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Piney the Pine Nut Pony

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I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the Pine Nut Ponies from the Pine Nut Mountain HMA (NV 305), ever since I first saw them in - I think it was 2003 - at Palomino Valley. They are believed by many to be descendants of a Shetland breeder who released them after the bottom fell out of the Shetland craze in the 1950's/'60's.

Another explanation is that they are descendants of ponies or small horses used in the Comstock area mines, where animals had to go deep into long narrow tunnels to bring back the ore, and these were the right size and temperament.

Another somewhat conflicting explanation comes from a retired brand inspector who grew up in the region. He says the Pine Nut horses are an old herd that far pre-dates any recent introductions by Shetlands, enjoyed isolation from other wild horses, and  were never mixed with Shetlands or anything else. His opinion, based on size, build, and his own experience of their history, is that they are likely an unrecognized pure strain of Old Spanish horses.


Yet another tanatalizing though extremely remote possibility is that the Pine Nuts are somehow related to the rare small horse breeds of the Mediteranean, such as the Caspian Horse of ancient Persia, which they do strongly resemble. But since The Caspian Horse Society of the Americas claims that the first Caspians were imported in 1966, the Pine Nut herd is obviously not THAT.

However, it is remotely possible that Caspian type horses could have been imported at some time back in history and that these were the small horses used to transport ore from the Comstock tunnels. (Caspian links: Caspian Horse Society of the Americas   Caspian Horse  Caspian Horse World


 The Skyros Small Horse of Greece (left) also bears a marked similarity.

Any of those explanations is fine with me - at any rate they are small, short-coupled little horses, usually growing up to be between 12 and 14 hands, occasionally slightly taller. 

In a way it is appealing to just let all those wonderfully romantic theories continue. But instead, I sent samples to Dr. Gus Cothran, one of the world's foremost authorities in wild horse genetics, to be analyzed.  The results were interesting, though they raised as many questions as they solved:

The herd has very low genetic variability, despite being fairly large in numbers. The likely reason is that at some point back in time, the herd was very small, so all animals are descended from that small original genepool. The herd also does not resemble any other known, tested wild horse herd - this supports the old brand inspector's statement that the herd has always been isolated.

The living breeds that the herd resembles most closely in genetic type are the South American Criollos and similar breeds of known Old Spanish ancestry, and the Exmoor Pony. This latter fact is fascinating to me, since Exmoors are a very ancient breed. It also seems possible that they, or small draft-type horses related to them, might have been brought here during the days of the Comstock Tunnel mines, to pull ore carts.

Exmoor ponies, from Wikipedia

Most people don't want Pine Nut horses due to their size. They would be great kids' horses, but they have a reputation for being feisty and hard to train. I feel this must be due to improper handling - no horse is inherently mean! Most people who actually own Pine Nuts report that their horse is exceptionally quick-learning, kind, willing, and sweet-tempered, and that certainly has been my experience.

Unfortunately, with the encroachment of civilization and perhaps other human intervention, there seem to be some invasion of standard wild horses from across Hwy 50 into the Pine Nut area, and some of the horses on the periphery of the Pine Nut Range are not true Pine Nut Ponies at all. Or perhaps someone is misguidedly trying to "upgrade" the Pine Nuts with larger stock. Recently I saw a 15.1 hand tall gray horse at the Reno WHB Expo's Prison Horse Adoption, who was listed as a Pine Nut. I find this trend disturbing. This is not "maintaining unique herd characteristics" as the 1971 WHB Act called for.

Anyway, back to my particular Pine Nut Pony: In fall of 2007, Edona Miller told me about three Pine Nut ponies that were at the Colusa adoption. The others got adopted but the little bay didn't. I said, shoot, I would have taken him had I been there. And then I went way out on a limb and said that if ever she or Jason or anybody else was up at Litchfield and had room in their trailer, I would take the colt if they brought him down. Well, right before Thanksgiving 2007, Edona was up at Litchfield and she had room in her trailer...

So that's how I got the Pine Nut Pony. I couldn't figure out how a Pine Nut colt happened to be in captivity at all, let alone in California, because I knew it has been a few years since the Pine Nut herd was gathered, and most were sent to long-term holding. It was unlikely any would be in the adoption pipeline, especially in California. Edona said Viddell told her it had something to do with LRTC. So I wrote Willis and got the scoop. It seems a small band of Pine Nut Ponies had wandered into an upscale neighborhood and upset the residents.

So BLM came out and caught them but instead of taking them to Palomino Valley, they placed them with a group called the Fish Creek Posse, a volunteer wild horse advocacy group - I had never heard of them until now. That group brought them into California, hoping to get them adopted at LRTC's Brentwood adoption in October. One did, and the others were picked up by California BLM and taken to the Colusa adoption, where, as I already said, the bay was not adopted. He went to the Litchfield Corrals, and Edona brought him to her house and we went and picked him up.

Pine Nut comes home - met by the Welcoming Committee

Oh, Boy! This is EXCITING!

Here he comes!
Let the Gentling Begin!

For the first couple of weeks we did this dance of asking him to turn toward me and yield his hinds, and rewarding that and then asking again.

 Pretty soon he began to catch on and would take a step or two toward me. After about two weeks or so I was able to get a soft rope around his neck and to makeshift a simple halter to begin teaching leading and other ground skills

A couple of days after Christmas, I got a real halter and lead rope on him

With a real halter and lead rope I could begin teaching all his ground skills
Note: A lot of the video clips on this page start playing immediately, so you may hear a cacophony of videos at first. Put each one on PAUSE and then watch the one you want.

Piney's first time having a halter put on him and first leading lesson with the halter and lead rope

What goes on must come off.

In January I began taking him out for walks.

In mid-January I was able to take him to a Jerry Tindell Colt Starting CLinic. We made so much progress in just two days, it was great!

By mid-February he was doing tricks!
Our niece, MacKenzie Kerson, visited in July 2008 - she LOVED brushing Piney, and Piney took a real liking to her, too. He stood very still for a very long time, and seemed to feel honored to have such a nice little girl pay attention to him.

In November Piney went to the Vine Village Holiday Open House. He was relaxed and a perfect gentleman.

Most of the spring I worked Piney only occasionally and lightly, mainly just let him settle in with the herd and "be a horse."

In July I started training him again. He has matured a lot, gotten more comfortable and relaxed, and learns so quickly! He wants to please, and he usually "gets it" in just a few tries.

In August I took him back to a Jerry Tindell clinic to get some help with sacking out work. I wanted to make sure I didn't just get into a fight with him and find myself unable to get out of it. With Jerry's help, Piney worked through that scary plastic bag just fine and came home a much softer, less skittish fellow than before. Flag work (or ropes or plastic bags on a stick or whatever) is so important in developing a soft, reliable, not-overly-reactive horse.

Piney came up onto the deck for Holiday festivities in December

Piney pays a visit.

In May of 2009, Piney walked with Sparky in the "Parade of Adopted Mustangs"

He stood tied very nicely
Here's Mike taking him around as an "ambassador" Mustang

Driving Mr. Pine Nut
2010 Update

Piney is by now green-broke to ride, but he is so small that we decided to train him as a driving horse instead.





Piney at the 2012 Western States Horse Expo in Sacramento.