Camargue Pony Article and Photos Copyrighted - see credits below
Camargue ponies are a “borderline case”, some people would rather classify them as horses, but most show predominantly pony characteristics. Also, the selective breeding of recent decades seems to have drifted more towards pony characteristics, therefore the Camargue is listed here under pony breeds.
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 dates 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.
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.
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 in 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.
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 is heavy. They take to water like a duck,are very energetic, but also often strong-headed.
RIDERS AND EQUIPMENT USED
The riders of the Camargue are European cowboys, like the Iberian vaqueros or the Italian Maremma riders. They are called “guardians” in the Camargue, and they herd cattle - 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 the Serreta), and in the Camargue called cavesson. Both are severe.
The guardian also works with his equivalent of the Spanish garrocha, or the Portuguese pampilho: the “trident”, which has a metal 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.
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).
Photos: 1) Young Camargue stallion with the subconvex profile of the South Iberian horse. 2) The guardians- French Cowboys - riding Camargue ponies.
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.