in certain circumstances and where it is easy to suffer a threat or an ambush without hardly noticing it, in the wild the Pottokas have developed communication systems of their own for their survival that include different types of snoring, neighing and the usual movements of the tail, earsetc.

The Pottoka have a abundant black or very dark brown furunderstanding that other different layers are due to miscegenation with other races. In recent years the situation of this breed of horses has improved thanks to the support of the authorities of the Basque Country and the work of the breeders who have opted for the breeding of this native species, which by the way is maintained at a very low costachieving that in the genealogical book of this breed there are currently registered about 700 copies.

But if anyone has been excursion to the north of the province of Cáceresspecifically for the Piornal areathe highest town in Extremadura, you have probably wondered about the reason that the unmistakable Pottoka horses have been able to reach the slopes of the mountains that look at the Valle del Jerte.

They have come there hand in hand Welsh zoologist Lucy Reeswhich starting from a few specimens has managed to form the largest group of Pottokas outside Euskal Herria.

The province of Cáceres is home to endless natural treasures and it is in this natural environment that the Welsh woman decided years ago to undertake the Pottoka Project in order to study the behavior of wild horses. To carry it out, he released a total of thirteen Pottokas in Piornal, which have increased their population during these years and provided valuable knowledge over the wild herds of horses.

Few people imagine that in one of the most depopulated areas of Extremadura inhabits a group of feral horses with little contact with man. The person behind this project is Lucy Rees, a well-known name for all fans of the horse world.

The Pottoka -name it receives in the Basque Country- is a pony native to the Cantabrian Mountains and the Pyrenees and that depending on each territory it can receive different names. The first indications of their presence on the peninsula are the cave paintings that appeared in the caves of Santimamiñe (Vizcaya) and Ekain (Guipúzcoa).

Pottoka Horses with Lucy Rees

It is an animal of special interest that occupied the Iberian Peninsula during the Palaeolithic and has hardly suffered genetic or morphological changes since then, thanks in part to populating habitats that are difficult to access and to minimal human selection on the breed.

It is a small horse that does not usually exceed 1.25 meters in heightvery rustic and resistant, with a dense coat and a docile character, which has been used for centuries for field work, although in recent times it has been ridden both for leisure and even for jumping, which has allowed it to be saved from extinction.

Lucy Rees is, in fact, one of the most famous characters in the horse worldespecially for all of us who are interested in equine behavior and natural dressage.

This 77-year-old Welsh woman is considered one of the creators of this movement and has fought for years for change the idea that taming a horse is not about dominatingto understand it as taming.

He studied zoology at the University of London, where he specialized in equine neurophysiology, neuroanatomy and ethology. Later he did a postgraduate degree at the University of Sussex and later opened a somewhat special equestrian center in Snowdonia (Wales).

There he gained fame thanks to his knowledge about the behavior of horses and allowed him to work with problematic specimens.

Pottokas horses in Cáceres

This fame caused him to be asked for advice and help from numerous countries and thanks to his experience he has lived in Holland, Venezuela and even in Africa. Lucy Rees has starred in two films and has written novels, although her great success was “The Mind of the Horse”, the first book based on scientific data where he joined his experience with these animals with studies on equine ethology, Being a reference reading for those interested in the subject.

After traveling around the world fifteen years ago Lucy Rees decided to settle in Arroyomolinos de la Veraa town in Cáceres with barely 500 inhabitants and very close, in Piornal, acquired a 1,200-hectare farm where he released thirteen Pottokas.

Since then the animals have lived freely in various social groups, breeding until reaching a population of about thirty individuals.

The objective of the Pottoka Project is to study the behavior of horses in freedom. Lucy Rees has already taught courses in the Llanos of Venezuela, where groups of wild horses live in total freedom, and here her intention was and is to keep a group of wild horses in Europe.

Lucy explains that the wild horses that exist today come from groups that escaped and became feral. This means that any learning about its ethology can be applied to domestic horses, facing identify abnormal behavior and prevent or solve behavioral problems.

pottoka horses

This curious project gained fame a few years ago when a collection of signatures began on Change.org to ask the administration to consider the special situation of these specimens, allowing proper handling given their nature as feral animals.

One of the obligations established by law is that these specimens incorporate microchips, something that requires handling that they are not used to and that can alter their natural behavior.

Every year Lucy teaches dozens of courses, in many of which she uses these animals to show numerous concepts of equine ethology in a practical way. Horse lovers from all over the world travel to this remote Sierra de Cáceres to observe behaviors as curious as the selection of plants that help them heal wounds; the concept of temporary leadership that discards the permanent hierarchy in the herds or the enormous complicity that exists between the various groups and that allows them to react and move in sync.

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