AKA: Skogsruss, Russ, Gotlandsruss, Skogsbaggar, Skogshäst
Any solid color
Russ, the Swedish word for the Gotland pony, comes from Old Norse hross and is related to English word "horse." Gotlanders themselves often call the ponies, skogsbaggar, which means "forest rams" or "little horse of the woods." It is commonly thought that the Russ, as other European horse breeds, is a descendant of the wild Tarpan. There are few ancient references to the Gotland ponies, but it generally believed that they lived in freedom in the forests in a half-wild state.
The herd of ponies at Lojsta moor on the island of Gotland is unique. The Gotland pony, or Russ, as it is called in Sweden, has been called a living relic of the past, and that is precisely what it is. Thanks to decisive intervention on the part of the local inhabitants, Sweden's most primordial horses still live as they have for thousands of years on the wooded moors of Gotland.
The Gotland Pony horses have lived in the forest regions of the island of Gotland from time immemorial. Their history is mysterious and fascinating. Discoveries from the Stone Age show that horses have been present on Gotland for 4,000 - 5,000 years, and perhaps longer. It is not known whether these horses were Gotland Ponies, nor is it known how the first horses came to the island.
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.
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 p opular, 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.
Russ is the Gutnish word for horse. Gotlanders themselves often call the ponies skogsbaggar, which means "forest rams". It is commonly thought that the Gotland Pony, as other European horse breeds, is a descendant of the wild Tarpan. There are few ancient references to the Gotland ponies, but it is generally believed that they lived in freedom in the forests in a half-wild state. Discoveries made at the Iron Age village called Vallhagar (220 B.C.—500 A.D.), a few kilometers from Lojsta Moor, show that horses became increasingly common as domestic animals during the Iron Age.
The oldest reference to the Gotland pony is found in Skånelagen, a legal code from the 13th century, where "the wild horses of Gotland" are mentioned.
Discoveries from the Stone Age show that horses have been present on Gotland for 4,000 – 5,000 years, and perhaps longer. It is not known whether these horses were Russ horses, nor is it know how the first horses came to the island. Could it have been wild horses that came over a land bridge some 10,000 years ago? Or was it tame horses brought by humans by boat 4,000 years ago, when horses first began to be used in Scandinavia?
Discoveries made in the Iron Age village called Vallhagar (220 B. C. – 500 A. D.), a few kilometres from Lojsta Moor, show that horses became increasingly common as domestic animals during that period. The oldest reference to the Russ is found is Skånelagen, a legal code from the 13th century, where "the wild horses of Gotland" are mentioned.
Starting from the 18th century several descriptions of the Gotland Pony can be found. Bishop Joran Wallin wrote in 1776: "As concerns the untamed horses, they run free in the woods both winter and summer, without any tending, feeding themselves as best they can, and are often without owner as well . . . always staying to the woods, even though often, especially in the winter when it is very cold and there is much snow, they can be seen by travelers near the high-ways, as well as in the country villages and the town itself, are of middle size, but look poorly, shaggy, ungroomed, with long manes and hair over their eyes." Botanist Carl Linneus, on his Gotland voyage in 1741, mentioned how special traps were used to capture the horses near the ancient fort called Torsburgen.
In the beginning of the 19th century the ponies could be found throughout Gotland, especially in the large forests in the middle of the island. Farmers kept Gotland Ponies on their farms as draft horses. They often had a herd of free-roving horses in the forest as well, so they would be able to bring in a new young horse to the farm when they needed.
In the beginning of the 19th century the Russ could be found throughout Gotland. Around 1880, 11,500 Russ roamed the moors of 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. On Gotland, formerly public lands were parceled out to individual farmers, which meant that more land was farmed and much of the forested area began to be cultivated. The expansive, contiguous forests were intersected by fences and cultivated land and could no longer function as foraging areas. In addition, the ponies caused great damage when they grazed and trampled down the sown fields, and they began to be seen as pests.
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. By 1930, there were only 30 active broodmares.
In the beginning of the 20th century only about 150 Gotland ponies were left, but a few people with foresight had taken note of Sweden's most primitive horse. The Gotland Pony began to be exhibited at the summer fairs held by the Gotland Agricultural Society, and a few stud-farms were established to breed the horses. But the number of Gotland Ponies continued to fall. The meat rationing and food shortages of World War I led poachers to hunt the Gotland Pony. The forest ponies of Gotland were near extinction.
Then a few farmers in the communities of Gerum and Lojsta, together with the Gotland Agricultural Society intervened to save the Gotland Pony. They fenced in about 200 acres, the area that now constitutes the winter pasture. There, five Gotland Ponies that had been captured on the moor were let run, together with three other Gotland Ponies that were donated by a stud farm that had gone out of business. In this area the horses were allowed to run free, and soon a little Gotland Pony clan had developed. These horses formed the basis for the breeding that has been carried out at Lojsta Moor in an effort to maintain the stock as pure as possible.
The people who own the Gotland Ponies living on the moor, farmers in the neighborhood together with the Gotland Agricultural Society, have started a grazing cooperative. Thanks to their efforts, there is a free-roaming Gotland Pony herd on Lojsta moor today.
During the part of the year when the foals are still on the moor, the herd consists of seventy to eighty head; about forty breeding mares, some fifteen fillies, and the rest foals. As a rule only mares born on the moor are permitted in the herd. A different stallion is used every third year to prevent inbreeding.\
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.
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.
The Gotland Pony is popular as a children's horse, good-tempered and multifaceted. The same Gotland Pony can both be a good jumper, dressage horse, and draft horse. The Gotland Pony is also the fastest trotter among ponies. There are about 9,000 Gotland Ponies in Sweden today, and they can also be found in Denmark, Finland, and the U.S.A.
Today, there are about 9,000 Russes in Sweden and they can also be found in Denmark, Finland and the United States.
Gotlands were first imported into the United States in the 1950s for use in handicapped riding programs. A registry was formed in the 1960s, and over 500 animals have been registered in the past thirty years. The breed almost became extinct in North America during the 1980s. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and a small number of breeders have worked to encourage a revival of the Gotland breed. Over one hundred purebred Gotlands are currently found in the U.S. today, and the population is increasing.
Gotlands are one of the newest breeds in North America, having been first imported only recently. They are used as in Sweden for pony racing, showing, and pleasure riding. Gotlands do well in competitive trail riding and are considering to be exceptional mounts for children.
Included in the display of Scandinavian Breeds. No current representatives of the breed
The Gotland is light and elegant in conformation. The breed has pronounced withers, a long back, and a sloping croup. The chest is deep, and the shoulders long and sloping. The legs are strong and the feet are hard. Gotlands stand 11.2 to 13 hands (46-52") at the withers. Dun and bay predominate in the breed, but all colors are allowed except albinos, roans, and piebalds. Characteristic of the breed is a gentle disposition and a lively intelligence. Gotlands are athletic, making excellent trotters and jumpers. Though strong enough to carry adults, they are primarily used for driving and as children's mounts.
Most Gotland Ponies are blacks, bays, buckskins or sorrels. The light coloring of this foal is not considered desirable. There is a risk that the offspring of two light-colored Gotland Ponies might be an albino, meaning it would lack pigmentation. Horses like this can have skin that is over-sensitive to the sun and are not as hardy.
Just as with other breeds of horses, there are standards for the appearance and characteristics of a Gotland Pony. The desire is to produce an easily-born, strong children's horse that can be used for trotting, dressage, jumping, and driving. Good fertility is also considered important.
For a Gotland Pony to be pedigreed, the height measured at the withers must be between 45 - 51 inches (115 - 130 cm.), while the ideal height is about 49 inches (125 cm.). Its way of going should be energetic, elastic, and smooth. All colors are allowed except for total albinos, drabs, dorsal piebalds, and roans.
The Russ is strong, healthy and long-lived (many live into their thirties!), energetic, intelligent and friendly.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!) 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.
The Gotland Russ Association of North America, Inc. is a new organization for owners, breeders and friends of Gotland horses. The association is non-profit and promotes, preserves and protects the Gotland in North America. They publish a quarterly newsletter the Russ Review and operate and maintain the North American Gotland Horse Registry.
Gotland Russ Association of North America
R. D. 1, Box 174
Triadelphia, WV 26059
Tel: (304) 547-9028
Fax: (304) 234-4090
Gotland Horse Registry (USA)
c/o the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy
PO Box 477
Pittsboro, NC 27312
Tel: (919) 542-5704
Fax: (919) 545-0022
Gotland-Russ Association of North America Inc.
Gotland Russ Association
The Gotland Pony
Suomen Russponien Ystävät ry
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