The Konik – Learn about the small horses from Poland

In the latest instalment of Strathorn’s Out and About series, Konik horses! We stumbled upon an intriguing sight in the Netherlands. A herd of sturdy, primitive-looking horses. We turned to our followers on Tiktok (follow us there!) to identify these wonderful horses, and the consensus was clear—they are Konik horses. 

Koniks have a rich history and a unique role in contemporary conservation efforts. Join us as we explore the world of the Konik horse to find out what makes them so special.

A Brief History of the Konik Horse

Is the Konik horse a direct descendant of the wild Tarpan? This is an ongoing debate. Recent studies suggest that no, it is not. However, for marketing purposes, this ‘myth’ is ongoing. Because the Wild Tarpan (Wild European Horse) became extinct in the wild by the late 19th century. And the last known captive Tarpan died in Russia in 1909. If you want to learn about horses that are genetically closer to the European Wild Horse, check out our article about Fjord horses!

So, the Konik horse emerged from attempts to recreate the Tarpan’s traits through selective breeding of semi-wild Polish farm horses.

Konik means “little horse”

The breed’s name, “Konik,” means “little horse” in Polish, reflecting its compact and hardy nature. This breed was primarily developed in Poland. Significant contributions came from the famous Polish biologist Tadeusz Vetulani. Tadeusz aimed to revive the ancient phenotype of the Tarpan. 

Through careful breeding, the Konik horse has retained many characteristics of wild horses. For example, its distinctive grullo or mouse-gray coat and robust build.

Did you also know the Konik horse is linked to the Panje horse? These resilient and low-maintenance horses, always ready to work, were used during both World Wars. They played a significant role during the German exodus from East Prussia at the end of the Second World War.

Today, Koniks can be seen in the Roztoczański National Park and in other areas around in Europe for rewildering purposes.

What are the wild horses in Cambridgeshire?

The wild horses in Cambridge are Koniks.  The herd originally came from Holland in the early 2000s.  They were chosen over native British breeds due to their ability to handle wetlands.  Koniks have evolved to have less hoof problems in wet conditions.

Characteristics and appearance

Size and Build of the Konik horse

The Konik horse is relatively small, standing about 130-140 cm (12.3-13.3 hands) at the withers and weighing between 350-400 kg.

Despite their size, they are exceptionally strong and resilient, capable of thriving in harsh conditions.

Color and Coat of the Konik horse

Most Koniks exhibit a grullo (gray dun) coat, characterized by a mouse-gray color with a dorsal stripe running from mane to tail.

Other primitive markings, such as zebra stripes on the legs and a dark muzzle, are also common.

Temperament of the Konik horse

Known for their docile and friendly nature, Konik horses are easy to handle and adaptable. They are often described as intelligent and curious. This makes them well-suited for various roles in equine-assisted activities and ecological management.

What are Konik horses used for today?

Ecological Role and Conservation Efforts

One of the most interesting aspects of the Konik horse is its role in modern conservation. In several parts of Europe, including the Netherlands, Poland, and the UK, Konik horses are used in rewilding projects and natural reserve management.

Their grazing habits help maintain open landscapes and promote biodiversity by preventing the overgrowth of shrubs and trees.

Koniks are used for Rewildering Projects

In the Netherlands, the Konik horse plays a crucial role in the Oostvaardersplassen nature reserve. This is where they help manage the landscape by mimicking the grazing patterns of their wild ancestors.

Their presence contributes to the creation of a mosaic of habitats. This supports a variety of wildlife, from birds to small mammals.The herd of horses that we found must have been a group of 20 or more – with a mix of stallions, mares, and lots of wee foals!

Using Koniks to Promote Biodiversity

Koniks are effective in managing wetlands and grasslands. In short, environments that require careful balancing to maintain their ecological integrity.

By grazing on tough grasses and reeds, they create conditions that favor the growth of a diverse array of plant species. In turn, this supports a broader range of animal life. We should get a Konik horse to come and graze our grass at Strathorn! Koniks sound like a great allround horse!

The Konik Horse Today

The Koniks continues to gain recognition for its utility in conservation and its historical significance. In recent years, interest in the breed has grown beyond Europe, with Konik horses being introduced to various conservation programs worldwide.

That’s why we loved that so many people knew right away on TikTok that we had found Konik horses. 

Conservation Status of the Konik Horse

Currently, the Konik horse is not considered endangered. This is thanks to ongoing breeding programs and its increasing use in ecological projects. However, maintaining genetic diversity within the breed remains a priority for breeders and conservationists.

Cultural Impact of the Konik Horse

In Poland, the Konik is celebrated as a symbol of the country’s natural heritage. How beautiful is that! Efforts to preserve and promote the breed have led to a renewed appreciation for these hardy horses, which embody the spirit of their wild ancestors.

Koniks as Riding School Horses

Their compact size and gentle temperament make them perfect for children to learn to ride. As mentioned, Koniks are known for their docility and patience, traits that we know are essential for any riding school horse.

Their gentle demeanor makes them especially suitable for beginners and young riders who are just learning the ropes. What do you think – should we buy a Konik for Strathorn? Let us know if you know anyone who has one in Scotland! 


What does “Konik” mean?

Konik means horse or little horse in Polish.


Our unexpected encounter has opened our eyes to the the wonderful horse breed, Koniks. From their roots to their modern role in fostering biodiversity, the Konik horse are of ecological importance.

Whether in the wilds of Poland or the reserves of the Netherlands, these horses continue to contribute to the natural landscapes.

We look forward to discovering more hidden gems like the Konik horse. Stay tuned for more adventures with Strathorn’s Out and About series, and who knows what other equine wonders we might uncover next!

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