The Tibetan pony, an ancient breed, is believed to have originated from a combination of the Mongolian Pony and various Chinese breeds. Remains of Tibetan Ponies dating back 4,000 years were discovered in the eastern part of the Tibet Autonomous Region, confirming their long-standing presence in the region.
Some individuals consider various types of Tibetan ponies to be separate breeds. However, they all have many similar qualities, with outstanding endurance being the most notable one. The Tibetan pony is uniquely adapted to the tough conditions of the Qinghai-Tibet plateau due to generations of selective breeding. Even mixed-breed horses have a hard time surviving, which has likely kept the Tibetan pony breed pure.
Challenges and Concerns for the Tibetan Pony Breed
Throughout history, Nepal has had a strong bond between humans and ponies. For centuries, ponies were important for transportation and moving goods for kings, village leaders, and merchants as well as local farmers. Today, even though Nepal utilizes motorization as the main means of transportation, people in many parts of the country continue to raise and use horses in the same ways as their forefathers did.
However, the modernization of Nepal has caused significant changes, affecting the ponies’ population and their traditional roles in the country. In recent years, with the advent of road development projects, specifically in the Mustang region, the importance of Tibetan ponies as transportation has diminished. Since the income generated from the use of the Tibetan ponies for transportation has been significantly reduced, the farmers have limited means to support the health and care of their ponies. As a result, many farmers have started selling off these ponies, and not breeding the ponies they have as they are no longer needed for their traditional purposes. Unfortunately, this has led to a decline in the number of ponies as well as a decline in the quality of the care and attention given to these magnificent creatures.
This lack of resources for the ponies found in Nepal’s remote high-altitude areas, such as the Upper Mustang, has presently resulted in a desperate need for adequate care and attention. The cost of taking care of the ponies has become burdensome for the local community. The ponies require regular medical attention, but the lack of medical facilities and veterinary services in the remote Upper Himalayas, particularly in Mustang, means that the ponies suffer from diseases and injuries without proper treatment. Likewise, the lack of conservation efforts for grazing, and inadequate nutrition have combined to result in an overall decline in the Tibetan ponies’ population in Nepal.
Another important potential issue the Tibetan ponies face is the illegal export trade, which threatens their population and genetic diversity as they are smuggled out of the country and/or other breeds are smuggled in to be mixed with the current bloodlines. This poses a significant long-term risk to the survival of the breed.
Tibetan ponies are remarkable companions, safely transporting travelers across challenging terrains with their gentle gestures and resilience. However, discomfort for these ponies arises when they transport supplies without proper saddle pads, leading to painful pressure sores on their backs and withers.
Recognizing the scarcity of resources in the deep reaches of the Himalayas, a medical team from the USA, Canada, and Nepal arrived in the Mustang Region this June. Animal Nepal, based in Kathmandu, Nepal, the Equitarian Initiative from the US and the International program of Brooke Working Equids sponsored this first fact-gathering trip to Nepal. Their mission was to discuss the health and welfare of the Tibetan ponies with local officials and farmers, and to investigate if they could offer treatment and care to the ponies in Upper Mustang. These dedicated professionals are tirelessly working together with the owners of the ponies to offer any assistance necessary to enhance the health and well-being of these animals, ensuring their survival and preservation.
Initiatives and Collaborations for Tibetan Pony Care
In support of this noble cause, Nepal Sanctuary Treks, as a Travelife Certified company, has played a crucial role. Nepal Sanctuary Treks has supported doctors with safety and travel logistics, enabling them to reach affected areas and provide essential treatments to ponies. Our heartfelt gratitude goes to the Medical Team, comprising Dr. Sheila Schils, Dr. Luis Arroyo Castro, Dr. Atish Kumar Yadav, and Brian Schils, for their invaluable support in improving the health and welfare of Tibetan ponies through medical treatment.
Through collaboration and compassion, we raise awareness about the challenges of Tibetan ponies in the Upper Mustang. Nepal Sanctuary Treks supports initiatives for their care, proudly contributing to their preservation.
Findings and Goals from the Fact Gathering Trek to the Mustang Region, 2023
- Several farmers and government officials were interviewed during the recent Fact Gathering Trek in May/June 2023 in the Mustang Region. All individuals involved with the ponies felt that integration from the equine medical team would improve the health and welfare of their ponies and welcomed the assistance the team offered.
- To better identify the genetic profile of the Tibetan pony, research evaluating the DNA of the ponies in the Mustang Region is one of the goals of the Tibetan Pony project. It is important to identify if the Tibetan ponies in Nepal are a unique population for many reasons, but this information is essential to effectively managing and treating their diseases. Hair samples for DNA analysis were collected from ponies throughout the Mustang Region.
- In line with this, the team discussed collaborating with the Women’s Empowerment and Sustainable Pony Program in Upper Mustang to empower women, promote gender equality, and advocate for sustainable pony care practices. The Tibetan pony project will specifically focus on involving women in the management and registration of Tibetan ponies. As an example, the program seeks to benefit the Muktinath Temple community by providing sustainable transportation alternatives for pilgrims who cannot trek to the temple. The community’s formal registration and certification process for ponies ensure excellent care standards and create economic opportunities. Additionally, these initiatives offer safe and reliable transportation for pilgrims with disabilities, providing an inclusive pilgrimage experience while preserving the region’s cultural heritage. Other areas of Nepal could also implement similar initiatives. Initial discussions with stakeholders in women and youth programs took place during this first fact-gathering trek.
- Promoting pony trekking serves as an effective approach to discourage locals from selling ponies. By engaging in pony trekking activities, locals can derive economic advantages from their ponies while preserving the breeding population sustainably. This creates a win-win situation where the local community benefits financially while protecting the pony breed for the long term. The dedicated professionals evaluated pony trekking routes and conducted interviews with farmers to assess their interest in utilizing their ponies for pony trekking.
If you are interested, in supporting the noble cause of preserving and caring for Tibetan ponies, please Visit the GoFundMe Your contribution, no matter how small, can make a significant impact on their well-being and survival. Every small contribution counts and goes a long way in making a difference in the lives of this magnificent creature.