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THE WILD HORSES: HISTORY
Wild ponies have run free on the Giara plateau from time immemorial.
They are the last surviving horses of a breed which used to populate the entire island. Due to its natural isolation, the Giara of Gesturi has been able to offer these ponies protection in a natural habitat with ideal conditions which have preserved their unique characteristics.
They are small (about 120 cm. at the shoulders), dark brown, very hardy, with almond-shaped eyes and a long mane.
Their presence in Sardinia probably dates from the pre-Roman period. They may have been imported from Numidia by the Carthaginians.
Since Medieval times these ponies were used for threshing. The female ponies were captured at the beginning of summer, worked all season in the fields of the Campidano and were then set free on the Giara. Therefore, although these ponies have an owner they run wild almost year round on the Giara
With the mechanization of agriculture in the second half of the XXth century the agricultural use of the horses declined and the horses began to be butchered for their meat.
The population of ponies on the Giara declined rapidly. To increase both their numbers and their size, stallions were released on the Giara. As a result, the original characteristics of the ponies suffered progressive deterioration. Horses with light coloured manes and white piebald horses began to become common. Concurrently a movement of experts and "fans" of the little ponies began to defend the ponies of the Giara of Gesturi.
In the 70s a campaign to protect the ponies with the traditional characteristics took full sail. The ponies with the traditional characteristics were separated from the other horses and the Giara once again became home to a unique breed of little ponies.
Is cuaddeddus (the ponies nowadays)
Every summer the horses are rounded-up and taken off the plateau where they are easily led into stone corrals.
Nowadays the round up is done to protect the ponies. At the end of August food for the ponies on the Giara is scarce and the newborn ponies have to be branded. Each pony is given 3 brands: a G which certifies that the ponies are from the Giara; their owners brand and a brand which identifies the municipality which they come from.
Since 1996 the XXV Comunità Montana has been buying the ponies from the families who live in the nearby villages and it now owns about 200 of the approximately 500 ponies that live on the Giara.
The branding (which is a centuries-old tradition) starts with a horse race which is called is insocadores. The jockeys are the riders who round up the ponies.
Later a committee of experts decides on which ponies are "pure blood Giara ponies" and those ponies which are deemed not to be pure enough are branded with an R and taken off the Giara.
In September the ponies are released to run wild again on the Giara. Herds can often be seen near is paulis.
photos, from the top:
- Horses (M. Vacca)
- Horses (P. Rinaldi)