Giara Horses

The Giara horses (Equus caballus giarae) have lived between the cork and oak forests and paùlis on the plateau since time immemorial. It can be considered one of the most interesting fauna species in the entire territory of Marmilla.

Considering the different hypotheses about their origin, it is difficult to distinguish myth from history. Some argue that these horses came to Sardinia across Tirrenide, a continent which has now disappeared. Others believe that they were brought by the Phoenicians in much more recent times. In the absence of evidence, it is reasonable to think that the horses arrived on the island centuries ago, losing their original characteristics over time. In the Giara, they found an island within an island because it is a place that is capable of safeguarding the physical features and character of these animals. As a result, a race that only lives on the plateau has been created.

This is a wild species of medium height (no more than 120 centimeters at the withers). Its coat is bay, shiny, and reaches very dark shades. Its neck is strong and sturdy so it can support its massive head, which is lit by unmistakable and melancholic eyes. Its long, thick mane and agile body give this animal a surprising beauty that contrasts with the rusticity that characterizes it. The small herds graze freely in the company of semi-wild cattle, goats, and pigs, drinking from the numerous bodies of water. A family group consists of a stallion and a variable number of females, which are accompanied by their foals until they reach sexual maturity. At that point, they are sent away from the group by the dominant male. Currently, there are several hundred horses that live on the plateau, some of which belong to individuals and others that belong to the Equestrian Institute of Ozieri, which has been engaged in the defense of this race for years.

Even in the middle of the last century, the Giara horses were still used in the farmyards of the surrounding areas for the threshing of grain and legumes. Until then, the famous horses lived alongside men in a special and fragile balance. They were not completely wild, yet they were not forced to live as pets. The Giara horses were necessary for the economy of the region, but they did not have a permanent role, so they were able to maintain their freedom.

Each year, after the harvest, cuadderis (horsemen) and sogadores (harvesters) from the towns at the foot of the plateau would find themselves in the sunny countryside of the Giara to gather the herds and force them to go inside fixed routes prepared for the marking. After finishing the job, the animals earned their freedom again, but preserved the brand that had been seared onto them with a hot iron to identify their ownership.

The advent of mechanical threshers, after the middle of the last century, broke the balance that had been miraculously preserved until then, breaking a centuries-old tradition. Some breeders tried to cross-breed the horses with more impressive animals because they wanted to trade their meat, putting the very survival of the race at risk. The smaller specimens, known as musca pia, survive only in the memory of the elderly, who still recall them as a species that was no more cumbersome than a large dog.

It was around the mid-seventies that the Equestrian Institute of Ozieri committed itself to safeguarding the lives of these precious animals, by identifying and removing horses of other races and increasing the native horse population. The rituals for the capture and identification of horses are still practiced today, but the branding irons have been exchanged for microchips, just as their hard work in the fields has been exchanged for a life in the wild in the Giara. They are only occasionally disturbed by groups of curious tourists, who normally come to enjoy the unique natural environment of the plateau.

Related contents