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The Garrano Pony, and other Iberian ponies of mountainous north Portugal, were influenced by the Celtic pony (or horse) and the South Iberian horse, but as far as the Iberian horse goes it worked both ways with each giving to the other due to much cross-breeding.
The Garrano Pony, also called Minho, or Tres os Montes - is a Portuguese pony breed whose origins are unclear. It may be native, representing the southernmost local form of the primeval pony that once roamed over most of western and northern Europe. This pony was already portrayed in prehistoric cave paintings in Spain.
Then again, the Garrano Pony may be a feral population that was founded by animals brought into Iberia by the Celts between the 9th and the 5th century B.C.
The Garrano’s ancestors, prehistoric North Iberian ponies, will also have interbred to some extent with the South Iberian horse even back then, but because the two were adapted to different climates and environments, the integrity of the different forms was largely maintained.
The so-called trashumacin, summer drives of thousands of sheep from the south of Iberia across the Peninsula to the green north, did much for the interbreeding of the two forms, because those shepherds traveled like true nomads with everything they needed, including lots of horses, usually Andalusians of inferior quality. The shepherds of one particular Marquis alone traveled with 80 mares plus several stallions! These drives have been a tradition for many centuries, and it is easy to see how they have influenced the pony breeds of the north, like the Garrano.
The Garrano Pony and other ponies of the area and time, actually provided some characteristics to the classic Iberian horse, the Andalusian and the Lusitano. Some of these qualities include, the thick, heavy mane and tail; the rounded forms ; the barrel-like body and wide chest that was often desired in those classic breeds, but which are hard to keep in a horse whose main ancestor was a slender endurance-type runner of arid steppes.
Regarding the Garrano Pony, what also deserves attention is the fact that the Celts brought their little Arab-like (Caspian-like) horses into the country at an early age, and Arab-like features could therefore be preserved, and selected for, in the Iberian horse. What Arab traits may be found in a purebred Andalusian would have derived from the little Celtic pony, or horse. What Arab-like features are found in the Garrano and other North Iberian ponies they inherited from the Celtic horses.
Ponies typically have a head profile that shows an indentation on the bridge of the nose, without being a definite concave profile like the one the Arabian is known for. However, more concave profiles can sometimes be found among the Garrano and other Iberian ponies, and can be attributed to the Celtic inheritance
The word garron, used in Scotland for their Highland ponies, may have come from the same Celtic background as the name Garrano. Some scientists believe that all European ponies stem from one common ancestor and that they probably migrated down into France and Spain during the Ice Age to escape the advancing glaciers.
The Celtic pony is an issue in Iberia as well as in Great Britain, and we can only have educated guesses about what it means, or what the Celtic pony was like. It is possible that what became known as Celtic pony is simply what we know today as Caspian horse. However, it is undisputed that the Celts brought ponies or small horses with them, and it is highly probable that they were either of the kind we still have in the Caspian horse, or a blend of a horse like the Caspian and a pony. The Garrano pony as a breed embodies characteristics of both.
DNA SEEKS TO ESTABLISH ORIGINS
The whole of northern Iberia which provides a different environment than the hotter and dryer south is home to what could be called mountain ponies: the Garrano as the Portuguese variant, the Gallego from the Spanish province of Galicia, the Jaca, the Asturcon, and the Navarra.
Unfortunately, molecular genetics does not shed much light on the origin of these breeds, as no single genotype was found that can clearly be attributed to either the Nordic pony, or the Caspian horse. Genotypes associated with Nordic ponies are hardly ever found in North Iberian ponies.
However, the genotype shared by the Andalusian and the Barb are consistently found in the Garrano and his fellow North Iberian ponies.
It is, therefore, a puzzle how the North Iberian ponies, including the Garrano, developed. Because mitochondrial DNA, the only conclusive DNA to test in this context, is passed on only through the maternal line, one explanation attempt is that pony-type stallions could have had a great enough influence on mares of South Iberian origin and genotype, to change the phenotype toward that of a pony, while it would not manifest itself in the genotype.
By the way, The Minho or Garrano is sometimes confused with the Sorraia by misinformed authors, or even declared to be a relative of the Sorraia. Nothing could be further from the truth. The two are fundamentally different and evidently of different origins.
In the Americas
It is obvious that North Iberian ponies were introduced to the Americas, probably after the initial conquest, as easy means of travel due to their comfortable gaits, and as pack animals.
The Cavalo Gallego, the pony from Galicia, is the most obvious, as similar ponies were found in that Mexican region called Galicia, with its gaited ponies that were called Galicenos.
Whether the Garrano was shipped to the New World, too, remains speculation, but it is likely, as back then, no borders were obeyed between Spanish and Portuguese horse breeders, and the province of Galicia in Spain to this day has closer ties to Portugal than to Spain.
The Garrano is around 12 hands to 13 hands, and is usually of brown or bay color. The breed is not very uniform, and in conformation, it varies somewhat between a definite pony type and a more refined, orientalized type that is closer to the Caspian horse. The Garrano just like its Spanish counterparts is often gaited, that is, has a natural tendency for lateral gaits.
The Garrano Pony does shows usually typical pony conformation, with a cute head, small ears, long and muscular neck, compact body, muscular and sloping hindquarters, and low-set tail, and a broad chest. The leg joints are broad and strong with short cannons and well-shaped, tough hooves.
The Sure-footed, hardy, and sturdy for packing over any terrain, the Garrano is used today mostly for childrens mounts.
Ponies like the Garrano have influenced many breeds, including the New World derivatives of Iberian horses, particularly in the Paso breeds and the Galiceno.
The Garrano was classified in 1994 as an endangered breed by CEREOPA. A program to reconstitute the breed is in place, governed by the Servico Nacional Coudelico under the Portuguese Ministry of Agriculture.