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Use and characteristics of the Mingrelian
The Mingrelian is a remarkably adaptable breed, able to cope with the unusual climate and topography of Kolchida. They stand around 12.3 hands (51 inches/130 cm) high. Their relatively long legs are an advantage for both riding and pack horse work. Their faces are straight in profile, rather than convex or concave. Coat colours are varied, including bay and black with red points and muzzles. It always made sense to buy a Mingrelian for use in their home region since they were naturally acclimatised to regional conditions. Breeders raised the horses in the mountains knowing there was always an active market to sell a Mingrelian amongst the agriculturalists of the valleys and lowlands.
Origin and history of breeding Mingrelian horses
Mingrelian horses are probably some of the descendants of the horses of Kolchida, which were praised in texts by classical authors. Horses appear on ancient artefacts from the region such as a silver plate. Mingrelians are uniquely adapted to their home area, where they have been bred for centuries in large numbers as riding and pack horses. They also worked in the tea plantations and citrus groves for which the area is famous. It is the sub-tropical climate of the mountain valleys and lowlands that makes the cultivation of tea and citrus possible, and the horses needed to be able to cope with both humidity and altitude, as well as difficult mountain terrain. This is also a very windy region, whether the wind blows warm and dry from the north or hot and humid from the south. Their ability to cope with humidity while working is just one of the strengths of the breed. They are also immensely strong, with very dense bone, drawing comparisons with mules in their ability to carry loads. They are said to be capable of carrying 35 - 40 per cent of their body weight. Traditionally they were bred in the mountains and driven down to the plantation areas at various times of the year for use by the agriculturalists. When not in use, they were raised in taboons, a type of animal husbandry that involves grazing groups of animals, up to one hundred or more, under the care of a herdsman. When working as pack animals, their short, square bodies could easily carry the pack saddles and loads to local and regional markets.
Mingrelian horses in equestrianism
There have been attempts to develop a larger riding horse from the Mingrelian, particularly by crossing with other regional breeds such as the Kabardin, a valued riding horse of the Caucasus. However, the results were not encouraging and meant that the unique characteristics of the Mingrelian were at risk of being lost through outbreeding. Today the Mingrelian remains a distinctive breed of the Caucasus, although now increasingly rare.