Iranian miniature horse
Published on 13 August 2011 in Tourism
By: Caren Firouz (author), Leyla Firouz (photographer)
On the northern slopes of theAlborzMountainsinIran, the Caspian Miniature horse native to the southern littoral of theCaspian Seais among the most endangered species in the world. It has a place on the Critically Endangered List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature with less than 900 purebreds worldwide. Most of the Caspians were bred outside ofIranby breeders who started out with fewer than 50 horses imported fromIran. As their population outside Iran increases; inside Iran it decreases because breeders of Caspians are unable to sell at a price to cover costs and exports are banned.
Caspians are called ponies due to their size of 10-12.2 hands (101 to 124 cm) which fits the size category of a pony, but they are actually a miniature horse with a nicely conformed body similar to that of the Oriental horse. Without a scale to compare the size one would think it is a full size horse. These pony size horses are known to be bright, alert, and adaptable due to their intelligent, but gentle temperament. Their agile movement is naturally inherited from their mountainous origins making them excellent jumpers and sport horses.
The Caspian horses were first discovered by Louise Firouz, an American woman married to an Iranian, who was looking for horses for her children to ride. The first Caspian to be exported from Iran went to Virginia in the United States, but their population began to increase when Firouz started a breeding program at the family farm Norouzabad southwest of Tehran. She gave two of her Caspians to Britain’s Prince Phillip while he was on a trip to Iran because it was thought to be dangerous for a breed so rare to live in one place fearing that a fast spreading disease could render the breed extinct. During the 1970s Firouz got government permission to export about 35 ponies toBritainwith which the International Caspian Society was founded. Since then special permission was granted once to export seven more Caspian horses.
The Caspian horse is considered a national treasure by the Iranian Government so in order to preserve the breed their export has been banned. They are not popular with Iranian equestrian enthusiasts so there is a limited market locally. Breeders are in a difficult position producing horses without an outlet for sale and generation of income to cover costs and have slowly gone bankrupt or given up hope. In order for the Caspian horses to be considered pure they must be produced by two pure breds and be registered with the International Caspian Stud book which is based in Britain, but no registration is done in Iran on behalf of the International Stub Book, so Caspians born in Iran have not been registered.
Louise Firouz collected close to 160 horses out of the mountains of northern Iran to provide the foundation stock of the four herds which she managed during her lifetime. The original Caspians found in the mid sixties, were considered so valuable that in 1975 they were nationalized and managed by the Royal Horse Society at the Royal Stables in Farahabad. During the 1979 Islamic Revolution these Caspian horses perished.
In 1989 Firouz collected a new set of foundation stock from horses that had been used in the frontlines of the war with Iraq. These horses were in terrible condition and terrified from their war experience. Thirty some ponies were identified as potential pure Caspians, roped by soldiers, separated from the rest of the herd at the military stable in Varamin and prepared for transport to Kordan where Firouz started her Persicus stud farm. After six years of selective breeding in Kordan, Firouz once again had a quality herd of about 50 horses. However in 1995 the inability to export them and prohibitive costs compelled her to sell the herd to the Ministry of Jihad in the hope that they would export a limited number of horses to increase the gene pool of this precious breed outsideIran. The herd is still maintained by the Ministry of Jihad outsideTehranin Khojir, but none have ever been exported.
Two foreign Caspian enthusiasts with the help of Firouz built up herds of their own inside Iran in hopes of exporting second generation colts and fillies, but the export licenses were never granted and due to surmounting costs these herds were broken up and sold to stables around Iran. The German and Canadian enthusiasts thereafter lost all interest in the Caspian horse.
There are studies currently being carried out to determine the validity of claims that the Caspian is an ancestor of all modern hot-blooded breeds, including the Arabian, itself considered to be one of the oldest breeds. In order to ensure the survival of this dying breed it is essential that new blood reaches the existing breeding operations outside Iran through export thereby encouraging and giving a financial lifeline to Iranian breeders.
The print version of this article is available with the exclusive photos in the summer issue of Persia.
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It is amazing to think that politics can play such a decisive role in the future of the Iranian Miniature Horse. Unfortunately we live in a world where the progressive and preservative actions of our society are not shared by all. It seems that there are some breeding programmes operating and I have found this link http://www.caspianbreedsociety.co.uk/ which offers further information about a Wiltshire based stud.