Sadly, breeding-back is a rather emotionalized subject sometimes. People who fancy or simply decided to fancy certain breeds for pragmatic reasons or reject others because of this tend to develop a static thought system that is very resilient and that they are unwilling to change, causing very polarized opinions. The “You don’t advocate the same breed as I do, so I dislike your breed” mindset is common in certain groups, and especially people who have to make decisions for running projects might be forced to think in a black-and-white scheme. Dogmatists interpret evidence wishfully and ignore facts that do not fit their opinion, and a certain lack of knowledge plays a role as well. I had been such a biased person for about a year long because I had not enough knowledge on this topic yet, before I realized that this is a very unscientific and narrow-minded approach that I actually never wanted to practice and therefore nowadays I try to be as open-minded and neutral as possible.
I just have to counter a critique I received about 9 months ago that I simply cannot get out of my mind because I left it unanswered. I did so because I realized that it is pointless to discuss with people who have a strong ideology and think in black and white, and because that person does not give me the impression that he is interested in doing the research on this subject properly but is rather led by a certain purpose or agenda.
Note that by “defending” the Konik I do not intend to argue that it is a wild horse relict or genetically closer to the wild horse than any other European domestic horse. The Konik merely is a hardy landrace with a phenotype that is variable but numerous individuals do show a considerable resemblance to what we know about European wild horses (I avoid the word “Tarpan” because there is so much confusion around it). That’s about it, and that's the status is what I am defending here. In the following paragraph I will post that critique claim by claim and write my clarifications in between. As you will see, this person is very quick in discrediting statements or evidence not accordant with his ideology based on superficial (or erroneous) knowledge, and this person also regularly does that with other breeds and even whole projects or directly to people. I know it is a bit unfair to dismantle this critique publically on a blog, but I certainly won’t reveal the identity of that person. Since I know that this person is a determined advocate of the Exmoor pony as a “wild horse” and argues in favour of the Exmoor, I’ll counter that as well (note that I am not biased against the Exmoor Pony at all, it’s pretty apparent from my other posts that I really like that breed/type a lot and think it is a well-suited breed for substituting the European wild horse; but when I think a statement/comparison is erroneous, I just have to point it out).
See attachments including an underjaw of an Exmoor pony: broad jaw with deeply rooted teeth.
Without a comparison to a Konik jaw, this fact is absolutely no argument against the Konik. Despite extensive research, I did not find a Konik skull on the web (if any of you has, I’d be grateful for a link). But if you ever held a horse tooth in your hand, you have probably realized how large and long it is. In fact every veterinarian will confirm to you that teeth are deep-rooted in all horses (some surely randomly chosen horse skulls or graphs with teeth in situ, here, here and here). And since no case of a semi-feral Konik feeding on natural grounds having dental problems has ever been reported as far as I know, I don’t have a reason to assume that the jaws of Exmoors are suited any better to natural grazing. Furthermore, the skulls of Koniks and Exmoors are quite similar and the jaws of Koniks of the “robust type” are surely not less robust than those of Exmoors.
Koniks are a composite of local ponies. In mtDNA studies, they nowhere cluster as being a descendant of any wild horse.
This is in fact correct, the breed history of the Konik evidently shows that the Konik is a landrace that descends from hardy rural ponies, mainly from the Bilgoraj region of Poland . It is also true that recent genetic studies do not set the Konik apart from other domestic horses nor do they suggest that it experienced more wild horse introgression than other European wild horses. But one should not forget that the domestication process of the horse involved a great number of wild mares and only a very small number of wild stallions [2,3,4] and that mitochondrial DNA only tells you about maternal ancestry. Inclusion of wild mares into domestic stock all over Europe is very probable for whole Europe based on the genetic evidence [2,3,4] and the fact that wild stallions are virtually intractable is probably the reason why only very few of them were used in domestication and therefore why domestic horses have such few Y chromosome variants. An Y haplotype or a complete Y chromosome not present in any other horse lineages would therefore be a very strong indication of local introgression in a breed (and a very high Y diversity in a domestic horse population would thus imply very strong introgression or even descendant from local wild horses). A 2004 study  showed that a large number of breeds have the same few Y chromosomes, including the Exmoor (and therefore ruling out that it descends from British wild horses or that it experienced much, not sex-biased local introgression), but this study unfortunately does not include the Konik. Therefore, it is not ruled out that the Konik has a unique Y chromosome diversity implicating a local wild horse influence that was larger than in other European horse breeds. That is not to say that I think that is the case, intuitively I actually don’t think so, but I am just saying that you cannot rule something out because it was not tested. For the Exmoor on the other hand it was tested and the result confutes that it is a surviving wild horse or strongly wild horse-influenced by rampant hybridization in the wild.
Have a look at the Konik population in the Oostvaardersplassen, where you see other colors and all kinds of builds, from lanky to stocky.
It is true that the Konik population at Oostvaardersplassen also contains individuals having a sorrel dun colour, individuals lacking dun (making them black), or with white marks. But there is no reason to assume that these make up a higher portion in the allele frequency than in usual Koniks (which is about 15% ). Assuming that the horses get more heterogeneous just because there are not selected anymore exposes either a lack of knowledge on population genetics, or would imply that these colours have a selective advantage over black dun – which is very unlikely in the case of Sorrel dun and white markings, which are domestic colours. Phenotypic black might be an exception, but they are still not a very common sight in the reserve. I actually appreciate the presence of black Koniks. The two domestic colours in the Konik population are the result of their mixed origin from the Panje horses (see here for more details on the Konik’s history), but also the Exmoor shows colours different from their standard colour, like “cream” (possibly dun) and white markings , despite having been and being artificially selected on colour .
It is true that there is some variation in body conformation within the OVP population, but you never see tall, gracile and slender Koniks resembling riding horses there. Some of them even have a build as robust and stocky as stocky Exmoors (see here or here).
In other areas they select on color only which is totally ridiculous.
I agree that it is unwise for breeders that want their Koniks to look like European wild horses to select only on colour, but grazing projects usually also select them on hardiness and Koniks obviously do well in OVP and Polish and Latvian reserves . The hardiness of Koniks is well-established ever since they originated from the Polish rural horses at the end of the 19th century. Those in grazing projects tend to be stockier than those in domestic use.
But it is true that many Koniks in domestic use and also some at grazing projects have a too light-built body and a rather long mane, I would appreciate if Koniks in general would be selected for a stocky body with a thick head and a short mane.
A Polish naturalist in 1721 AD is talking about bay-dun, mouse color (not necessary grey mind you. See local mouse called Apodemus Agrarius) and Isabella colored wild horse where he also states that he believes they are mixed.
The name of this naturalist the critic is referring to is Eugeniusz Rozdzynski. He certainly did not use the term “bay-dun” of modern equine coat colour terminology, but in fact he used the word “tan”. He was not the only one who reported about the wild horses living at the Polish game park at Zamosc, other people are f.e. Kajetan Kozmian, de Beauplan, Julius Czapski . Their reports cover a time span of about 200 years. Regarding the colour of those horses, these later authors described them as homogenously blackish-brown or mouse-coloured . The tan or isabelline colour described by Rozdzynski does not necessarily imply what modern terminology identifies as “Isabella”, it could have been bay dun or even black dun as well, historic horse colour terminology was not as strict as it is today (there are some confusions even today, f.e. the British often call dun “cream”, which is a different gene). “Mouse coloured” almost certainly mostly refers to black dun/grulla, because “mouse colour” is colloquially associated with a brownish-grayish colour, and even if people referred to the colour of Apodemus agrarius when using that term, an ashy brown colour with a prominent eel stripe does not rule out black dun at all, it actually fits very well. Black dun has many different shadings, also including such with a strong brownish tint. See here or here.
The other bodily features reported of those wild horses at Zamosc also definitely fit a wild horse phenotype (small and stocky, with a thick large head and a “beard”). Also the described behaviour matches that of what one would imagine a European wild horse to behave like, that is intractable and shy, defending harshly against predators .
One reason why people back those days and also some contemporary authors believe the horses at Zamosc were of domestic origin is that they had hoof problems. Specifically, their hooves grew faster than they got worn off, leading to an overgrowth of the hoof nail, causing some of the horses to have crippled legs. This is most likely related to the ground they were living on, it is a problem that all clawed animals have when they live on an unsuited ground, especially animals in captivity (and those at Zamosc were captive, more or less). This is also known in zoos that have Przewalski’s horses, sometimes it is necessary to cut their hooves annually . Even some wild roe deer can have the same problem if they live on unsuited ground, I saw it for myself. Therefore, the hoof problems that these horses had do not imply that they were mixed or of feral origin .
Regarding dun; coloration has a clear function and non-dun, but bay coloration with light belly and light muzzle acts as countershading, so that predators have a hard time seeing the whole contours of a potential prey. Dun has not been proven for original wild horses anywhere. We simply don't know. The rest is speculation.
I don’t understand why the critic mentions countershading here, because it is present in both dun and non-dun horses if bay is the base colour anyway. Phenotypically black horses (therefore, in the lack of dun) totally lack countershading. Black dun horses, like the Konik, sometimes do show countershading to some extent though (see here or here). Maybe the critic should also note that animals predominantly living in more forested environments usually tend to have a solid colour while countershading is present in a lot of open land-dwelling species (wild equines with the exception of zebras, lamas, many antelope species etc.).
Now to dun: The critic shows that weird “it was not tested so we should assume it was absent” reasoning again. Having dun is the plesiomorphic (= underived, ancestral) condition in wild equines because all other species show it, so the assumption that European wild horses had it is the null hypothesis. Presumption that they lost dun would require an additional hypothesis and therefore is not the most parsimonious assumption. Historic references indicate that European wild horses were in fact dun-coloured (there are, as outlined above, good reasons to presume that most of these sources describe true wild horses with only little intermixture). So why assuming that they were non-dun in the first place? The only argument is that the lack of dun resulting in a darker colour might be more suited to a more or less forested environment than to the open field, where dun aids somatolysis (interestingly, the critic at the same time is a diehard advocate of the megaherbivore hypothesis and thinks Europe was more of a grassland savanna). I do think it is possible that there were non-dun European wild horses too, perhaps existing a habitat separation with the dun counterparts (like the first inhabiting forests and moors, the latter inhabiting grassland and steppes etc.) and indeed non-dun bay and black horses are well-camouflaged in forests; another possibility is that all four colour versions present at the same time in the same populations. But as long the dun factor isn’t tested for European wild horses, I prefer dun over non-dun because it is more parsimonious and supported by historic evidence.
So crossing Koniks with Exmoors seems ridiculous to me, because you will only **** up the original color setting, where Konik colored has been selected by humans and Exmoor colors not that much.
If “the original colour setting” is meant to imply that the European wild horse showed exactly the colour of the Exmoor, then this claim is very speculative: first of all, the lack of dun is not supported by historic data and genetically untested yet, secondly, many Exmoors have the dark brown colour instead of bay, which is not yet identified in wild horse populations – although I think it is possible. No, I’m not saying “absence of evidence is evidence of absence”, but the presence of the At allele for dark brown is, again, less parsimonious than its absence, and therefore less likely whereas in dun the opposite is the case. Furthermore, Exmoors lack the allele for black, and white marks still occur in that breed too. The critic is ignoring that black dun is very likely a quite common colour for European wild horses (as outlined above, but more details on that in a future post), and probably unaware of the fact that the Exmoor was selected for the bay/brown + countershading coat to a considerable extent, and that there were several domestic colours present among the ponies at the moor before selection and several bottleneck events .
A cross population of Konik x Exmoor would not ruin anything (it wouldn’t even diminish the number of the pure individuals of the breed), but rather result in a population having bay dun, black dun, bay/brown and black and a wild horse like body and skull shape plus the ability to defend themselves against predators and resistance against cold temperatures. Thus such a combination would in my opinion be a very good perspective for substituting the wild horse in reserves.
In the Oostvaardersplassen you actually see a trend towards more bay-dun colored horses, even after they tried to weed out every hint of bay from the Konik coloration.
First of all, I am curious on what he is basing this alleged trend on. There is no statistic data on coat colour changes in OVP over time, so it must be a personal guess. And if you know the various photos and videos of the herds in the reserve, it is obvious that the overwhelming majority of the horses is grulla coloured, and probably the portion of sorrel or black individuals is not higher than in other populations, they are just more apparent because they are not selected out as foals.
The critic exposes his lack of knowledge about horse colours, because there is not a single bay or bay dun pure Konik on this world, only the crosses with Przewalski’s horses or Fjord horses have this colour gene. Those “deviant” animals you see at OVP are sorrel dun or just sorrel (see here). So his claim that black dun has a lesser selective advantage than a “bay” colour (that does not exist in that population) is totally baseless.
Even better; the original founder animals for the Konik were bay colored and black horses. Nearly no grey animal was used, only selected for about 50 or 60 years.
Again a lack of knowledge or misuse of facts is exposed. It is true that the rural Panje horses from which the Konik descended displayed various colours, bay among them , but when the first studs for the first Panje horses called “Konik” were set up, mostly horses showing the colours that were considered to be wild horse-like (that is, black dun) were selected. At the starting phase, more colours were present than today, but black dun was the most common, and became (almost) fixed by selection subsequently – but the statement that only bay and black horses were used is simply wrong. And the mindset that black dun could be somehow “invented” by selective breeding only with bay and black horses seems rather awkward and as if genetics did not exist. Furthermore, it is misleading that the critic calls the colour of the Konik “grey” – grey according to horse colour terminology is caused by a totally different gene and is no wild type colour. The colour of the Konik on the other hand is black dun/grulla, and is not always optically grey but includes various shades as shown above.
I am sure that this person will call me biased an arrogant for this again, but I give my reasons for the statements I make, provide literature references and I am always open to change my opinion, as long-term readers of my blog or forum discussions I am involved in will know. I am luckily not involved in any practical projects, so I can try to retain an open, un-biased mind because I have no urgent decisions to make and don’t have to see contradicting facts as a threat to a propagated agenda. The person above is involved in a number of projects and seemingly developed a quite pragmatic way to look at things and, interestingly, blames me to be the biased, arrogant and clueless one (his own words). However, I leave my readers to decide for themselves who deserves that characterization.
This defense of the Konik against that unfair critique is also applicable to all other primitive black dun horse breeds, such as the Hucule or some individuals of the Icelandinc pony as a useful and accurate wild horse substitute in Europe.
 Tadeusz Jezierski, Zbigniew Jaworski: Das Polnische Konik. 2008.
 Jansen et al.: Mitochondrial DNA and the origins of the domestic horse. 2002.
 Cieslak et al.: Origin and history of mitochondrial DNA lineages in domestic horses. 2011.
 Lindgren et al.: Limited number of patrilines in horse domestication. 2004.
 Bunzel-Drüke, Finck, Kämmer, Luick, Reisinger, Riecken, Riedl, Scharf & Zimball: Wilde Weiden: Praxisleitfaden für Ganzjahresbeweidung in Naturschutz und Landschaftsentwicklung. Arbeitsgemeinschaft Biologischer Umweltschutz
 Peter Green, South Wulley Farm: The free-living ponies within the Exmoor National park: their status, welfare and future. A report to the Exmoor Moorland landscape partnership. 2013.
 Baker, Sue, 2008: Exmoor Ponies: Survival of the Fittest – A natural history.
 Lee Boyd, Katherine A. Houpt: Przewalski’s horse: The history and Biology of an Endangered Species. 1994.