The Konik or Polish primitive horse is a small, semi-feral horse, originating in Poland. The Polish word konik (plural koniki) is the diminutive of koń, the Polish word for “horse”. However, the name “konik” or “Polish konik” is used to refer to certain specific breeds. Koniks show many primitive markings, including a dun coat and dorsal stripe.
This breed is native to Poland and appeared in the first half of the 18th century. They were used locally until the turn of the 19th century when agricultural needs called for a more robust animal. The Konik was unable to compete with the larger draft breeds of western Europe and their breeding declined.
The breed persevered into the 20th centuries, where both World Wars slowed things down, but a concerted effort was made to preserve the strain. A reserve was founded in 1954 by the Polish Academy of Science to protect the breed and there are several National Stud farms where Konik animals are bred.
Koniks today are bred either in barns or open reserves and under human guidance. The Konik was bred for a larger shoulder height in past decades, to improve its value as a working horse. A more graceful appearance, especially of the head, was established, as well. Black and sorrel horses have been largely selected out, but still appear on occasion, as do white markings. The simultaneous management of Koniks in both barns and reserves made it possible to compare the health and behaviour of the horses under different circumstances. For example, hoof diseases and hay allergies are more common in Koniks raised in barns than in reserves.
Konik has also been introduced into nature reserves in other nations. One of the first was the Oostvaardersplassen in the Netherlands. In 1995, a herd was released in de Kleine Weerd, a 12-hectare strip of land (roughly 100 m by 1 km) along the river Meuse near Maastricht. The area is open to the public, but people are advised not to go near the horses because their reactions are unpredictable. Following the success of this program, Koniks were also brought to Latvia and to the United Kingdom, where they were placed in Wicken Fen near Cambridge by the National Trust. Due to the efforts of the Wildwood Trust, a charity which operates the Wildwood Discovery Park, and the Kent Wildlife Trust, Koniks also now live on several additional reserves, including the Stodmarsh National Nature Reserve, Ham Fen National Nature Reserve, Whitehall Meadow, Sandwich Bay, and Park Gate Down.