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Tarpans Extinct? Fact or Fiction

Updated on March 13, 2011

A Sample Competition Presentation for 4-H Club

Copyright © G. Wasdin All rights reserved.

One of the main activities a 4-H'er can participate in is the presentation of an illustrated talk in a chosen project area. The following is one of the presentations I helped my daughter reserch and write and has notations as to when to show the posters with illustrations to enhance the speech:

Poster 1 - Tarpans, Extinct? Fact or Fiction

Tarpans, extinct? Is it fact or fiction? Well, first of all you may be wondering, what is a Tarpan? That was my question just a couple of years ago. Let me introduce myself.

My name is Kathy Wingbern, I’m an eighth grade Junior 4-Her from Logan County and my interest in Tarpans started when I noticed a small herd of unusual looking horses had taken up residence on my uncle’s farm. My family and I began to visit the horses and their owner. He explained to us that the reason we had not seen a breed like them before was because they are very rare with only about 80 living specimens in the United States today. (Note: This was the estimated population around 2002.)

Poster 2 - The Tarpan Defined

So, what is a Tarpan? The Tarpan is one of two living breeds that represent the species Equus Przewalski or to simplify we can just say that Tarpans are considered to be a prehistoric wild horse type. They ranged throughout the plains of eastern Europe and southern Russia and cave drawings of Tarpans found in France and Spain indicate they’re presence in those areas at one time.

Looking at this drawing you can see that the original Tarpan was a very muscular compact horse. They measured about 13 hands in height and featured a long broad head, slightly concave face, widening at the nostrils. Their necks were short and thick stemming from sturdy shoulders. The back was long, the hindquarters thin and sloping with fine, hard legs. Their coloring was a mouse dun, grulla or brown. One of the most distinguishing characteristics was its dark brown to black dorsal stripe. This stripe also goes down the center of the mane and tail with lighter-colored hairs on each side. Zebra stripes may appear on the forelegs and inner thighs and there may even be stripes on the body though this trait is rarely seen in today’s Tarpans. The winter coat could be white when living in a very cold climate. As you can see this is a very primitive-looking horse.

Poster 3 - The Mystery of the Disappearing Tarpan

Now the question is, what happened to the Tarpans? It seems that many years ago the Tarpan was hunted for food. much as deer were hunted, but with a good deal more ruthlessness because the Tarpan stallion would attack his domestic rival ferociously. Their meat was considered a great delicacy, so much so that its demand resulted in the breed being hunted almost to extinction by the end of the eighteenth century.

Tarpans were also victims of their own success. The fierce temperament of the stallions resulted in fighting for harems of other breeds. The takeovers diluted the Tarpan line.

In addition, destruction of natural habitat led them into conflict with farmers who objected to the Tarpans eating their crops or stealing their tame mares. Some were captured and bred into domesticated lines, some were probably killed, while some survived in the wild until about 1879. True to its independent nature this Tarpan died in a desparate attempt to avoid capture. Then in 1887 the last Tarpan in captivity died in a Munich zoo.

Poster 4 - Genealogy Chart

So, how did I find Tarpans living next door?

It has been recorded that the Polish government, dismayed at the loss of the Tarpan, gathered a number of extremely Tarpan-like horses from farmers and turned them loose in forest reserves. And so begins a debate about whether the breed has been “preserved” or “restored.”

Heinz and Lutz Heck, two German zoologists working at the Munich Zoo, believeing that all living creatures are the result of their genetic makeup, began trying to recreate the Tarpan through selective breeding. By using living descendants as a source for genetic material they began piecing together the puzzle of an intentionally recreated or bred back Tarpan. According to record the first bred back Tarpan, a colt, was born, May 22, 1933, in the Munich Zoo.

The debate now widens to ask are Tarpans preserved, restored or recreated and how did they get to the United States.

In 1954, Duke, a stallion was imported to the Chicago Zoological park in Illinois. Later, in 1955, two mares were added. The Fort Worth Zoological Park in Texas imported a Tarpan mare in 1962. All North American Tarpans can be traced back to these six specimens originating from the Munich Zoo in Germany.

So the modern Tarpan is a genetic recreation of the wild breed and though originally only found in zoos, most Tarpans in the USA are owned by individuals. As of about 1988 there were only two stallions in the United States that were available for the Tarpan breeding program and only a few mares with which to mate them. Because of the dedication of those interested in increasing the herd, Tarpans were adopted out to individuals willing to follow guidelines necessary to the preservation and increase of the breed.

It was no small miracle that out of the few Tarpans in the country a small herd would take up residence in my neighborhood.

Pictures are worth a thousand words

A 4-H Demonstration (illustrated talk) in progress
A 4-H Demonstration (illustrated talk) in progress
A very young Pleasant Hill King
A very young Pleasant Hill King
Look closely and you can see the leg striping on the legs
Look closely and you can see the leg striping on the legs
The dorsal stripe
The dorsal stripe
The two-tone mane
The two-tone mane

Poster 5 - Worth the Effort

As you can see there has been quite a lot of effort put into re-establishing the Tarpan breed. But why would anyone want to preserve a horse whose own personality seems to have played a part in its demise?

So far you have only heard from me about the ferocious, independent and stubborn traits of Tarpan stallions. Through research but mostly by personal experience I can tell you that the breed is well worth preserving.

My first meeting with Tarpans confirmed their reputation of a calm disposition. It was also apparent in their reactions to my visit that they deserved the descriptions of curious, friendly and affectionate personalities. The Tarpan is also extremely intelligent. But they are independent and can be quite stubborn and yes, the stallions are very aggressive in protecting their own.

With proper training they can make wonderful mounts for riding. They possess a natural ability for jumping and adapt nicely to pulling a cart. I for one am very glad that the breed has survived.

Poster 1 - Tarpans, Extinct? Fact or Fiction

The most primitive version of the Tarpan will probably never be seen again but some of the best characteristics of the breed have helped to establish other well-recognized and enjoyed breeds of today. The mystery of exactly what happened to all of the Tarpans will probably never be solved.

Many horse lovers today can learn about and appreciate the Tarpan breed because people worked to preserve them. We hear so much about how man is destroying our planet and creatures and plants that inhabit it. The recovery of the Tarpan shows that we can turn the tables. Pleasant Hill King, my Tarpan, is pictured here. He has proven to me that although the debate goes on as to whether or not the breed has been preserved, restored or recreated the Tarpan is no longer extinct. (Note: This is the end of the illustrated talk.)

After completing the presentation, the 4-H'er may be asked a few questions by the judges. As you can see, researching the speech, developing illustrations, practicing presentation skills, and preparing for the judges' interview can really enhance a child's ability to communicate effectively.

I give a great deal of credit to 4-H for our daughter's continuing success as she tackles the challenges of a college education.


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    • U Neek profile imageAUTHOR

      U Neek 

      5 years ago from Georgia, USA

      Thank you, and yes, I think they are beautiful animals both in appearance and personality. I appreciate your reading my hub and taking the time to comment.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      hi this is a wonderful piece of text and tarpans are beautiful.

    • U Neek profile imageAUTHOR

      U Neek 

      8 years ago from Georgia, USA

      Thank you very much thevoice. You can probably tell that we love Tarpans.

    • thevoice profile image


      8 years ago from carthage ill

      Terrific terrific hub I really enjoyed reading thanks


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