High in the mountains between Pisa, Grossetto and Volterra is the largest natural reserve in Tuscany. The Monterufoli- Caselli park. The microclimate found here comprises bitterly cold and rainy winters, and stiflingly hot summers.
Monterufolini ponies are born with a notable rusticity that allows them to live outside all year in the wild natural reserve. They have a lively but docile temperament which makes them are fabulous children’s ponies and excellent therapy animals. Almost always black or dark bay, they stand between 13hh and 14hh and have a strong neck, sturdy legs and a long, thick mane.
The breed was established in 1913 when the noble Gherardesca counts purchased the Monterufoli estate. Along with the land, they gained 2000 horses which were roaming wild on the estate. At the time in Tuscany, there was considerable demand for smaller horses to pull gigs and traps, so the Gherardescas rounded up the wild ponies and crossed them with larger and finer Maremmano and Arabian stallions to improve their conformation.
The Monterufoli estate annually organised a roundup of the horses (which roamed in herds around the reserve). The horses were then branded, castrated, broken to saddle and sold via auction. The breed spread throughout Tuscany, where they were soon popular ‘all-rounder’ ponies, used to drive buggies, bring children to school and help with farm tasks. The breed was also used by loggers, who used their strength and surefootedness to bring wood down from the mountains.
Out Of A Job
In 1956 the Gherardesca estate was divided up and sold off. After being decimated by two World Wars, the agricultural revolution that occurred in Tuscany during the 50s and 60s left the Monterufolini horses without a job. Roads and railways were constructed, cars replaced buggies, and tractors replaced logging horses.
A few herds of horses were turned loose, and they continued to roam the hills until 1989, when the mountain community of Val di Cecina rounded up 11 specimens to save the breed from certain extinction.
In 2008 the Cavallino di Monterufoli association was founded in Pomerance (near Volterra) in a last bid attempt to save the now critically endangered breed.
In 2011 the community of Pomerance adopted the last herd of feral mares roaming the wild hills of Monterufoli and entrusted them to the association to ensure they would remain in a semi-wild state in their original habitat.
An Equine Marketing Success Story
In the past ten years the association has attempted to promote the breed nationally, and market their tremendous versatility in regional and national competitions and fairs.
The Monterufolini can now be found winning competitions in driving, pony games, endurance, dressage and trail riding and the horses are used by the Pisan forestry police as patrol horses.
They are very sensitive horses and are highly sought after for equine therapy and rehabilitation throughout Italy.
The beautiful images in this gallery were taken by my talented friend Cecille www.thepixelnomad.com