monthly magazine - n° 327, December/January 2004/5
By Aliki Alexandra Steen

Rare species


This unique and rare breed of endangered horses from antiquity having played a major role in Greek history, is almost forgotten and in desperate need of a new future.

The 'hipparion' (small horse) of Skyros, having survived for the last two centuries primarily on the Greek island of Skyros, has served man time and time again. The Skyros horse, a prime example of the symbiosis between man and animal, may be lost forever, unless we help.

During the winter when food and water are plentiful, the horse lived in the wild on the arid and mountainous southern part of the island.

When summer came, they migrated to the fertile north of the island, receiving water and food and in return allowing themselves to be approached by farmers and agriculturists for work, mainly threshing wheat.

In the month of August, following the end of threshing and before the horses' return to the mountain, traditional races would be held by the young children of Skyros. Sure-footed, intelligent and good-tempered, the Skyrian horses make an ideal mount for children.

The downfall of the Skyrian horses started back in the 60's, when modern threshing equipment was introduced and the farmers no longer had the incentive to take care of them.

European common market grants and EU subsidies for farmers with sheep and goats, have caused yet another problem for the horses: overgrazing of their natural habitat has been taking place.

A law in Skyros forbidding that purebred ponies be exported off the island has resulted in the practice of mating the Skyros horses with donkeys, thus creating mules which can be exported. This practice is, of course, disastrous for the continuation of the breed. A census in 1998 revealed only 158 ponies left on the island. Only 30 were pure.

With their function on the island lost and their natural habitat under threat, the Skyros horses are on the verge of extinction today.

Many years ago a few horses were sent to the University of Salonica to be studied.

In 1996 Mrs. Sylvia Dimitriadis Steen, a known animal lover and carer, was approached and asked to provide lodgings for four of their descendants.

Mrs. Steen was so interested, that she visited the island of Skyros, contacted specialists and learnt about the horses' situation and their imminent danger of becoming extinct.

The SILVA Project was born.

On the Ionian island of Corfu, the Silva estate would provide the Skyros horse an additional, if not unique, opportunity to survive.

SILVA is a non-profit organization founded for the breeding and protection of rare animals and for the propagation of various plant species. SILVA's primary mission is to preserve and breed the Skyros horse and develop their new activities, riding for children and hippotheray.

As of 2004, we have 24 purebred Skyros horses, including 6 foals born last year.

It may have been Skyros horses that Alexander The Great took with him when he left Macedonia to conquer the world. And it may be the Skyros horses depicted on the Parthenon frieze -cf. picture on following page-, not carved in small proportion to emphasize the stature of their riders, but naturally diminutive.

The 'hipparion' (small horse) of Skyros is often depicted in iconographies on vases, funeral stelai and statues. Its microsomatic nature, as in other breeds (Shetland, Caspian, Chinese, et al), is due to hard environmental and climatic conditions prevailing on isolated islands, as well as to inbreeding.

On the other hand, it is probable that the same small-type breed may have evolved in the wider Aegean basin, from Lesbos across the coat of Asia Minor to Crete across Africa.

Last but not least, historical and scientific data support the hypothesis that the Skyros breed may be the oldest Equus species in Europe.

Other than its size, making the Skyros horse ideal for children at early stages of riding (5 -10 yrs), its mild temperament, stamina and endurance in adverse environmental and climatic conditions make the horse an ideal family pet. Its miniature height and friendliness towards people, adults or children, are legendary.

No one can actually say what part these ponies have played in antiquity but for sure we must provide the Skyros horses with a new role in the future. All they need is our help.

You can help by adopting a Skyros horse.

By adopting one of our Skyros horses for the period of one year, you will contribute towards the food, medicine and general welfare of the pony of your choice.

An adoption is a fun and unforgettable gift and a most original one for the animal lovers among us, young and old. For a visiting class it can be a means of keeping in closer contact with the horses they prefer.

By adopting a Skyros horse, you will get:

  • A picture of your horse
  • An adoption certificate
  • A report on your horse's progress
  • Our yearly progress report

How to adopt

  • Visit our website www.skyrianhorse.org
  • Go to the adoption link and choose a horse from the list of pictures
  • Print the adoption form
  • Fill in the form and send it to us

You can also help by visiting one of our "Horse Art" exhibitions presenting Skyros horse paintings, drawings, sculptures and art pictures from a number of talented artists. All original works and some reproductions such as greeting cards and posters are sold to help us support the preservation and breeding of the Skyros horse.

The SILVA art exhibitions are held thanks to a number of artists from Belgium, Greece, France, the U.S., the Netherlands and Norway, who present, in their own style, Skyros horse paintings, photographs and/or sculptures. The works are currently exhibited in various European countries, in order to further promote The Silva Project and develop the organisation's new equine activities for children -e.g. hippotherapy and riding.

For more information about where our "Horse Art" exhibitions will be held you may contact us or visit our "Horse Art" exhibitions and online gallery website.

For further information or to arrange a visit of:

  • the horses in Corfu
  • one of our "Horse Art" exhibitions

Please contact us at the following addresses, in either Belgium or Greece.

Aliki Alexandra Steen
1A, rue de l'église St Etienne, 5300 Seilles, BELGIUM
Tel/fax : +32 85 82 67 50 Mobile : +32 475 37 29 79
Website : www.horseart.org (as from end of February 2005)
Email : asteen@mailone.be

SILVA (a non-profit organisation).
The Silva Project, Villa Silva, Nafsikas 40, Corfu 49100, GREECE
Tel.: +30 26610 30 280
Website: www.skyrianhorse.org
Email: skyrianhorse@hotmail.com

Should you wish to obtain a copy of the entire article, please contact us at the following mail address: info@horseart.org