The Cheju pony gets its name from Cheju Island or Jeju Island, located off South Korea. According to “International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds” (University of Oklahoma Press, 1995), ponies and horses have been recorded there since 935 CE, possibly earlier. They were brought to the island to take advantage of the lush grazing areas.
Since the Mongols conquered the area in the 13th century, they no doubt introduced large numbers of their small, sturdy ponies onto the island. When the Mongols left, the ponies remained. It’s also thought that Arabs were also introduced into the area, which can explain why the Cheju has such a handsome head.
Chejus often stay outside all year and often did not get access to any kind of grain or concentrated feed that many modern-day breeds have access to.
The Cheju became well known for its strength and good health, even on meagre rations. Even today’s Chejus are noted for not being bothered by ticks. It is unknown why this is. They were in great demand even in mainland Korea for draft work. According to the Korean Racing Blog, at one point the island accomodated 20,000 ponies. But after decades of war and the rise of machines in agriculture, the demand for all breeds of horses and ponies decreased.
By the 1980s, South Koreans realized that there were only about 2500 of the ponies left. Admirers began to work on the breed’s behalf. They succeeded in having the South Korean government declare the Cheju pony a National Treasure. In 1987, The Cheju officially became the 347th Korean National Treasure.
But it costs money to take care of even national treasures. In order to help maintain the ponies that are left, South Korea races them on the Cheju (Jeju) Racetrack, which opened in 1990. The racetrack is open most weekends. About 500 Cheju ponies are stabled at the track at any given time. Unlike Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses, there is no registry for the Cheju. Any pony is eligible for running. One of the top Cheju pony races of the year is the Hallaibo Cup.
Cheju ponies average about 11 hands in height but often have long legs with horse-like proportions than the short legs ponies usually have. They have a handsome straight-profiled head with small ears, a thick, strong neck, a level back and well rounded hindquarters. The manes and tails are usually quite thick.
Chejus come in any color in the equine rainbow, with the exception of Appaloosa-like spotting. Common colors include grey, bay, black, chestnut, cremello, dun and dominant white (not albino – but a dark eyed white). Pintos can be very loudly colored.
“International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds.” Bonnie Hendricks. University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.
Horse Racing in Korea: Korean Racing Blog, “Jeju Racecourse Park.” http://korearacing.wordpress.com/jeju-racecourse-park/
Clearwater Bay Equestrian & EducationCentre. “Korean Ponies.” http://www.ceec.hk/horses%20content.htm#korean