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The Asturcon pony, or Asturian pony, has been known as a breed since Roman times and several hundred of these black ponies still roam semi-wild the mountains of Asturia.
The Asturcon pony is one of several North Iberian pony breeds. They all stem from an indigenous pony of the cooler and moister mountainous north of the Peninsula, plus what is usually referred to as Celtic pony, a small, very refined, oriental horse that the Celts brought with them when they invaded Iberia several hundred years B.C.
With the varying geniuses of the periods, breeders tried to improve the ponies in different ways, using South Iberian blood to increase their size, for instance, or draft horses to get them heavier and meatier. All this did not really improve the Asturcon pony, which had been known as a breed even since the Roman occupation.
It looked doubtful that the breed would survive, and as is so often the case, the threat was two-fold: extinction as a result of insignificance due to motorization, and loss of integrity due to crossbreeding. The breed looked doomed when in 1981, a small but dedicated breed association was formed which is working to ensure the breed’s continuity in cooperation with a foundation for European nature inheritance. Twenty one animals were selected that were considered pure specimens and with those as foundation stock, the effort of reestablishing the Asturcon pony as a breed was tackled. This pure-breeding program was successful and several hundred of these black ponies roam again semi-wild the mountains of Asturia.
The black color found in the pony breeds around the Pyrenees is a phenomenon that can only be explained by selective breeding. This goes to show that these pony populations are actually breeds, not feral horses, in spite of their semi-wild existence. Originally, the wild pony’s color is brown, as exemplified in the English Exmoor, and depicted in prehistoric cave paintings. Genetically, in fact, the color brown is expressed as a partial dilution of black as the base color.
The Asturcon pony and the other black ponies of the region, the Losino, the Pottoka, the Merens got their color when the gene which causes this dilution was not passed on (which would be a mutation). Once such an animal was born, breeders must have liked it, and selected for it in the offspring or produce of that black individual.
The typical color of the Asturcon is black, without white markings. The communities of Colunga, Pilona, Borines, and Cerceda reportedly have the purest of the Asturcon pony breed, which is around 12 hands to 13 hands in height.
They show typical pony characteristics, wide foreheads, small ears, dropping hips with low tail set, heavy mane and tail, compact form, and are hardy and surefooted. This pony grows a heavy winter coat and is very able to live in the mountains year-round without the help of Man.
The natural lateral gait the breed was once known for, it still possesses to a degree known as ambling, single-footing, pacing, running walk, etc. but it seems to be not quite as dominant as it once must have been.
Once a year, the ponies are rounded up and are sorted out, branded, and surplus animals made available for buyers. The breed has gained some popularity as mounts for children and youth riders, which might be its ticket for survival, after all.
WHENCE THE LATERAL GAIT
It has been said that the ambling gait was introduced in England and Ireland by imports of the Asturcon pony, this is most likely only half the truth, as other North Iberian ponies would have been part of those transactions as well, like the Galician pony or the Garrano of Portugal.
In any case, the French were fond of these ambling ponies as well, and called them haubini. The name haubini was later corrupted by the English into hobby, and the Irish hobby, bred the same, became well-known.
It should be mentioned that it is completely off the mark to assume, as some have done, that crossing the Garrano pony with the South Iberian Sorraia horse resulted in the Asturcon pony breed. These black ponies typically do not show any Sorraia characteristics.
It is equally misinformed to conclude then that some other blood must have helped to create the breed, saying that neither the Garrano, nor the Sorraia, would explain the lateral gate, as neither of these were gaited. This is absurd, as the Garrano is indeed gaited, and the Sorraia is sometimes gaited.
With the Garrano, the lateral gait is sure to have had the same origin as in its cousins, the other North Iberian ponies, including the Galician pony, and the Asturcon pony. In a Sorraia, a tendency for a lateral gait should be taken as an indication for outside blood, namely, North Iberian pony blood!