Nonius Horses
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About Nonius HorsesAbout Nonius Horses



Nonius, or Noniusz, horses were developed at the ImperialrnStud at Mezohegyes, Hungary by careful linebreeding. Originally they were bredrnto serve as a light draft and utility horse for Hungary's military; but they becamerna useful agricultural horse during the 20th century. Today they are bred byrnpreservationists and are used in agriculture, leisure riding, and competitiverndriving sports. The largest numbers of Nonius horses are still found at the Mezohegyesrnstud ranch, with representatives in other eastern European nations as well.rnrn 

rnrnHorse-breeding has been an important facet of Hungarianrnculture since its settlement, due largely to its geographic location and openrnplains. The Ottoman Conquest, beginning in 1526, saw an influx of eastern,rndesert-type horses traditionally described as oriental. These Arabian andrnTurkish horses were elegant and reactive, and left their mark on the stock ofrnHungarian horses. Even after the Ottoman occupation of Hungary ended in 1699,rnthe attachment between Hungary and the Arabian horse remained. During thern1700s, the Hungarian court and aristocracy began to follow the tastes of theirrnwestern neighbors for Iberian types. The Spanish and Neapolitan imports of therntime sparked the creation of the Lipizzaner and Kladruber. These Austrianrnbreeds are known for the features of their Spanish-Neapolitan ancestors: thick,rnhigh-set neck, elegant but heavy head, short back and agility. Demand forrnsuitable mounts for the courtiers and aristocrats outstripped the production byrnprivate breeders, and so during his reign Joseph II instructed the building ofrna number of state Stud farms.rnrn rnrn 

rnrnThe State Stud of the Hungarian Royal and Imperial Court,rnMezohegyes, was founded in 1784 to help meet the demand for horses. At therntime, Hungary was home to 1.5 million horses, with the Hungarian cavalryrnrequiring between 10,000 and 15,000 new mounts per year. Different horsesrnfulfilled different roles: courtiers and aristocrats wanted agile, responsive,rnimpressive riding horses for their military endeavors, resilient mounts forrnhunting on horseback, in addition to elegant carriage horses. Fulfilling theserndemands led Mezohegyes to develop several different breeds and strains: thernArab-influenced Gidrán, half-bred Furioso-North Star, and the heavier Nonius.rnrn 

rnrn rnrnNonius horses owe their name to their foundation sire, Nonius.rnNonius was born in 1810 in Calvados, Normandy. His sire was the ThoroughbredrnOrion, and his dam was a Norman mare; all told Nonius was 3/8ths Thoroughbred,rnan Anglo-Norman horse. He was captured from the French Stud at Rosiers auxrnSalines during the Napoleonic Wars and brought to Mezohegyes in 1816.rnrn 

rnrnEven as a foal he was considered ugly. At maturity, thernlight bay stallion stood about 16.3 hands high. Whether he possessed all of thernconformational traits attributed to him - a list that includes most majorrnfailings - is hard to know. The qualities of his descendants suggest that hernhad, at the very least, a very plain head. Nonius at first did not serve manyrnmares at Mezohegyes. It was not until his offspring began to show that theyrnwere not so unfortunate as their sire, and additionally possessed uncommonrnendurance and power that his popularity began to rise. Going forward, his matesrnat Mezohegyes were the fashionable daughters of Spanish-Neapolitan stallions,rndescended from the Arabian-impressed Hungarian stock.rnrn 

rnrnThe Prince of Lobkowitz, who in 1854 became the head ofrnMezohegyes, stressed the importance of fixing the type - that is, making therncharacteristics of a breed of animal genetically homogenous - of the horses.rnThis goal was achieved by linebreeding, though the one season that NoniusrnSenior served his own daughters was notably unsuccessful: of the 33 foals, 11rndied while only 2 were broodmare-quality and 1 was stallion-quality. Howeverrnwith more experimentation, the Nonius breed emerged as a uniformly heavy butrnelegant military driving and carting horse. In 1865, Arabian and Thoroughbredrnstallions were introduced for Nonius Senior's female descendants in the hopesrnof correcting a lack of balance and elegance among the Nonius horses. Fifteenrnof Nonius's sons stood stud, and 122 were broodmares.rnrn rnrn 

rnrnThe roles and popularity of the Nonius breed were affectedrnby periods of social and political upheaval. In 1900 the utilitarian qualityrnand modest appearance of the Nonius horses won the breed the title ofrn"Ideal Horse" at the Paris Exposition Universelle. The militaryrntechnological advances of World War II displaced the Nonius horses, which werernthen directed towards agriculture instead. The damage that the property,rnsupplies, and livestock of Mezohegyes suffered during the Second World War werernsteadily rebuilt up through the 1960s. Communist Hungary was not supportive ofrnhorseback riding, and in the years between 1947 and 1961, more Hungarian horsesrnwere lost to the abbatoir than were casualties of the war. Attempts to producernsport-oriented horses from Nonius stock were largely unsuccessful, thoughrnduring the 1970s combined driving emerged as a popular horse-sport at which thernNonius could excel. In 1989 the Nonius Horse Breeders National Association wasrnformed to protect the purebred Nonius horse. Today estimates put the populationrnof Nonius horses at about 450 mares and 80 stallions. The largest population isrnfound at Mezohegyes, with other herds in Romania, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, andrnSerbia-Montenegro.

rnrn rnrnClose linebreeding during the breed's establishment andrncontinued use of a closed studbook have contributed to a recognizable andrnreliably-transmitted type in the Nonius. The vast majority are black, or darkrnbay or brown, either unmarked or modestly-marked with white. Bay individualsrnare more common among the Nonius horses from Hortobágy. The breed is also knownrnfor the heavy but proportional head with a convex profile called either a ram'srnhead or Roman nose. The breed exhibits traits common to heavy-boned driving andrnlight draft horses: powerful and arched high-set neck, broad and muscular back,rnopen but powerful loin, deep and sloping hindquarters. The chest is broadrnrather than deep, and is usually more shallow than the hindquarters. The hoovesrnand joints are large and the legs are dry. Nonius horses stand between 15.1rnhands high (155 cm) and 16.1 hands high (165 cm). One of the heaviest warmbloodrndriving horses, the ideal Nonius has a girth of 70-83 inches (180-210 cm) and arncannon circumference of 8-9 inches (22-24 cm). Nonius horses are also known forrna kind, even temperament and great willingness and capacity for work both inrnharness and under saddle. In addition they are usually easy keepers with highrnendurance. They are used today in agricultural work, light draft and the sportrnof combined driving. The popularity of driving sport in Hungary rose sharplyrnduring the 1970s and 1980s. The Combined Driving World Championships are heldrnevery 2 years, and the most competitive event features teams of four horses. Ofrnthe 6 champions named between 1974 and 1984, all but one was Hungarian. ThernNonius is slower and less suitable for other riding sports like dressage andrnshow jumping than lighter horses.

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