Miniature horses in Rhodes threatened with extinction
A unique breed of only eleven miniature horses, known as the Rhodian Pony, which can only be found on the island of Rhodes, is threatened with extinction.
Efforts to save the breed began in 2001 when the “Phaethon” organization was formed. The association, based in Archangelos on Rhodes, has managed to keep and create stables for Rhodian ponies. The organization’s volunteers worked to ensure the survival of the unique miniature horses as well as to educate the local community about their plight.
A handful of people went to great lengths to save the remaining Rhodian ponies in 2000 – which at the time were only six. For months, they placed food in specific areas in order to gain the trust of the six little creatures. They were able to tame them and guide them to the farm they created on an estate outside of Archangelos. They then created Phaeton, the association for the protection of miniature horses of Rhodes.
According to Phaethon President Iakovos Leventis, âInitially, our goal was to protect the population. In Rhodes at that time, there were no veterinarians with the specialist knowledge required for this type of miniature horse. We solicited scientists from across Greece and Europe specializing in this field. Fortunately, the doctors come to see us every year on a voluntary basis. We have managed to keep the ponies alive and increase their numbers.
Descendants of ancient breed miniature horses
Rhodian ponies are the descendants of an ancient breed. They reach a maximum height of 31 to 45 inches (three to four feet) but are perfectly proportioned, with characteristics similar to those of full-sized horses. They have a very lush mane and tail. Although they are identified as “Rhodes ponies”, apart from their small size, they do not have the traits of ponies.
Rhodian ponies have long been linked to the cultural traditions of the island. Used by farmers for hundreds of years to plow fields, there are many representations of it in folk art.
According to residents of Archangelos village, Rhodes ponies numbered as many as 150 creatures in the 1950s. By 2000, their numbers had fallen to just six miniature horses.
Phaethon’s goal has been to make Rhodian ponies an attraction for tourists visiting the island. They have created facilities for visitors to view the horses, which in turn stimulates the local economy and makes miniature horses part of the cultural heritage to be preserved.
Rhodian ponies are purebred, having evolved and adapted to local conditions. They have been the companions of local farmers for centuries, using themselves to help take care of the land. Modern technology through heavy machinery has made miniature horses unnecessary when it comes to the heavy labor required on the farm. They were then released into the mountains, but because they had become accustomed to humans, they returned to the villages.
However, the farmers were not happy with their return. Although the miniature horses helped them complete the more difficult tasks before heavy equipment replaced the small creatures, the same farmers drove them away. The miniature horses trampled the farm fields and many farmers slaughtered them because of the damage they caused to their fragile crops.
The greatest depletion of Rhodian ponies during WWII
The miniature horses, known as the Equus Caballus Caballus, suffered the greatest depletion of their numbers during World War II. After the Armistizio of 1943, the Italian front split in two and the soldiers who remained loyal to Mussolini turned fire on the Italians who had surrendered. Many Italians “driven” from Rhodes took refuge in the mountains of Rhodes and to satisfy their need for food, they killed a significant number of miniature horses.
The small creatures that survived found refuge in the stone mountains of the island near Archangelos and Malona. The miniature horses became independent, wild and unruly, giving up their human interaction with ancient Greece.
The story of these miniature horses is told by grandparents to their grandchildren and now local guides share the folklore of the region with tourists. Almost every farm in Rhodes had at least one miniature horse in their cattle. And the tale has become a book. The Phaethon organization ventured into publishing two books in Greek on horses. The sale of books serves both to educate the community about this rare species and to provide financial support.
In the 1980s, a total of 30 miniature horses were documented to exist in Rhodes. In the decades that followed, however, their population declined dramatically.
Themistoklis Karakaidos is the member of the Phaethon team who takes care of the miniature horses on a daily basis. âWith his love and constant work, all 11 horses get the care they need,â said Leventis. âEvery day we receive visitors but few in number, because people know very little about their existence. All of our volunteer efforts have been focused on the survival of the horses. No time was spent promoting the program to Rodites and tourists, âadds Leventis.
âSuch an important task cannot be left to volunteers alone. It takes the effort of the whole island. The miniature horses are an important and unique part of the island, a divine gift. In any other destination, the miniature horses would be the best attraction in the area. The Swiss âSafe Foundationâ has included Rhode’s miniature horses among the 600 must-see items in Europe, âadds Leventis.
He states that âMost of the cost of feeding the miniature horse has been met by the Archangelos municipal authority budgeted from funding to feed the deer, but that’s not enough. Creatures need medicine, health care, establishment maintenance, personnel to support them, and much more.
The pandemic has also had negative consequences for the financial maintenance of miniature horses. According to Leventis, the closures have prevented dozens of local schoolchildren from coming to visit the facility that would come before Corona by the bus load.
The Phaeton The estate is just three kilometers from the highway that connects the town of Rhodes and Lindos. The road to the estate is paved and leads directly to the entrance. It receives visitors daily, with an entrance fee of just over $ 1. The estate has a covered cafe area, and parents can grab a coffee or a snack while their children learn about these unique miniature horses, as they are the last of the breed on earth.
Visitors can also dine on the estate by reserving in advance. Reservations for a particular menu can be made by calling 6977 995 054. The coffee or snacks that visitors purchase all help support the miniature horses.
The organization also welcomes financial donations that can be made on the Phaethon account at the Bank of Piraeus, IBAN GR2901714050006405112590147 or by joining the adopt an equestrian program.