According to the Food and Agriculture Association of the United Nations, the origin of the Basotho Pony can be traced back from that of the Cape horse, which formed the foundation stock. Horses were first sent out to the Cape by the Dutch East India Company in 1652. They were Java horses of a strong Persian and Arab strain.
The first horses appeared in Lesotho around 1825, captured from the Zulu and later from the Boers. In 1870, the Basotho Pony was known among Europeans as a breed or type. Exports of the ponies grew, and their fame spread throughout South Africa and became enhanced during the Anglo-Boer War. Some authors claim that the Basotho Pony was known and recognised as a distinct breed around 1850. This horse has been developed through natural selection.
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A national hero
The total Basotho Pony population in Lesotho is estimated to be 98 000 to 112 000. Of these, 63% are found in the foothills and mountain areas. The horse is a source of pride in Lesotho and there are a large number of competent riders in rural areas. In some areas of the country, the horse is the only alternative to travelling on foot, and horses are used mainly as a mode of transport over the rugged topography of Lesotho.
For many years, Lesotho, like many other countries, regarded the horse as having lost its place in the modern world, because it had ceased to be an animal of economic importance, and although the Basotho Pony is a natural resource of the country, no serious efforts have been made to exploit it commercially.
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It’s a hardy little horse
The Basotho Pony is famous for its stamina, docility, extremely hardy hoof, endurance, good temperament and sure-footedness, and the name has remained a valuable “trademark” to this day.
Preserving the Basotho Pony
Basotho Pony populations have been observed over many years. There have been declines in population caused by outbreaks of diseases and poor control of them. The reaction of Basotho horse breeders was to cross-breed the ponies with newly introduced breeds, which led to a loss of the Basotho Pony characteristics.
Lesotho: The perfect place to keep ponies
The reasons why the Basotho Pony has developed such a good reputation among horse breeds are as follows: Lesotho presents an ideal environment for the breeding and rearing of horses as it has a dry mountain climate with consequently low incidence of pandemic diseases. Its mountain pastures and high veldt have the potential to yield ideal grazing for horses, and farmland can produce high-quality fodder.
Words and photography Gerhard Uys