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Endangered breeds gather in rare show at Horse Park

Horses are a common sight in Kentucky, but the horses visiting the Kentucky Horse Park this weekend are so rare that even equine aficionados might never have seen them.

The horses and ponies at the "Festivale of Endangered Equines" include breeds so scarce there might be only a few hundred left in the world.

Horses like "Rosie," a 10-year-old Dales Pony, imported from England. Rosie is the only one of her kind at the show, and there are only about 300 such mares in the world.

Visibility is key to keeping rare breeds alive. For anyone who is interested, Rosie is single and looking. Her interests include dressage, jumping and driving: She's especially proud of being good enough to work with drivers in wheelchairs.

"Right now we're searching for Mr. Right" to breed with, said Leslie Hernandez of Gayla Training Center in Georgetown, where Rosie lives and works.

"These breeds ... once they're gone, they're gone," said Dana Banfield, the farm's manager.

That's one reason this show is so special. These breeds have too few horses to participate in a traditional show of their own.

But this gives them a spotlight, said show organizer Victoria Tollman, executive director of the Equus Survival Trust.

"It wasn't so much a chance to show as to show off," Tollman said Friday, the first day of the show, which runs through Sunday.

Participants came some distance to be here. The Newfoundland ponies came down from Canada for the first time; judges came from Germany and Great Britain.

"It's a very international culture, an international flavor," Tollman said. "These endangered breeds are really a piece of history."

Adding to the atmosphere are representatives from the National Zoo, who came to promote their rare equids: zebra, Persian onager and Przewalski's horse, the only true wild horse in the world.

Several of the competing breeds have "prehistoric" ancestry. The Exmoor, an endangered breed from England, is considered the oldest and purest native pony breed. The Caspian horses predate Arabians and were thought extinct until 1965. The Akhal-Teke horses are the descendants of ancient Turkish warhorses.

And, in case a new fan wants to bring home a special horse, there is one in the silent auction on Saturday: a 5-month-old Dartmoor weanling named Tulipking's Emir, from Ware Shoals, S.C.