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HORSE (Equus cavallus) - Part I

Terrestrial horse, not sea horse

An article by Andreas Iliopoulos

My interest about Horses begins from my very early youth. I’m originated (both of my parents) from the highlands of Northwestern Pelopenese, near the martyr town of Kalavryta. When I was only six months old, my parents took me in the ancestry land for the first time in my life. Since then I had three months of vacation every summer up there, till my early adolescent, when I began to desire going for vacation with my friends round the islands, living a bit wild with music, fire camps on the beach etc, etc.

My interests then, in the quite primitive village were minimal, as not many other kids were available for company and the local kids were busy with agricultural jobs from their early stages, as the economy of the village was, and still is, based upon the land and domestic animals. So I had many time to be near animals (domestic and wild ones) and nature itself.

I had the opportunity to watch hedgehogs, badgers, foxes, several birds and reptiles and all of the domestic animals as well. I had also the opportunity to walk around the highland fir forests, fields with the cereals and the cherry trees.

But the animals that took me from the first site were the hippo-like animals as donkeys, mules and last but not least Horses.

Whenever I was able to escape my parents care, I was going to see and touch the huge and gentle animals. I was going as near as my fear for the big animals allowed me to. Year by year and as I was growing the fear was becoming less and less and the contacts with horses became closer and closer. My grandfather was letting me to ride a very tame donkey and accompany him on the road to the fields for his routines. So I learnt to feed, water and understand the behavior of the animal. This relationship was kicking my fear away and away, so approaching horses became a game for me.

I learnt to imitate their voice very accurately and these ability honored me with a very hard punishment when one of my grandfather’s stallions cut loose because of this voice imitation and mate with the neighbor’s mare. The neighbor did not desire the mating, he complained to my grandfather and I stayed grounded for a while. Another draw back was that I started ridding the horses for many hours per day. The continental summer makes horses sweat and horses’ perspiration was passing from the animals’ bodies to my skin too. As I was a little boy and it was summer the trousers I used to wear were short ones, so my legs at the end of the day smell the same as horses’ odor. It was inevitable to be pinched by horse flies. This was another reason for punishments too.

Anyway every body walked the plank, by time, as they weren’t able to rationalize me. Of course my mother was terrified to death every time she was watching me riding hard on a horse. I was ineffably happy, as - after a lot of punishments, I earned the right to be near these animals as long as I desired too, riding long - and sometimes lonely - hikes on the mountains. Of course this is not important at all, as it is a very personal story.

This part of the story ends about 20 years ago, but good God wanted things happen another way.

Living in Syros island, for the couple last years, I found out that there is a fine young couple that keeps horses. So the old “disease” came out again.

The important thing is that this couple - Petros Manolakis and Helen Iatropoulou - keeps a very specific breed of endemic horses.

I knew nothing about it, but they told me a lot of things, so I got much more impressed.

There are seven endemic breeds of horses within the Hellenic territory:

The medium sized Cretan horse , the two breeds of horses of Heleia county (the horse of the highlands of Heleia county known as the Pineian horses. It is also medium sized animal; and the horse of the lowlands of Eleia county, known as the Andravidan horse (located in Northwestern Peloponese), which is a taller animal, the dwarf ponies of Skyros island (endemic in the specific island only), the Thessalian horse (such a horse was Voukephalas, the horse of Alexander the Grate. It is said that this very horse took the grate man and victorious army commander up to India, during his military and cultural conquests from 335 AC to 323 AC), the Macedonian horse (or horse of Pindos mountains) and the Thracian horse, known as the horse of Rodope (see plate).  

Hellenic Breeds                       Height (withers)♀♀       Height (withers)♀♀

Cretan                                         1,38 - 1,42                         1,32 - 1,36

Highlands of Eleia county     1,30 - 1,58                         1,25 - 1,42

Lowlands of Eleia county     1,55 - 1,65                         1,40 - 1,60

Pony of Skyros island            1,02 - 1,22                         1,00 - 1,19

Thessalian horse                     1,37 - 1,47                         1,32 - 1,38

Horse of Pindos mountains 1,25 - 1,35                         1,10 - 1,35

Horse of Rodope (Thrace)    1,25 - 1,45                         1,25 - 1,35 

Unfortunately most of these breeds of endemic horses are one step before their extinction, due to breeding them with other foreign breeds, for producing new and more developed (questionable) breeds for races and/or other profitable purposes.

Only the ponies of Skyros are highly abundant - we may say - because they comprise a touristic attraction.

At last, the horse of the highlands of Heleia, is the horse that our ancestors were keeping and they were using as models for the sculptured horses on Parthenon and other sculptures on the ancient Greek monuments. These motionless evidences are featured either in our, or in other countries’ museums.

Pineia is a territory of northwestern Peloponese and it is called so because of the river Pineius that crosses the county of Heleia.

Unfortunately the desire for specific breeds of horses, drove ignorant people to breed these pure blooded animals with foreign ones. They wanted to produce horses for equestrian, dressage, tall and fast and money - makers. Only a few are kept pure as their ancestors and between the seven or eight stallions that they do exist in Greece, one - three years old specimen - is kept by Petros Manolakis and Helen Iatropoulou.

And although Sirocco - that’s the name of the stallion - is quite young, he is “productive”, since his nineteenth month of life. His off spring decorates the paddocks of the young couple’s property.

Sirocco

But let me at first to introduce you these two horse enthusiasts.

Petros Manolakis is a karate master of the Samurai karate school, in the island of Syros. This school has gained many ranks on national and international meetings. Petros is 47 years old and he was born in the island of Syros.

He studied as an electrician engineer and he was working as one since 1993.

He started his involvement with karate on 1986 and now he is a black belt master of three Dan.

His grand father was keeping mares for his agricultural occupations, so Petros was familiar with horses since his very early childhood. Unfortunately for Petros, his grand father passed away very early so his dream for being the happy and lucky owner of a black stallion was abandoned then.

Helen Iatropoulou is a pharmacist. She is 40 years old and she was also born in the island of Syros.

Although she had her first “full contact” with horses on 1996 she was fond of horses since she was a child.

She runs a drugstore in Hermoupolis - Syros since 1986.

On 1998 she stopped karate (master of a black belt herself as well) as she acquired her own horses and she started to be devoted to her animals.

Helen and Petros met each other on 1983 and they got married on 1988.

So the horse loving “madness” forced them to buy, on July ’98, a very good quality 19 months old colt and named him Xanthos. The father of the animal is an Andravidan stallion and the mother is a Hannoverian mare.

Xanthos

But as it is familiar with animal keepers, the first animal brings the second soon, so they got a 40 days old filly. The parents of this animal was a German jumper stallion and a Peneian mare. With the foal, due to several circumstances they bought and the mare as well, attempting to keep the foal and sell the mare.

The mare, fortunately, was pregnant and they knew that the foetus was a pure Peneian specimen. So, they kept the young filly, that it was named Aura (Avra), her mother, the mare (which was and still is a rather beautiful and very well tempered animal) and they were waiting, with a great deal of concernment, the off spring.

Aura

During this time the couple used to gather any available information about this endemic breed of horses and they were quite astonished, so they decided not only to keep the mare, but they hopped that the new foal could be a male one.

On 12th of April of 1999 the mare, which has the name Griza (due to her light gray color), gave birth to a colt.

Griza

A black one! A pure Peneian, black colt!

Petros old and forgotten dream came true. Sirocco was a real fact. The most important was that this very foal was a true and pure Peneian horse (photo below Sirocco and Helen).

continued in next page

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