The Merens pony, also known as the Merenguais, Cheval de Merens, or Ariegeois de Merens pony, is a mountain pony breed native to the Pyrenees of France's Ariegeois Mountains and named after a high mountainous village near Andorra. For thousands of years it lived in relative isolation in the extremely mountainous terrain.
The Ariegeois Mountain native farmers or 'Montagnol' used the Merens Pony for centuries due to their disease resistance, surefootedness, suppleness, and hardiness on tough mountain land. They still use these horses today for some agricultural work such as hauling, plowing, and working in the fields on the steep hillsides. This solid pony has no problem carrying an adult or child and is perfect for mountainous trekking over rough terrain due to its surefootedness and easygoing nature.
The Merens pony is a very distinctive and recognizable breed type, which evolved over several thousand years due to the Merens pony's remote Pyrenees location in the Ariegeois Mountains.
A robust, strong pony standing from thirteen to fourteen hands high, Merens are black with no variations or markings. It is very unusual to find a Merens with any white markings. One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Merens pony is a hairy, thick winter coat.
The Merens pony, noted for being sturdy, disease resistant, cold hardy and located where the Ariege River flows, is an ancient horse breed dating back to prehistoric times. The Merens pony could be a direct descendent of the horses depicted in the prehistoric paintings and drawings of horses discovered at the Niaux cave walls and Ariège wall paintings dating back some thirty thousand years.
The Netherlands, Italy, Tunisia, and Germany are just a few of the many places they export the increasingly popular Merens pony to today.
Most of the breeders in Ariège raise their Merens ponies in the open, outside, year round. Born in the early springtime snow, foals appear to have no problems due to weather. Owners take their herds up to summer pastures in the high mountains in June, where the Merens ponies have total freedom for several months. Although increasingly bred in other countries and other parts of France, the authentic Merens ponies are the ones that run free like their ancestors, high in the Pyrenees.
In 1997, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair received a young Merens as a gift from the association SHERPA, which is a group that promotes the Merens race. The Prime Minister was a frequent vacationer in Ariege over the years.
In the middle ages, the Counts of Foix Gaston Phoebus and other armies used the Merens ponies. Later during the Russian campaign by Napoleons army, the soldiers used the hardy Merens horses.
The Merens pony existed in its native Ariegeois and Pyrenees Mountain regions since prehistoric times but it was not until around 1908 that breeders began to take an active interest in the Merens. Showing similar characteristics to the Friesian and Fells pony, in the past the Merens pony hauled minerals, timber and worked in southwestern France's mines.