Skyros Pony Breed Characteristics
More of a small horse than a true pony, the Skyros is a very rare Greek breed with many detractors and admirers. Not as pretty or flashy as other breeds, the Skyros is built to work.
Off the coast of Greece in the Aegean Sea lies the mountainous island of Skyros. This little island also has patches of lush forest and a thriving tourist industry.
This is the homeland of the very rare Skyros or Skyrian pony, which is actually a small horse and not a true pony. They share physical similarities to other diminutive horse breeds such as the Caspian and the Mytilene. Some think the horses pictured on the Parthenon were modeled after Skyros ponies, but this has not been proven.
It is unknown just how old this breed is and how many are left. There have not been any breeding records kept. For centuries, the ponies have been left to wander in feral bands on the island and were caught only when someone needed them for ringing or hauling. The breed is practically unknown outside of Greece, although in 2004 five ponies were shipped to Peebles, Scotland to try to establish a stud there.
This is a very small breed, averaging only 10 hands in height but can sometimes reach 11 hands. They tend to be narrow-bodied and sometimes knock-kneed or cow-hocked, but they have incredible strength for their size.
Although many horse breed books dismiss the Skyros as "unattractive", these are incredible survivors with vast intelligence and a willingness to get along with other species. "Simon amp; Schuster's Guide to Horses and Ponies of the World" (Simon amp; Schuster; 1988) even goes so far to describe them as "quite rebellious".
All solid colors are found in the Skyros although various shades of bay predominate. Often the bays show examples of mealy markings, which is a ring of tan around the eyes or muzzle. This coloring is also seen in the Exmoor pony. Other colors do occasionally crop up including palomino, dun, grey and chestnut.
Sometimes the dun will have primitive markings of zebra stripes on the legs and a dorsal or "eel" stripe. Sometimes a pinto-colored pony pops up and it is not known whether this is to crossbreeding or is a natural new color mutation in the breed. White markings are usually just a star on the forehead.
The Skyros has long legs in relation to the body, more in proportion to horse legs than to short pony legs. The whole body often looks too delicate to be able to haul firewood or pull a cart, but the Skyros often surprises people with its strength. It does not many of the lameness issues that plague larger horses. The hooves are almost always black and so hard that shoes are not necessary.
Current Conservation Efforts
Excellent mules and hinnies have been produced with Skyros ponies and small donkeys. These hydrids are sought after more by farmers than the ponies. This has lead to many Skyros ponies over the years devoting their fertile lives to producing infertile offspring. There has been concern that there will be health problems with the small pool of purebreds left.
The organization devoted to preserving the Skyros is an animal rescue called the Silva Project. Started in 1996 with four ponies, they have around three foals born each year. The Silva Project tries to raise funds through an organic kiwi orchard and by giving riding lessons. A therapeutic riding program using Skyros ponies began in 2003. They are still devoted to helping stray dogs in Corfu, rehabilitating injured wild birds as well as protecting the biodiversity of animals in Greece.