Polish Konik Article and Photos Copyrighted - see credits below
Polish Konik horses in the photo to the left are shown in a preserve in the Netherlands surviving on the bark of young trees in the wintertime.
Although the Polish Konik is not a true wild horse, they go directly back to the wild horse of eastern Europe, the Tarpan.
The Polish Konik ancestors were the last wild ones caught in the primeval forest of Bialowieza in Poland in the late 19th Century. From there, they were hauled to a game preserve Zwierzyniec near Bilgoraj in Southeast Poland. When that preserve was dissolved, the horses were given to the farmers in the area.
It was a poor and isolated land, the horses were kept without much care, still had to live a frugal life and thus largely kept their primitive qualities. There must have some “contamination” with outside blood, but the Polish Konik horses seem to have retained many of their Tarpan characteristics.
EARLY 20TH CENTURY ONWARD
When it was too late, scientists became interested in the Tarpan. Professor Vetulani of the Jagiellonian University in Krakau obtained around twenty head of these Tarpan descendents, most of them near Bilgoraj, to study them under wild, or nearly wild, conditions.
In 1949, 12 broodmares with their produce and one stallion, all Bialowieza/Vetulani descendants, were brought to Popielno in Poland. Also, 15 more of the Vetulani experiment had survived the war in the primeval forest of Bialowieza.
Popielno is an estate that is home to the Polish Academy of Sciences since 1955, and here the project of preserving the Polish Konik as a direct Tarpan descendent was carried on. The horses live there under wild conditions, in an area of approx. 4,000 acres. From there, Koniks have been shipped to other regions in Poland and even to other countries in recent years, where they also live wild or semi-wild.
There are also breeding projects in Poland and elsewhere, where Koniks are bred like any other domestic breed. The status of those that live wild is actually that of feral horses, but compared to North American mustangs, their status differs insofar as that their ancestry is of real wild horses, and that they are of mostly uniform phenotype.
Assessing today’s Polish Konik, one must take into account that there has been some outside blood, but also, that they trace back to only one local variant, which may or may not have differed from Tarpans of other regions. It is rather likely that Tarpans in South Russia were of somewhat different phenotype. Also, the horses Vetulani selected and which became the foundation stock of today’s Koniks represent one man’s opinion of what a Tarpan may have looked like.
The Polish Konik is about 13,3 to 13,3 hh, sometimes taller. They are always of grulla color (sometimes called mouse-dun).
Thanks to the efforts of the Polish Academy of Sciences, the existence of the Konik looks secured. More than any other primitive horse, the Polish Konik has been used in re-naturalization projects in several European countries, so large herds are leading the life of wild horses