Exmoor Ponies in Conservation Newsletter

Issue 2 Article 18

The Changing Role of the Skyrian Pony

Skyrian ponies, or Alogaki, are found on Skyros, the largest and most southerly island of the Sporades, located to the east of mainland Greece in the Aegean Sea. The Alogaki in the past have had an important relationship with the people of this island, ranging free in the mountainous "Vouno" in winter and voluntarily coming into the villages in the dry summer months to be used in agriculture as pack horses and most importantly for threshing. With the introduction of threshing machinery in the late 50is the population of Alogaki declined dramatically and the first census taken in 1993 showed a total population of 121 animals. Research has shown that these ponies resemble one of the primitive types of ponies and a new role needs to be found for them to ensure the preservation of this ancient breed.

The Skyrian pony stands 100 - 115 cm at the withers with colours mostly bay, chestnuts or born black and dappling to grey with age. They have small, hard feet which have to be black for them to be a Skyrian pony and rarely need attention, none of the ponies are shod. The foreheads are convex with wide-set, prominent eyes and in the bays is often combined with a mealy muzzle similar to that seen with Exmoor ponies. A study in 1993 suggested that in conformation, action and temperament they resembled small Exmoor ponies, a breed considered to be of a primitive type. Blood samples have been taken and eighteen of the twenty three samples taken showed an unusual protein factor also seen in the Exmoors. This along with the osteology and conformation of these animals has led people to believe that they represent another example of the mountain ponies, Speed-Ebhart Type I which migrated from Alaska along the Asiatic mountain chain and arrived in south eastern Europe during the early Holocene period.

These ponies appear to be of an ancient type and have had an important role in the past but a new role needs to be found. Their size and temperament make them ideal children's ponies and it is hoped that this avenue can be explored in an attempt to preserve the breed. A studbook for these ponies is being set up with details of breed standards, breeding and future management. It is hoped that the undesirable socks, stars which are an indication of outside genetic influence can be removed from the population as has been done with the Exmoors in order to preserve the pure breed. It is important also to establish breeding herds outside Skyros since given the small population and the size of the island they are susceptible to infectious diseases. With the help of Rare Breeds International and other organizations, such as the newly set up SILVA, a non-profit making organization with the main aim of conservation and promotion of rare breeds, it is hoped that the breeding of these rare ponies can be encouraged o ensure the future survival of the Alogaki.

by Alison Downing