The Highland pony or garron (English) and gearran (Gaelic) is a hearty pony bred in the Scottish Highlands. The pony is one of the oldest breeds in Great Britain. Some maintain the Highland Pony is descended from the ancient wild horses that migrated from Asia in the Ice Age. The breed is known for its great strength and docility. The garron is traditionally used as an all-purpose pony by the Crofters, tenant farmers. It is also used by deer hunters as a sure-footed carrier of game from the steep, rugged mountains.
Most Highlanders in the 16th century, the time of A Highland Pearl, rode garrons. The Highland ponies were used for war and work during the Highland clan period. Some of the nobility and clan chiefs may have imported horses from continental Europe, but at great expense. Many times the imported horses were bred with the garrons to introduce various bloodlines into the breed.
In A Highland Pearl, Chief Andrew Munro rides a black Friesian warhorse or steud (Gaelic) imported from the Netherlands. His tanist or second in command, Gavin, rides a steud of unknown breed, perhaps a Highland pony, and other mounted warriors in the story ride garrons. Chief Andrew may have bred his stallion, Scara, with a garron to produce a horse of greater statue and strength, yet with the temperament and mobility necessary in the Highlands.
The Highland pony is the largest of the three native breeds of the mountain and moorland ponies in Great Britain. The other ponies bred in the Highlands and Islands are the Shetland pony and the Eriskay pony. The Highland pony was once used as a workhorse and warhorse in the Scottish mainland and islands. They could carry large warriors armed with weapons. The garrons are very hardy and tough, they rarely require shoeing, and are very economical to keep. They are generally free from many equine diseases.
Over many centuries the breed has adapted to the variable and often severe climatic and environmental conditions of Scotland. The winter coat consists of a layer of strong badger-like hair over a soft dense undercoat, which enables this breed of pony to live outside in all types of weather. This coat is shed in the spring to reveal a smooth summer coat. The garron’s essential hardiness is combined with a kindly nature and even temperament.**
The height of a Highland pony is between 13 hands to 14.2 hands. The head is well-carried and alert with a kindly eye, broad muzzle and deep jowl. Reasonable length of neck going from the withers with a good sloping shoulder and well-placed forearm is desired. Ponies are to have a well-balanced and compact body with deep chest, well-sprung ribs, powerful quarters with a well-developed thigh, strong gaskin and clean flat hocks. Desired traits also include: flat hard bone, broad knees, short cannon bones, oblique pasterns and well-shaped broad dark hooves.**
Feather hair behind the fetlocks is soft and silky. When Highland ponies are shown, the mane and tail are kept natural, flowing and untrimmed.
Highland ponies are seen in a range of dun or grayish-brown shades. Dun-colored ponies have primitive markings which include a dorsal stripe and some show zebra markings on legs. A transverse shoulder stripe is also often present. A foal’s coat often changes and many ponies change color gradually as they grow older. Others show a slight seasonal change in color between their winter and summer coats.**
The steuds pranced and snorted, eager for the excitement of battle. Their leather saddles, atop blankets in shades and hues of red, green, blue, and yellow, glistened in the torchlight. Each warhorse had reins and harness studded in silver or bronze, with a wooden targe attached to the saddle’s pommel. Scara stamped so heavily the stable boy had difficulty holding him. Andrew calmed the horse by speaking softly in Gaelic, then mounted.
The other warriors mounted horses and passed to the outer bailey entrance with its heavy doors opened wide for their departure. The noise of horses snorting and prancing with eagerness for battle and the excited shouts of the warriors leaving to fight wakened the household. Several came to watch the excitement. When the men crossed the training field heading in the direction of the fire, Andrew looked toward Maidie’s window. She stood watching, her fine figure silhouetted in the frame. He turned toward Gavin to find his brother observing her also. Gavin waved. She returned the gesture. Saints above, what should he do? He didn’t want to get involved with a lass, but his resolve vanished at the sight of Maidie.
She had Gavin captivated for sure. Now his brother and he competed for her attention. What a sorry state of affairs. The coming fight would take his mind off the golden-haired lass. Reivers were about, probably from the Cameron, MacKenzie, or MacIntosh Clans. He would have to wound and kill again, or be killed. If there is a God in heaven, bring this feuding between the clans to an end. We have enough to fight with the sasannach breathing down our necks.
Oklahoma State University