The Gotland Pony - Horse breeds, horse breeding and types of horse.   
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The stallion Direktor Dubbe, imported from Gotland, is an excellent example of the gentle but strong Gotland breed with superb gaits, movement and temperament
The Gotland Pony

In Sweden, on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea, lives a herd of semi-wild horses, the Gotland Pony or 'Russ', as they are called locally. The breed has lived in isolation and has kept its moderate size and attractive, relatively primitive look since the Stone-Age.

History of the Gotland pony

Findings from about 3,000 B.C. show that the early man kept Gotland horses in a semidomestic fashion, using them to perform various tasks as well as for food.

Photography by Haakan Hollstroem

In the beginning of the 19th century the Russ could be found throughout Gotland. When farmers claimed the formerly 'public' land and established property boundaries, many Russ were rounded up and exported to Belgium, England and Germany, where they readjusted to new lives, often as cart ponies or in coal-mines.

Because the Russ are easy-keepers, versatile and strong in relation to their size (11.2 to 13 hands), these handy little ponies were a popular export at the turn of the century -so popular, in fact, that they almost became extinct in Sweden at this time. Around 1880, 11,500 Russ roamed the moors of Gotland. By 1930, there were only 30 active broodmares.

Photography by Haakan Hollstroem

The Russ Today

Today, planned breeding and cooperation between breeders on Gotland and the mainland of Sweden have helped re-establish the breed. When inbreeding threatened the Gotland's very existence, new blood, carefully selected, helped revitalize the breed, including a Syrian stallion in 1886 and two Welsh stallions in the early 1950s.

Photography by Haakan Hollstroem
Local farmers, breeders and the Gotland Agricultural Society still own and maintain a herd of about 150 Russ on the moors of Lojsta in the southern part of Gotland, where the society keeps records. Even though the Russ live in relative freedom, they are overseen with a watchful eye: a caretaker visits the herd almost daily and, in winter, supplements their forage with feed every other day.
A few times each year the ponies are rounded up for hoof trims and checked for overall health and well-being. Each season is marked by an annual Gotland activity: there's releasing the stallion to the herd each June, judging in July, and weaning the foals from the mares in November.

Photography by Haakan Hollstroem
It is truly an unforgettable experience to walk in the forest and encounter a pair of wild Russ mares with their foals. If you sit still, the foals may come up to sniff you while the watchful but calm mothers keep an eye on you from a distance!
The mostly brown coloring of the Russ camouflage them well, but if you are patient and quiet, you will see the whole herd materialize from behind the pines and brush. It is a horse-lover's ultimate nature experience! horse
Photography by Haakan Hollstroem

Russ Characteristics

The Russ is strong, healthy and long-lived (many live into their thirties!), energetic, intelligent and friendly.

The Gotland Pony Gotlands make a perfect first mount, as Lisa on Minessa discovers.

Gotlands where the first mounts for the Swedish Crown Princess Victoria as well as Olympic Dressage competitor and medalist Ulla Haakanson.

In Sweden these versatile ponies reap great success in the show ring as well as in three-day eventing, show-jumping, dressage, driving, and harness racing. (No other horse of comparable size can out-trot a Russ!) A 12 year old Gotland mare, Snaeckan, holds the world record for harness racers category B (ponies up to 130 cm).

Photo right: Direktor Dubbe, owned by Gunilla Combs and ridden by Jessica Smith, is the first ever Gotland Stallion approved for breeding by the Swedish Russ Breeder's Association to stand in the United States.
The Gotland Pony The Russ is a great companion, for young and old alike. Because of its longevity, versatility and friendly disposition, a Gotland pony is sure to become a family favorite. They are curious, brave, people-oriented, even-tempered, and quick to learn

Gotland ponies, with their gentle temperament and small size, are ideal for children of all ages. Because of their longevity, the same Russ can teach as many as three generations! Gotland ponies are also easy-keepers who love the outdoors. They are strong, energetic, intelligent and friendly.

The Gotland breed has steadily gained popularity in North America, and a breed association, the Gotland Russ Association of North America (GRANA) was formed in 1997 in order to preserve, protect, and promote the Gotlands on this continent. Since 1999, GRANA has been affiliated with the Swedish Russ Breeder's Association (SvRAF) and now follows the same strict guidelines for breeding and inspections to maintain the high quality of the breed. GRANA also runs the North American Registry for Gotlands, and currently registers around 20 foals every year. The total number of Gotlands in North America is steadily growing and is now nearing 200. GRANA currently has 21 active members, and publishes a quarterly newsletter.

The Gotland Russ Association of North America This article and the accompanying illustrations are kindly provided by the Gotland Russ Association of North America.

To learn more about this unique breed please click here.
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