Dulmen Pony Article and Photos Copyrighted - see credits below
The Dulmen pony has found its way into the studbooks of the German small sporthorse registries and has made a contribution. They, and their descendants, have made successful sport horses for kids and juveniles.
The Dulmen pony, or properly the Duelmener wild horse, is not a wild horse in the zoologist’s sense. Of the several wild horse herds in the German province of Westphalia, the Duelmener wild horses were the only ones to survive. Whether these horses were always feral, that is, domestic horses that reverted to a wild status, or whether their origin was that of a true indigenous wild horse is something impossible to determine today.
It is absolutely conceivable that the Duelmener wild horses, known by many as the Dulmen pony, as well as other wild horse populations in Westphalia go back to indigenous wild horses, most likely of the form still around today in England’s Exmoor pony, before they interbred with domestic horses, but it is also possible that they had their origin in feral horses.
The Dulmen pony, or Duelmener, made it into the 21th century because the area these horses lived in, the Meerfleder Bruch, was heath, moorland, and partly dangerous. In the 19th century the land was consolidated and the wild horses seemed to be doomed, but one of the landowners was the Duke von Croy, whose family felt obligated to the heritage of the former owners, the Counts of Meerfeld and Merode. Part of that heritage, the von Croys felt, was the protection of the wild horses, so the Dulmen pony herd was saved.
To this day, the Duelmener wild horse project is merely breaking even by selling off yearling colts every year and selling tickets for the event of gathering the herd and catching the yearling colts.
Besides fishing and hunting privileges, the Merfeld family had assured their rights on the wild horses as early as 1316, when the Merfelder wild horses - today know as Dulmen pony or Duelmener wild horses after the nearby town of Duelmen - were first documented.
The other wild horse areas -- the Emscherbruch, the Duisburg Forest, the Davert - were much larger than the Meerfelder Bruch and not as swampy. The Emscherbruch was home to so many wild horses that during the Napoleanian Wars, the Duke of Arenberg at one time mounted a whole regiment on Emscherbruch wild horses that were captured and tamed. The horses found in the other areas were also bigger and stouter than the little Dulmen pony, but the Duelmener was fortunate enough to enjoy protection and survive - or, did he?
The von Croy family certainly meant well. In their minds, they were preserving a German - possibly European - wild horse, even though they knew it was not pure anymore. When they took over the Dulmen pony herd, there were some duns and grullas and some sorrels, but also many browns and bays. They wanted to avoid inbreeding and at first experimented with stallions of different European breeds and semi-wild populations. At some point early in the 20th century, the decision was made to use strictly Polish Konik stallions, probably under the misconception that the Tarpan had been the only European wild horse, and because the Konik was viewed as the only direct Tarpan descendant. Molecular biological tests have shown, though, that the origin of the Dulmen pony is different from that of the Tarpan.
About five decades of continous use of Konik stallions has altered the herd significantly. At a first glance, one would take the Dulmen pony herd for a herd of Koniks, then, at a closer look, one can still detect a few horses of different color. In conformation and size, the horses have also become much like Polish Koniks, although there is a number of horses that are still a little more refined than the Konik.
So today, the Dulmen pony is usually a grulla horse, or pony, of about 13,2 to 14 hands, with many of the characteristics of the Polish Konik. The horses are mostly solid, white markings are few and usually small.
Mares are usually not made available, only stallions, and then only yearlings. Each last Saturday in May, the gathering of the herd, the capture of the colts , and the removal of all the yearling colts, is quite a a festivity, and attended by many spectators.
After the gather and removal of the yearling colts, a single stallion is introduced to the Dulmen pony herd (a new one when the daughters of the last stallion become sexually mature). This is one of several management policies that are inconsistent with the natural life of wild horses.
MANAGEMENT POLICIES INCONSISTENT WITH LIFE IN THE WILD
1) In the wild, a single stallion would never have a harem of over a hundred mares. Interactions with other stallions, other harems, are a part of wild horses social life, as are bachelor bands of stallions, and are absent in the Dulmen pony herd. The argument is that the area’s approx. 400+ acres do not allow such natural conditions; however, it would, at least to some extent, if less horses were living on the available land.
2) So many foals by only one stallion is unnatural, something that does not occur in any real wild herd. Just how much it is influencing the herd in its behavior if all the babies are half siblings, no one knows and many of the mares will also be half siblings.
3) The number of horses on the available acreage in the Duelmener management area is too high to sustain the horses year-round, so hay is offered in the wintertime, which in turn changes the horses behavior.
All this goes to show that ethological studies in the Dulmen pony herd which have been conducted in the past -- are of limited value.
Dulmen ponies appear to be just horses out in the pasture. Their habitat doesn’t look different than that of domestic horses in the region, even though it does include some forest. They show little or no flight instinct, especially in the wintertime. They are never touched, though.
Many horses on large ranches in the American West, for example, live under wilder and more natural conditions than the Dulmen pony wild horses, many Polish Koniks in Poland as well as nature preserves in the Netherlands, and many Exmoors live under wilder and more natural conditions than does the Duelmener wild horses. Still, the Dulmen pony wild horse area is a unique project, one that merits great respect and gratitude for the von Croy family.
Photos above from left to right. 1) Dulmen wild ponies of about 40 years ago which clearly show their relatedness to the English Exmoor pony. Possibly, this was the original kind of wild horse of that region. 2) Another yearling colt is grabbed and held down by local youths, soon to be haltered and led away, while the herd looks on.
These photos show the influence of the Polish Konik - recognizable in the number of grullas and duns.