Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Neptune and Saturn are restoration breed Tarpans. They are replicas of one of the main progenitors of the domesticated horse—The Eurasian wild horse. Also known as the Forest Horse, the Tarpan once roamed the dense woodlands from Spain to the Russian steppes—surviving over thousands of years, with us, during the Age of Man.
Some of the horses painted in the caves of Southern France resemble these. Early in our history, we hunted them. As our habitats changed and we became agricultural, the Forest Horse annoyed farmers, eating their crops and stealing their mares. Although accounts vary, most place the time of Tarpan extinction not long before World War I.
Between the World Wars, a Polish scientist named Vetulani and two German scientists, Lutz and Heinz Heck, sought (separately) to recreate the original Tarpan. The Heck brothers “back-bred” the mixed descendants of Tarpans and domesticated horses with other “primitive,” surviving descendants (Swedish Gotlands, Icelandic ponies). When the Germans bombed Warsaw, the Heck brothers took their Tarpans to Berlin; when the Allied forces bombed Berlin, they brought them back to Poland. The Polish took them northeast to the Białowieża Forest—one of the world’s few remaining large primeval forests, where they are reported to live today on the Belarus side. Descendants of Tarpans in Poland are called Konik horses, though photos of this breed look very different from ours.
Toward the end of the 1950s, the nephew of Lutz Heck brought some 50 Przywalski and Heck Tarpans to the Catskill Game Farm in New York by ship, and these were distributed to zoos throughout the US. At the dispersal sale when the Game Farm was closed in 2005, Helen Dixon bought five “gray horses” (the true color of these Tarpans is grulla). Learning later what they were, she scoured the US for individuals and kept the last breeding herd we know of in Rappahanock County. There was once an American Tarpan Breeding Association and a stud book kept by Ellen Thrall, who purchased her first Heck Tarpan from the Atlanta zoo in 1970. Ellen was considered the foremost authority on the Tarpan until her death in 1997. Using her book, Helen practiced selective breeding and kept her horses chipped and DNA-tested. Helen died this spring. We are concerned now about responsible conservation of the fewer than 100 American Tarpans.
Why are the Tarpans at Hope’s Legacy? Maya and I thought it was appropriate to place them with Hope’s Legacy to remind us of the legacy of the horse in our own history. The horse has done more for us than any other animal. At Hope’s Legacy we seek to honor horses.
What are the Tarpans like? Heinz Heck described driving one of his studs back to Munich from Galicia after the war. After covering 1000 miles unshod, his hooves were “perfect.” Ellen Thrall wrote that the seemed to be less prone to colic or foundering from overeating. People who know them in the US, and have written about them, say they are extremely intelligent, curious, and affectionate—but independent-minded. They will do anything you want them to do…endurance, pull carts, equitation, trails…provided it is their idea!
Sincerely, Melinda Smale
Ackerman, Diane. The Zookeeper’s Wife. 2007. W.W. Norton &Company. New York, USA.
Forrest, Susanna. The Age of the Horse: An Equine Journey Through Human History. 2016. Atlantic Monthly Press. New York, USA.
Heck, Heinz. The Breeding-Back of the Tarpan. Oryx, Volume 1, Issue 7, 1952, pp. 338-342. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0030605300037662
Martin, Linda. Saving the Tarpan Horse in the USA: The Dixie Meadows Herd. Horse Talk Magazine, Sept-Oct-2016.
Mullarky, Alex. Return to the Wild. Horses and People Magazine, March 2016, pp. 23-27.
Olsen, Sandra, Susan Grant, Alice M. Choyke and Laszlo Bartosiewicz. Horses and Humans: The Evolution of Human-Equine Relationships. BAR International Series 1560. Archaeopress, Oxford, UK.
Thrall, Ellen J. 1975. American Tarpan Studbook. Volume 1. 1954-1973. Caballus Publishers, Fort Collins, CO.
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