The Heck horse is another name for the recreated Tarpan or Eurasian wild horse, which became extinct in 1909. Unfortunately, it’s unknown whether the Tarpan was another species than that of the domestic horse since no DNA samples survive. The Tarpan, once numbered in the millions and considered the ancestors to many modern horse breeds, were considered nuisances and hunted for meat or sport.
However, one modern breed remained which closely resembled the written descriptions and drawings of Tarpans, the Polish Konik. Director of the Munich Zoo in the 1930s, Heinz Heck, along with his brother Luntz began to deliberately recreate the Tarpan using the Koniks as a base, along with primitive-looking Icelandic ponies and the rare Swedish Gotland. He received support from the ruling political party in Germany at the time, which unfortunately happened to be the Nazis. Although this saved the horses from being eaten during World War II, the Heck horse has been unfairly branded as being Nazis.
On May 23, 1933, Heinz Heck is reported to have said when a just foaled colt staggered to his feet, “Tonight the foal of foals has been born.” That colt would wind up being the base for the modern Heck horse, most of which live in zoos, but some also live with private owners. Despite their notoriously untrainable ancestors, Heck horses can be trained just like any other breed of domesticated horse. First brought to America in 1955, Heck horses now have their own registry – the North American Tarpan Association.
Heck horses are small, compact, thick-bodied ponies standing an average of 12.2 to 13.2 hands high. The horses have thick manes and tails and are able to grow a very shaggy weather-resistant winter coat. The colors are primarily dun and grulla, considered the oldest colorations for domesticated horses. Heck horses often have dorsal stripes that can go all the way down the tail and zebra stripes on the legs. These stripes are faint and are in no way as vivid as in a zebra’s leg markings. Hooves are dark colored.
Unlike the original Tarpan, Heck horses’ manes fall over on one side or both sides of the neck. The original Tarpan was reputed to have a mane that stuck straight up, similar to a zebra’s mane. However, the last known Tarpan that died in 1909 had a fallen long mane which has led some biologists to think that Tarpan was not a pure Tarpan.
No matter if the Heck horse is an imitator, he is still a strong, beautiful and intelligent animal worth preserving.