Someone has said the Cretan horse “doesn’t waste the time of those who waste its own time”. This is just one of the comments about the special characteristics of Crete’s indigenous equine breed.
The Cretan horse is also called “Georgalidikon”, or “Messaritikon”, and is very different to any other breeds that I am aware of. It has been used in rural work, commerce and warfare, its glorious moments unfolding during World War II. Many of them were used for the defense operation of the Greeks against the Italians in Epirus and some of them -though very few- returned alive. But in general, Cretan horses were used throughout the Greek territory during the second world war. Nowadays, the Cretan horse is used mainly for entertainment. It’s the pride of the Cretan people, who now keep it for several reasons; the main one is enthusiasm towards the breed and determination to preserve it, as it used to be at severe risk of extinction (about 80 horses in 1982). Other reasons are social status, national pride and participation in traditional festive events. But let’s begin with the Cretan horse’s characteristics.
If you are looking for a cute buddy to cuddle and play with, then simply forget it. Also forget it if you like stopping what you are doing with the horse and start chipping with your friends and forget about returning to silence for the rest of the day. But its sharp and fast mind and the close and deep bonds it develops with its owner are just two of its advantages. The Cretan horse is quite impatient and energetic and if you keep it still for too long without leaving it alone, it will probaby start to “revolt”, moving around energetically and making a variety of noises. Too much affection looks funny if not threatening, and you might end up with a severe bite or kick as well. This horse is absolutelly willing to work and wander with you wherever and under whatever conditions you like, but dislikes endless hugs, kisses and the like.
The Cretan horse is short (1.40m in average), well-built, with a small face and a fine silhouette, in various colours -mainly chestnut, black and grey. Its neck is short and thin. Also, its skin is thin enough for the upper layers of the horse’s anatomy (such as vains, bones and muscles) to be visible. Moreover, its ears are of quite small size and automatically turn towards the direction of sounds they hear. Its hoofs are small and hard. At a very early age they have their rich tails cut quite short, for their special pace not to be hindered.
Physical characteristics and movement
The movement of this horse is quite unique, as its legs move diagonally, at a fast, steady pace, called “side-trot”. It’s actually a gift from nature to this animal, which had to adapt somehow to Crete’s sharply inclined, rocky terrains, with countless slopes. This special kind of movement makes this horse particularly safe, hence appropriate for all ages in any circumstance. Besides, people who ride these horses say that you can literally drink coffee or have a meal while riding. In the old times, people used to go to work while eating and drinking on horseback. This breed is very strong, quite fast and with high stamina, which is the reason why it was prefered for heavy work in the old times. The following videos provide a clear picture about the special movement of the Cretan horse:
I have never ridden a thoroughbred Cretan horse, therefore I can’t be sure in what equestrian sports it can participate. Personally, the only field I have seen a Cretan horse competing is the yearly race in Messara, while I have not been able to find sources indicating other sports. But I think it could compete in endurance races as well, given appropriate training, of course.