Gotland pony or Gotland russ is an old Swedish pony breed. Gotland ponies are claimed to descend from Tarpans that lived on the small island of Gotland that is on the South-Eastern coast of Sweden right after the last ice age. The Gotland pony is the only breed of pony native to Sweden. The Öland horse from the neighbouring island of Öland was a close relative of the Gotland, but became extinct in the early 20th century.
The Gotland Russ has a light and narrow build with sloping quarters and a low-set tail. Their hooves are solid and hard. This pony generally stands from 115 to 130 centimetres (11.1 to 12.3 hands; 45 to 51 in) at the withers and is ideally between 123–126 centimetres (12.0–12.2 hands; 48–50 in). Three-year-old ponies must be 115–128 centimetres (11.1–12.2 hands; 45–50 in). The pony is strong and hardy, and can be ridden by children and small adults.
Wildtype bay and mealy (Pangare) are very common in the breed. Common colours include bay, chestnut, black, buckskin, and palomino, but all colours except for dun, grey, and pinto, are allowed. Bay or black is usually preferred.
The name russ comes from a now obsolete word ross, which means a riding horse or a charger and it is linked etymologically to the English word horse (in Old High German this word appeared as hros, and in English a metathesis has switched the places of the /r/ and the /o/, whereas in Swedish /hr/ went to /r/, producing ross or russ.
This breed of horse resembles the Hucul and Konik of Poland. Like those horses, aficionados claim the Gotland Russ descended from the Tarpan, though this is unlikely and DNA studies indicate the pattern of development was akin to most other landrace breeds, where domesticated stallions were crossed on local indigenous mares.
Once the Gotland ponies lived wild on the island. Nowadays a semi-feral herd is kept in the 650-acre (2.6 km2) enclosed area of Lojsta Moor where the horses live all year round.
In the beginning of the 19th century Gotland ponies still lived everywhere on the island, but due to logging and the increasing cultivation the number ponies had begun to lessen menacingly. Plenty of ponies were also taken to the manner Europe, and around 1870 they were sold 200 per year. They were transported all the way to Great Britain and Belgium where they were used in coal mines. Extinction of the breed was avoided when the ennobling society was founded in Sweden. To the society's merit the moors and forests of Lojsta were protected for the ponies to live in.
The first pedigree-book for Gotland ponies was opened in Sweden in 1943. To improve the breed two Wales pony stallions have been accepted in it: Reber General and Criban Daniel. The pedigree was closed in 1971 after which only registered Gotland ponies have been accepted in it.
Today, they are mainly bred in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway and North America.
The Gotland Russ is the most common breed of pony in Sweden. It is a good all round pony and is often used by riding schools. Modern Gotlands are most popular as a riding ponies, often for children, and as harness racing ponies. They also excel at show jumping, dressage, and eventing. The Gotland is considered to be a very quick learner, and described as easy to train.