Guest blogger: Brenda B Taylor
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 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. 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 mountain and moorland ponies in Great Britain. Other ponies bred in the Highlands and Islands are the Shetland and Eriskay ponies. 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 hardy and tough, they rarely require shoeing, and are 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 the Highland pony to live outside in all types of weather. This coat is shed in the spring to reveal a smooth summer coat.
The height of a Highland pony is between 13 to 14.2 hands. When garrons are shown, the mane and tail are kept natural, flowing and untrimmed. They are seen in a range of dun or greyish-brown shades. Dun-coloured ponies have primitive markings, which include a dorsal stripe and some show zebra markings on legs.
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 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 roused 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.
A Highland Pearl is available from Amazon.
Brenda Taylor and her husband make their home in beautiful East Texas, USA, where they enjoy spending time with family and friends, travelling, and working in Bethabara Faith Ministry, Inc. She crafts stories about the extraordinary lives of ordinary people in her favourite place overlooking bird feeders, bird houses, and a variety of blooming trees and flowers. Her desire is that the message in each of her books will touch the heart of the reader as it did hers in the writing.