Terra dei Cavalli - Sardinia

Sardinia - an Italian island between Spain and Northern Africa has a unique equine culture - including it's own protected native ponies. 

The Giara is home to an extraordinary breed of horse that has been described by scientists as a living fossil. Nobody quite knows where these horses came from, but it is almost certain they are not native to the island. Remains from the Bronze age , confirm that they have been around for a long time and were probably brought over by the Phoenicians or the ancient Greeks. The ponies ran wild all over the Sardinia,right up the late middle ages, and now remain isolated on the Giara plateau, where they are now protected.

They are not actually ponies as such, but are miniature horses and stand around 13 hh in height. These pictures show the terrain in the Giara (and much of Sardinia), and you can see why this little horses are so hardy and strong. Sardinia is rocky and arid, and these little horses which probably come from Africa or Asia, now make excellent riding horses for brave sardinian children.

A larger and equally interesting Sardinian breed is the Sarcidano horse. These horse date back to 20,000 years ago. Genetically they are different to all other Italian breeds, and are now the result of much excitement among scientists due to their genetic purity.
These horses reach around 140cm at the wither, and a nice all purpose horse with a large honest head, and a short Arabian style back.

Of course Sardinia is most famous nowadays, for its Anglo Arabian horse, the AAS, an elegant sport horse used especially for show jumping and Palio events. 

Most of the horses in the Siena palio are AAS horses, as pure thoroughbreds are now not permitted after a serious of accidents which were put down to the breeds fragility. The AAS has a minimum of 25 % Arabian blood, so is better suited for the tight turns and slippery surfaces.