Thriving in Poland meet a Hucul pony

2014-10-30 08:04
Hucul horses play in the wild meadows and forests near Odrzychowa in southeastern Poland. (Janek Skarzynski, AFP)

Hucul horses play in the wild meadows and forests near Odrzychowa in southeastern Poland. (Janek Skarzynski, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Odrzychowa - At the foot of the wild Carpathian mountains in Poland near the Ukraine border, both countries are working to protect the Hucul pony, a small native horse breed that was on the brink of extinction just 70 years ago.

"When we began reintroducing the Hucul here about 40 years ago, there were barely 100 mares in all of Poland", Wladyslaw Brejta, who runs the stud farm that spearheaded the EU-sponsored Polish-Ukrainian breeding programme, told AFP.

"Today, there are nearly 1,500 [in Poland], which represents 60% of the population of this breed in Europe", he said, adding that the remaining population is very sparsely distributed through Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Ukraine.

Native to the eastern Carpathian Mountains south of Kolomyya in Ukraine, the small, stocky breed was used to do everything from tilling fields to hauling logs and even carrying ammunition during both world wars.

After 1945, special breeding programmes like the one run by Brejta staved off extinction.

Polish farmer Stanislaw Dudek marvels at a herd of 40 ponies from the Odrzychowa stud farm, a village in Poland's southeastern Carpathian foothills, skirted by forests.

"They're happy here, they have everything they need: grass, water and space.

"They're fearless; bad weather doesn't bother them, nor do wolves. When in danger, they stick together to attack a wolf. All it can do is run away, if the poor thing manages", he told AFP

Marek Gibala, chairman of the Poland's Hucul supervisory commission, says the sturdy ponies are well equipped for the many challenges of mountain terrain.

"The Hucul has a strong, boney head, expressive eyes and a muscular neck.

"It has a strong frame and joints. It needs them to move around mountainous terrain, to clamber up and down steep slopes, sometimes very steep slopes", he says.

Ride'em cowboy

Adapted to tough living conditions, the hardy Hucul is also satisfied with little food and requires no special care.

Having been replaced by tractors on the farm, Huculs are now an attraction for tourists. They are even-tempered, easy to mount and happy to clamber through streams on long treks through the countryside.

"It can walk for several days, clocking dozens of kilometres a day, like on your typical trek through the Polish-Slovak mountains", says Gibala.

Riding instructor Magdalena Boron lauds the Hucul for its intelligence and coping skills.

"If it gets tired, it just stops, or slows down. Quite often my horse will just stop in the middle of a climb to catch its breath. It starts moving again once it does", she says.

The Hucul is versatile: good for both leisure and a range of equestrian sports, including horse-breaking, show jumping and trick riding.

Huculs are also used in Poland for riding therapy, which helps people with disabilities to develop physically and behaviourally.

But while it is thriving in Poland, instability in neighbouring Ukraine means it could take some time before the breed makes a comeback farther east.

"Given the current political and economic climate in Ukraine, you can only hope that their number won't go down", says Brejta.

"If the situation stabilises, we'll finally be able to think about returning them to their homeland. There's a lot of interest, especially at national parks. Unfortunately, you need money and that's what Ukraine lacks."

The head of the stud farm is responsible for a Polish-Ukrainian Hucul reintroduction programme that is backed by around $1.9m in EU funding.

"Today, the Hucul is no longer threatened with extinction in Poland", says Brejta.

"But the challenge of reintroducing it into its native land is a battle that's far from won."

Read more on:    poland  |  conservation  |  animals

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.