Equus caballus giarae Linnaeus, 1758
Class: Mammalia – Order: Perissodactyla - Family: Equidae
Status: Despite its limited distribution and population, the Giara horse is not on the list of species protected by LR July 29, 1998, #23. Moreover, since it is not deemed at risk of extinction, it is not included on the Red List of Italian Vertebrates.
Distribution: It is an endemic subspecies of Sardinia. As a wild species, it is present only on the plateau of the Giara, but it has been introduced by man in the areas of Capo Caccia and the Forest of Burgos (in the north of Sardinia). The particular shape of the plateau has isolated the animals that live there, preserving them from external genetic contamination. In the Giara, there are about 700 specimens.
Morphology: It is a subspecies of the common horse (Equus caballus), and is sometimes referred to as a race. It is smaller than the nominal species, with an average height of 130 centimeters at the withers. The coloring of its coat varies from bay to burnt chestnut to blackish. Its head has a sub-rectangular shape, with an abundant mane and a wisp of hair that falls in between its eyes. Its neck is strong and muscular, and its croup is short and narrow. Its legs appear thinner, smaller, and less muscular than the rest of its body. It has a rebellious and restless spirit.
Habitat and Ecology: It lives in the Giara, which has large, flat surfaces with variable stoniness and a scarcity of water that is limited to the paùlis. The vegetation is very diverse, characterized by forests of cork that alternate with Mediterranean maquis and garrigue. It feeds mainly on grass, leaves, and low bushes, but it also eats the aquatic buttercups (Ranunculus aquatilis) that bloom on the surface of the paùlis in spring. They are territorial animals that live in packs, and each pack is formed by a stud and 5-20 females. The breeding season is spring, and the gestation period lasts 11 months.
Notes: The scientific debate on the autochthony of the subspecies is still open. There are, in fact, two different schools of thought. The first believes that the animal descended from African horse breeds that were introduced in Sardinia by the Phoenicians around 700 BC, whereas the second considers this breed to be a direct descendant of the wild subspecies that has been in Sardinia since Neolithic times and was domesticated by Nuragic populations.
Curiosity: The Giara horses are the only wild horses in Europe.
Photo © Antonio Saba