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Camargue Pony - Ponies & Breeds

Typical characteristis of the Camargue Pony.

Camargue Pony Article and Photos Copyrighted - see credits below

The Camargue pony is named for a swampy region in the delta of the French river Rhone, in southern France, with lagoons and saltwater marshes, and the "white horses" of the Camargue have been known for ages. It is debatable though for just how long the ponies of the Camargue have been a breed.

As in followers of many other breeds, breeders of Camargue ponies claim a resemblance with prehistoric horses, and consider their horses to be derivatives of prehistoric horses of that region. In the case of the Camargue pony, similarities have been alleged with Przewalski's horse, with the Tarpan, the Barb horse, and the Arabian horse -- vastly different conformation types. In reality, there were various influences from outside the Rhone delta on the Camargue breed, and while these horses have been selectively bred under the guidance of a registry for many generations now, one can still find horses of varying type.

There is no question that Camargue ponies share phenotypical traits with horses depicted in prehistoric French cave paintings. The Camargue pony certainly has retained primitive characteristics that are shown in those prehistoric cave paintings, but so do many other breeds. Cave paintings are usually not too precise in detail, so that any compact horse or pony that is kept outside and thus grows a winter coat, which normally includes long hair on the jaws and chin, will resemble to a degree what we see in many cave paintings.

The earliest report of wild horses in the Camargue date back to the Roman occupation. Infusions of outside blood took place many times, usually through the use of foreign stallions to increase the size of the horses. On the other hand, the unusual and extreme environment of the delta may have eliminated much of it. As France's ties with northern Africa have been close for a long time, there may have been Barb stallions in service in the Camargue at various times. Crossbreds with the Camargue pony were used mainly for military purposes. The breed threatened to become extinct in the 19th century, when passionate and stubborn private breeders pursued a breeding program designed to preserve the old-type Camargue, or what they perceived as pure Camargue ponies, defying the ruling of the National Stud administration in Paris. While the traditional Camargue breeders and the political administration did not see eye to eye for a long time, Camargue ponies are nowadays bred without any outside influence, with the focus on what is believed to have been the original type.

The Camargue pony is always gray, which is unique. They are born in various basic colors, often black, but the graying will set on quickly and all mature horses are white (grays). Just for how long they have been of this color is not known, nor is the reason.

The riders of the Camargue are European cowboys, like the Iberian vaqueros or vaqueiros and Campinos, and the Italian Maremma riders. They are called "guardians" in the Camargue, and they herd cattle - in Italy "regular" cattle, in Iberia and in the Camargue bullfighting cattle. There are still bull fights in the Rhone delta, and the small Camargue fighting cattle are known to be especially fierce, much quicker than the Iberian bullfighting cattle, and therefore more dangerous.

In many other ways does the tradition in the Rhone delta show its Iberian heritage, one of them being the tradition to break and school a young Camargue pony or any young horse with a cabezon -- in Spain called Serreta, in the Camargue cavesson, but their version is at least as severe. The evolution of this tradition found a new level in the New World, resulting in the rawhide-braided bosal (hackamore). The guardian also works with his equivalent of the Spanish garrocha, or the Portuguese pampilho: the trident, which has a metall point with three prongs. The guardian's saddle is quite different, though, and is obviously a direct derivative of the saddle the knights were using in battle in medieval times.

In the past, the Camargue pony used to run wild, like the black fighting cattle. At one time, a preserve was designated for a semi-wild herd, to allow scientific research, mostly ethological studies. Unfortunately, it has since been discontinued.

Camargue ponies are a "borderline case", some one would rather classify as horses, most show predominantly pony characteristics. The selective breeding of recent decades seems to have drifted more towards pony characteristics, therefore the Camargue is listed here under pony breeds. In the mid-twentiest century, many Camargues were close to the Sorraia horse in conformation, showed a subconvex profile, and were leaner and leggier. This might have been due to an influence of Iberian blood that may have taken place in the past, and the original Camargue pony may have been similar to the more compact and more pony-like horse found in Solutr .

Camargue ponies are around 14 hands, with a somewhat heavy head, medium-length neck, strong legs, good joints, and wide hooves, as one would expect in a horse adapted to swamps. The back is of medium length, mane and tail are heavy. They take to water like a duck,are very energetic, but also often strong-headed. Some Camargue ponies were trained to do high-school dressage, many are controlled only by a rather severe bit and a standing martingale (which is the guardian's standard equipment).

Camargue stallion with his herd. Two riders working cattle with Camargue ponies. Camargue ponies ridden in France
Photos: 1) Young Camargue stallion with the subconvex profile of the South Iberian
horse. 2) The guardians- French Cowboys - riding Camargue ponies.

Close up of Camargue Pony's head and face turned toward the viewer. Stallion ridden with traditional Camargue saddle. Profile of young Camargue Pony. Close up of Camargue stallion face, neck and chest.

The center photo shows a Camargue stallion ridden with the typical traditional Camargue saddle. This stallion also shows more horse characteristics, and if all Camargues were like him, the breed would certainly be listed on HSC as a horse breed. The photo to the right of this stallion shows a young Camargue pony before the graying has set in, showing characteristics of the Exmoor Pony. The photo at the top of the page also depicts a Camargue that clearly shows pony characteristics.

Article © Submitted by Hardy Oelke and Photos ©Oelke or Oelke Archive.

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