Use and characteristics of the Gotland Pony
Standing 11.2 hands (46 inches/117 cm) to 13 hands (52 inches/132 cm) high, Gotland ponies are elegant and attractive. Their coat colours include palomino and dun, often with a dorsal stripe, although the majority of Gotlands are black or bay. As well as having a fast trot, the ponies are good jumpers, another of the reasons people buy a Gotland Pony for their children. The Swedish Pony Association was set up in the 1950s to ensure the survival of the Gotland ponies and encourage their use. The breed has gained support elsewhere in the world, and today it is possible to find a small number of breed enthusiasts outside Sweden who will sell a Gotland Pony. The ponies are also known as Gotland russ, from an ancient Scandinavian word predating the modern word “horse”.
Origin and history of breeding Gotland Ponies
The Gotland Pony is often categorised with other apparently “primitive” European breeds such as the Polish Konik, Carpathian Huçul, German Dülmen and Spanish Sorraia and Garrano. The dorsal stripe is common to many of these ponies and is often believed to show they are relatively unchanged survivors from ancient stock. Some experts believe the Gotland ponies have lived on the island since the last Ice Age and are relatives of the now-extinct Tarpan. Others connect them to the Gothic tribes who occupied the island of Gotland and were influential across Europe from Sweden to Spain. What is known is that the Gotland ponies lived freely on the island until the early nineteenth century. There were also little horses on the nearby island of Öland, but these are now extinct. The number of Gotland ponies was also greatly reduced by an increase in agriculture and commercial activities such as logging. Many were also shipped overseas to work in coal mines. The creation of a breed society, the Svenska Russavelsföreningen, ensured the breed’s survival. The original studbook was set up in 1880 and 650 acres (2.6 km2) of land was allocated to keep a semi-feral herd on Lojsta Moor, a partly forested, part moorland area. This is the ponies’ natural habitat, reflecting another of their names, Skogsruss, meaning a sure-footed forest horse. There have been other, very limited influences on the breed in the past, including Arabians and two imported Welsh stallions, but since 1971 the Gotland pony has had a closed studbook.
Gotland Ponies in equestrianism
These delightful ponies are found throughout Sweden in riding schools and private homes. They are also popular throughout the rest of Scandinavia and there is increasing interest in North America. Although mainly ridden by children today, historically they were ridden by both adults and children. They are also popular for harness racing. Gotlands are friendly and enjoy most equestrian activities.