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Posted on November 6, 2020
In this series of blogs, we are taking a look at horse breeds from around the world. In this post, we head to Lesotho for some basics on the Basotho pony.
The Basotho pony is native to Lesotho in Africa. Its origins date back to horses imported by Dutch settlers in 1653. Most likely captured from the Zulu, the first horses arrived in Lesotho in the 1820’s.
In 1868 Lesotho became a British protectorate. King Moshoeshoe (pronounced mashweshwe) was presented with a Thoroughbred stallion by the British. The King was very proud of his fine horse, but unfortuantely it did not fair well in the tough climate. The British then gave King Moshoeshoe a sturdy little pony of mixed origin. This pony did remarkably well in the mountainous terrain and went on to become the foundation of the Basotho breed.
Close to the turn of the century, the Basotho pony had developed into a quality breed and was much sought after. The Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902, saw 30,000 of Lesotho’s best animals (including stallions) bought by both sides. A few years after the end of the war, Lesotho was without its prime stock, the breed depleted and deteriorating.
By the 1950’s the Basotho was in severe decline, and by the 1970’s it was facing extinction. In an effort to preserve and improve the breed, the Basotho Pony Project was set up in 1977, and the National Stud was founded in Thaba-Tseka the following year. These programmes led to the development of a core breeding herd and selective breeding. Over the years, these measures were a success and so the breed was saved.
Generally under 14.2hh with a sturdy build, the Basotho pony developed into a hardy and capable horse, ideal for traversing mountainous terrain and thriving in Lesotho’s challenging climate. Known for being friendly, spirited, intelligent and fearless, the Basotho pony is incredibly surefooted. Traditionally, Basotho ponies are solid colours, such as black, chestnut, grey and bay.
The population of Basotho ponies in Lesotho now stands at around 98,000, with over 60% living and thriving in the country’s most mountainous areas. Today, these ponies are still used for transport, often being the only alternative to travelling on foot.
Basotho ponies are the stars of the show on the Lesotho Expedition. The terrain on this ride is unforgiving, rocky and steep, but these horses are like mountain goats, taking everything calmly, deliberately and safely.
Despite their relatively small size, their long stride means they are really comfortable to ride. They really do make ideal trail companions – they have calm attitudes during tricky sections of ground, but they also enjoy a good canter.