Genetic researchers have given an encouraging assessment of efforts to save to Hungary’s Hucul horses, but say the breed remains endangered and ongoing breeding management efforts will be required.
The Hucul horse was originally bred in the northeastern parts of the forested Carpathians. However, only a few survived World War 2 and the regeneration of the breed started in those times.
Those that survived were spread across the country and most of them were lost from breeding.
Only a few mares were rescued by the former head of the Budapest Zoo, and a few Hucul stallions were imported from Slovakia to slowly restart the breeding program.
The breed, originally used as draught horses but now popular for riding schools and leisure use, is now recovering.
From the initial few mares and stallions, there now more than 300 broodmares in Hungary in the registered breeding population, with seven recognized stallion lines in the country, represented by more than 30 breeding stallions.
Larger and genetically important populations of the breed can be also found in Poland, Romania and Slovakia.
The coordination of the breeding program across borders is managed by the Hucul International Federation. The total population across all countries comprises about 5000 broodmares.
Researchers with the University of Debrecen in Hungary set out to assess efforts to revive the breed in Hungary from a gene conservation point of view.
In their study, János Posta, Enikő Somogyvári and Sándor Mihók investigated the pedigree quality, gene origin, inbreeding and status of stallion lines and mare families.
They found that inbreeding in recent years in the Hungarian horses had been successfully limited.
“Due to the increased number of mare families, genetic variability also increased,” the trio reported in the journal, Animals. This had been aided by ongoing imports of Hucul horses from nearby countries.
“Increasing of the breeding population of Hucul horses was successful without any reasonable gene losses and changing in inbreeding level,” they said.
“However, the proper management of the stallion utilization is important to prevent the future increase of the inbreeding level of the Hucul breed.”
The researchers cautioned that the Hucul horse was classified as a vanishing breed and needed a conservative breeding program.
“Careful mating management is required, as the Hungarian population is endangered based on the effective population size.
“More equal distribution of stallions across lines may be favorable. The diversity of mare families — as well as the size of the different families — should be more balanced.
“These activities could help the maintenance and preservation of lines and families, as well as the diversity of the breed.”
Posta, J.; Somogyvári, E.; Mihók, S. Historical Changes and Description of the Current Hungarian Hucul Horse Population. Animals 2020, 10, 1242.
The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here.