The Father of Horses on Father’s Day! Poseidon and the Przewalski Horse.

On this Father’s Day 2012, I am celebrating with Hubby and the girls… Here is a photo of what he did.  Yikes!  Yup, first time – he took an 8-hour course – then jumped.  Scared himself silly but he was happy he’d crossed that off of his Bucket List.

We watched.  So, I didn’t have time to write.  Hopefully, many of you were not yet readers in June of 2010 so the below repost from Father’s Day 2010 will be like new!

The orange dot in the sky is Hubby who hurled himself out of a plane for Father's Day


Safe on the ground... with a huge grin.

FATHER’S DAY (originally posted June 20, 2010)


I was trying to think of a way to write about the Father of Horses and I confused myself.  Who is the Father of Horses?  Or What is the Origin of Horses? Hmmmmmm…

Somehow, I thought of Poseidon and I remembered something about horses.  So I looked it up.  (Actually, first I had to figure out how to spell Posiden, Poiseden, Poseiden….) Did you know that not only is he the God of Water, but Poseidon fell in love with Demeter and as the story goes, to put Poseidon off, Demeter asked him to make the most beautiful animal that the world had ever seen?  Me, neither.  So, to impress her, Poseidon created the first horse.  Wow.  That was impressive!

Now, since we all know that Greek Mythology is fact, that would make Poseidon the Father of all horses.  I kinda like that idea except I always relate Poseidon with water.  Don’t you?  So, unless we are speaking of Sea Horses here (or Sea Monkeys as they were called in the back of comic books), I think Poseidon might not be who I’d like to speak about today.

So, let’s try another road.  Let’s go for the oldest known breed of horse that still exists today.  That I can wrap my fingers around.  From my research, I have decided that would be the Przewalski Horse.

Effie from Australia with foal

I’m not saying this is the first horse or the oldest horse or the father of all horses, I’m just saying that it appears to be the most ancient horse living today.  So, in my book, that will suffice for the Fathers’ Day Tribute.

First of all, the name PRZEWALSKI HORSE is not indicative of anything other than the explorer who was sent to go find them.  That was his name.  It kinda bothers me that this Mongolian breed has a Polish name.  But, whatever, close enough I guess…

Anyway, this primitive horse was originally from Mongolia.  Unfortunately for the Przewalski horse, or the Takhi as the Mongols called it, he suffered all the regular evolutionary and man made issues (loss of habitat, over-grazing farm animals, hunting) which encroached upon the Przewalki’s homeland forcing it into near extinction.  Very, very near extinction.  So near, in fact, that in 1969, there were only around 40 of the breed left in reserves and none left in the wild.  Sad but true.

Here is the story…  Przewalski horses resided in Mongolia. About 140 years ago, the Russian Czar at the time, heard about these horses and wanted them for himself.  So, he ordered his Polish explorer, Przewalski, to go find some of these rare and unusual horses and bring them back.  Off they went, along with many other explorers who had the same idea.  Unfortunately, no one had a great plan for actually transporting these poor animals back to Russia.  Ooops.

At the time of this massive gathering to appease the Czar, the above mentioned competition was already dwindling the natural herds.  From documents at the time, the lack of good equine transportation plans, along with the notion that it was better to kill all the older animals to get at the babies… made quite a fatal dent in the already small numbers available.  And, on top of the carnage and poor planning, timewise, it took a full year to bring the horses back to the Czar.  Many of the horses that had survived so far didn’t survive the trip.  By WWI, it was thought that only a few hundred were left in preserves and a smattering in the wild.

Well, that sounds bad, right.  It gets worse.  After WWII, there were only 30 animals left in the preserves and hardly any in the wild.  The very last native Przewalski horse seen in the wild was in 1969.  That was it.  Gone.  Killed and eaten.

It was this sad time for the breed that erupted the Dutch based FOUNDATION FOR THE PRESERVATION OF THE PRZEWALSKI HORSE.  Enough was enough and they decided to step in and save the Przewalski from extinction.  They rounded up, safely,

Cilka with her birthday cake

the remaining herds and started a breeding program.  Presently, the herd has grown to approximately 1600 with all of them tracing back to 13 horses.  It is their hope to reintroduce the horse back to their native land successfully.  And, so far, so good.  I’ll tell you about that in a bit but first a few notes from the Foundation:

“Machteld van Dierendonck, a Foundation volunteer in Mongolia, says the project started 20 years ago. Animals were acquired in the 1970s, and selectively bred towards the truest characteristics of the Takhi. Large reserves were established so the animals could live with a minimum of human contact.

The Grand Dame, Cilka

“The goal was always reintroduction,” she says. “To prepare them, we decided upon a gradual program to give them a chance to adapt. The ones we moved are second generation. Their mothers lived all their lives in the nature reserves, and the babies were born there.”

OK, so back to how they are reintroducing the herds.

In 2000, 12 animals were airlifted from Holland and the Ukraine to Mongolia.  They survived the climate changes and foals were born.  A very good start.  The biggest issue now is that local tribesmen also run all of their horses in the same land given to the Reserve for the Przewalski horses.  The Foundation is a bit worried that there will be inbreeding —  and there goes all that painstaking care that went into preserving the genetic breed.  However, it has been said that the tribesmen are very excited that their heritage has returned and they really don’t want to mess with the gene pool.  The Takhi is a national Icon.

Only time will tell.

For me, being obsessed with genetics, the Przewalski is especially interesting because they have 66 chromosomes.  Horses have 64.  Mules 63.  Donkeys 62.  Zebras can have anywhere from 32-46 depending  upon the breed.  So, the Przewalski is absolutely its own breed and is the only surviving subspecies of horse that has never been domesticated.  There has never been man made intervention with breeding – other than putting the last remaining horses together.  So, yes the Przewalski Horse could be considered the last of the pure, truly wild, non-domesticated horses.

As an aside, I wanted to present to you what was the the oldest living Przewalski mare who recently passed. Her name was Cilka.  She died on August 12, 2006. Her passing was peaceful at the Prague zoo where she had lived her entire life.  Her keepers said, “This animal’s legacy was as a member of a group that survived from the Ice Ages, and her hairy appearance showed her links to the Pleistocene.”  Maybe not the most sentimental epitaph but a nice pat on the back.

Here she is playing with her last birthday cake.  To Cilka’s credit, of the world’s estimated 1600 Przewalski horses, only a dozen are over the age of 30.

From all the photos thus far, you have probably surmised the breed characteristics.  They have a smaller frame (13 hands, 660lbs), upright manes, donkey-like tails, dark brown legs and their body color is generally dun which ranges between creme, sorrel, brown or grey.  Their underbelly and muzzles are usually white.

Well, that is the quick journey through the Przewalski horse today on Fathers’ Day.  And, maybe the most obscure but directly related fun fact is that in October 2007, scientists at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoo successfully reversed a vasectomy on a Przewalski horse — the first operation of its kind on this species and possibly the first ever on any endangered species.  Scientists realized the animal in question was one of the most genetically valuable Przewalski horses in the North American breeding program and decided they had made an error in his initial operation.

I didn’t even know they did vasectomies on horses.  Howdoya like that!

HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth… if you like this, please pass it around!

HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth... if you like this, please pass it around!

5 comments have been posted...

  1. Seabiscute

    Hi, not sure you will see this if it goes on the old post, but — w/r/t Poseidon and horses, I recall something about his horses being the breaking waves — you can kind of see the resemblance to flowing manes in there. That has always made a connection for me between the god of the sea and horses.

    Also, sea monkeys were not sea horses — they were or are crustaceans, actually brine shrimp: — sea horses are much nicer!

  2. David

    One other comment about the Fiord horses…the fiords do not have upright manes. They are trimmed like that by their owners/handlers/breeders in order to show off the dorsal stripe and lighter color in the mane, which doesn’t show nearly as well when the mane is long.

  3. David

    Hello…just to let you know a little more about the Przewalski horse….as you have discovered in your investigations, the Przewalski horse has never been successfully trained. In fact, nowhere in any historical documents that anyone has been able to locate have we seen any photos of any P-horse being trained or a completely trained one.

    Nancy Nunke, of the Spots ‘N Stripes Ranch in Ramona, California, is currently training a young Przewalski mare, Yesakai. The yearling P-horse is currently haltering, leading, picking up her feet for trimming, leading through an in-hand trail course, loads on the horse trailer, and gives everyone affectionate kisses on the chin. She understands many verbal cues and acts on them, such as ‘over’, ‘go in’, ‘come to’, ‘walk’, ‘ on the bridge’, and many more. If you would like updates on what is happening with this little P-horse, let us know. We’ll soon have pictures and regular updates on the website.

    Nancy Nunke believes that any animal can be trained, just as they train one another in their social groups, but to train the animal, one must become like the animal by understanding both its vocal and behavioral languages, and learn to interact with and communicate with them as one of them. Nancy has proven this time and time again with many species of animals, both wild and domestic. One of her lifetime achievements has been to train all three species of zebra, training over a hundred zebras using zebra language. Nancy can teach them to lead, load and trailer, bath, groom, saddle, ride, drive, and do tricks, which they are so happy to do under her tutorage, as anyone can see when they see these animals with her and responding to her voice cues and behavioral cues.

    Little Yesakai has a great life at the Spots ‘N Stripes Ranch, and will be an ambassador to her specie in that people will be able to see her up close, touch her, and have the privilege of being up close and personal with the oldest, rarest, and truly wild horse specie on earth.

  4. dustybutt

    Wonderful story. Is it me, or is there quite a resemblence to the Fjord horse? I always have to scroll down and look at the pictures first thing, and I thought your story was going to be about how the Przewalki and the Fjord were related! The coloring is certainly similar, and the upright mane, though they may be a bit smaller in stature.
    Anyway, as always, I enjoyed your blog today! Thanks.

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