A couple people have surprised me in the past month by asking me what my goal is with my breeding program, which possibly should not have surprised me so much but six years ago, I was of the understanding as many are, that gypsy horses were all this big wagon horse about 15 hands tall. At that time I thought it was reasonable to want to have my own personal favorite size pony of 12-13 hands. I even asked the importer of that time, Jeff Bartko, about the availability of the smaller gypsy horses. He said they were almost unavailable as far as getting them imported. So, I happily invested in my Truffles and Lex pair which I have not regretted. BUT the propoganda was rather misleading in my opinion, and I slowly learned and came to the realization that many of the horses imported to USA were smaller than promised, as well as there seem to be LOTS of pony size cobs in the UK/Ireland. I was told that the Rom breeders often put small feathered pony stallions to bigger coarse wagon mares to get the preferred “Sweet” look and the size range of 14 hands tall which is the average size gypsy horse you find; but the range of size in the foundation stock is huge, 12-16 hands. And some have focused on the smaller ones in more recent years so there are now some heavy feathered cobs in the 10 hand range.
So, once I realized that the 12-13 hand size in the USA would have limited appeal (I had people tell me to my face what an oddball I was in liking this size), and watching the market through these tough times, and getting older and appreciating the appeal of the miniature horse and its success in the American horse market (as well as a chance event in my life, obtaining a mini mare that was in foal to a 15 hand paint stud)….I decided I would re-focus my investment (this happened in 2009). I continued to research the ability of small mares, specifically true old fashioned Shetland mares, to be able to carry foals sired by large horses. There were several scientific studies done over the last 100 years to try to figure out this phenomenon….it was well noted thru the ages that little pony mares would get bred by and carry foals safely delivered from big stallions. Just Google shetland shire breeding study and there is quite a bit of debate about the whole idea but also I talked with several “old timers” pony breeders in the midwest USA and the concensus was that pony mares had no birthing problems to any greater degree than any other healthy horse. Here are a couple links to lead your way:
the above is an interesting discussion and has a surprising follow up near the end. The original study from 1938 is worth reading:
My personal feeling is that nature developed a very hardy pony in the Shetland and other varieties over in the British Isles. CENTURIES of survival made a creature that seemed to withstand certain environmental pressures handed to it. So, when I was looking for broodmares of a size about a yard tall, I looked for traits that seemed “old fashioned.” I wanted good bone, stout bodies and just the look of the old fashioned ponies. It is a fact that nature rather takes care of itself; it’s when man takes the hand in matters different from what has happened for centuries, as in breeding for certain BIG traits or for VERY SMALL traits…in any animal, that is when you have increased birthing issues. For instance, continually choosing for small pelvis, fine bone in miniature horses, there is increased birthing problems in mini horses under about 35″ tall. Conversely, big boned horses with big shoulders as in the huge drafts, increases birthing problems. American cattlemen had to pull back a few years ago from breeding to popular new sires in producing meat animals, the cows had many problems birthing bigger calves all the time. Similar story with show sheep, people kept breeding bigger massive shouldered show sheep and more problems started occurring. So, I am obviously well aware that there are risks with changing the horizon in horse breeding for this effort, but I looked at the risks realistically and tried to make the wisest decisions, while working to meet my goals of bringing the size down and inserting traits in the youngstock, to get to my goal of truly miniature size gypsy horses in an efficient manner. I think that now in my third year of producing a few mini/gypsy crosses from yard tall mares and 13 hand stallions has been a resounding success. I continue to look for people interested in going forward into the future with me– I would like to work together with some other cautious minded people who dream of a miniature gypsy horse.
Most people seem to still be faithful to the idea of a “purebred” gypsy horse and want to breed down the size staying true to the purebred herds of the Rom in Britain/Ireland. I simply don’t have the patience or belief that working on the goal that way will come to any more realistic conclusion than the way I am doing it. The falabella and shetland and welsh blood brings real qualities into the equation. Breeders need to make good choices and have a goal for cob type in any case, and that will be the hardest part of the equation as we go into the future. BTW I recently learned that other breeds of pony in the UK such as Fell pony had very small 10 hand size horses in it as recently as 50 years ago, so it is no wonder really that there are throwbacks as well that way. But we also want to move past 10 hands to a smaller horse, don’t we really? We still need to infuse smaller genes to do that. I put it down on paper mathematically, as to the average size obtainable (and this was before I realized such success in size reduction in the first generation crosses mini X 13 hand cob) where the numbers seemed to hang at 12 hands. But now I am much more excited with looking at my 36″ tall half gypsy fillies and a stallion under 13 hands who is proving to produce smaller babies than my previous 13 hand stallion. Plus, I have a new unrelated stallion on the horizon! I fully believe in the power of genetic diversity vs. inbreeding….breeding for TYPE is the most important thing, and maintaining the amazing temperament of these cobs. I have been blessed to be able to form an amazing foundation for the miniature gypsy horse and I invite you to join me in my endeavors.