The Castillonais is an ancient breed of small rustic saddle-horse from the Ariège département of south-western France. It may be dark bay or seal brown. It stands 135–155 centimetres at the withers, with an average height of about 145 cm. It is used principally for trekking and for driving.
Originally bred as a multi-purpose breed used for cavalry, agriculture and driving, the breed declined in population during the 20th century, and almost became extinct. In 1980, a group of supporters began to work to save the breed, and a breed association, now called the Association Nationale du Cheval Castillonnais d’Ariège Pyrénées, was formed in 1992. The breed was officially recognised by the French Ministry of Agriculture in 1996. The French government, breed association and a regional conservation group all now share an interest in the preservation of the breed. Population numbers are still quite low, and inbreeding is a concern.
Like many other French breeds from the Pyrenees, the Castillonnais probably descends from the horses that inspired the prehistoric cave paintings found, for example, at the Cave of Niaux. Over time, blood from Oriental and Iberian horses was added to the breed and influenced its physical appearance and temperament. In the late nineteenth century, horses of the Pyrenees were known for their use as mounts by light cavalry.
The breed was originally a multi-purpose horse, used for agriculture, cavalry and pulling diligences (a type of carriage). Because of a lack of support from a breeding syndicate, once the need for a multi-purpose breed declined, the population of the Castillonnais dwindled. Many horses were crossbred with draught horses, and the breed almost became extinct. The intervention of a group of supporters in 1980 saved the breed from extinction.
In 1996, the Castillonnais was officially recognised by the French Ministry of Agriculture, though by that time only 50 purebred mares remained.
Population numbers for the Castillonnais are still quite low. In November 2005, there were only around 260 existing Castillonnais.
Cheval de Castillon — Cheval Ariègeois de Castillon — Cheval du Biros — Saint-Gironnais
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