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The Karakachan pony of Bulgaria, one of the oldest breeds in Europe, remains close in type to its ancient ancestors. The pony is listed as critically endangered, but there is hope.
PAST TO PRESENT
The Karakachan pony is a local breed, and one of the oldest breeds in Europe. It developed in the country Bulgaria as a result of nomad breeding, the most primitive kind of livestock breeding. The Karakachan people are Balkan nomad people and breeders of livestock. Because of their extremely conservative breeding traditions, they have saved the most primitive and pure breed of sheep, a livestock guarding dog breed, and a mountain horse.
In contrast to other Asian nomad people, who use donkeys, Karakachans use only horses as a means of transportation. Of all the primitive horses in the entire region, it is the Karakachan pony that is considered the most consolidated breed.
The Karakachans used these horses for transportation of their complete household during their seasonal migrations between summer pastures and winter pastures. The pasture was the only source of feed for these horses. Horses not used, remained all year round high in the mountains, fending for themselves, even during cold winters, They also had to protect themselves against predators. Every Karakachan man once used to own 50-100 horses.
The government took livestock away from private owners in 1957-58, and there was no use for the breed on the state farms. The horses were killed and used for chicken and pig feed, and are still being sold for meat (mostly to Italy). Also, the state farms tried to “improve” the Karakachan pony by crossing these with Huculs, Kabardin horses and Haflingers. The government does not have policy to save the native horse breeds, and their valuable qualities are not officially recognized.
Some of the remaining ponies live semi-wild in the Rila and Rhodopes mountains. The Karakachan pony can also be found semi-wild in the Pirin and Stara Planina mountains and in the Kraishte region. There is hardly any selective breeding taking place, they reproduce uncontrolled under natural circumstances.
However, the Karakachan pony is still irreplaceable in mountains, where it is used as a logging horse, carrying wood down to the settlements without damaging the natural forest ecosystems. and they are being bred traditionally and is an integral part of the Bulgarian culture and customs.
The Karakachan pony is relatively small (about 12 hands or a little more). It is compact, with good muscling. It has a wide forehead, perfectly-set, strong legs, and exceptionally solid and tough hooves. They often work bare-footed and this breed is known to be exceptionally strong and tough.
They are very high in vitality and excel in adaptability to varying conditions. These ponies almost never get ill.
The Karakachan has a good disposition and has proved its worth as a riding and recreation mount, especially in mountainous regions where other breeds may even be dangerous to ride. It is very cheap to maintain, as it is able to feed off the land year-round and does not need be kept in a barn in the wintertime.
The Karakachan pony is listed in category IIi of the Red Data List of autochthon forms of domestic animals (part of the National Biodiversity Conservation Strategy of Bulgaria), meaning it is classified as a critically endangered, disappearing form. The numbers have decreased so much, that it will disappear in few years unless urgent measures are being taken
Why is this breed so valuable that it should be saved?
The Karakachan pony represents one of the oldest forms of domestic stock in Europe. These ponies are still close to their wild ancestors. They were selected in a way and under conditions that cannot be repeated.. As a result of Mother Nature’s selections, they have strong bodies with form-to-function conformation, vital energy and a tough constitution. They should be saved for research purposes and could render meaningful results in immunology, nutrition, reproduction, etc.
Their rich genetic potential could be of great importance in the future. They are adapted to the specific local conditions, and hold great economic potential in the low-productive mountainous areas of their homeland.
There is hope for the Karakachan pony in a project as part of one of three National Parks in Bulgaria, on the Pirin mountain range in south-western Bulgaria. It is a World Cultural and Natural Heritage Convention (UNESCO) site, with several strict nature reserves. The alpine pastures here provide very good conditions for livestock grazing in the summer time. A nucleus group has been obtained as part of a preservation project, and a studbook has been started. The horses will be bred and used in the traditional way. The herd will be allowed to roam free, except in cases when they are needed for work. Thus, the Karakachan pony may be saved after all. They are expected to become one of the main attractions for tourists, who can make trail rides through the mountains.