Lithuania: Popular “Lithuanian Nature” series continues with Lithuanian hound and Žemaitukas horse

The Bank of Lithuania have issued (21st July) two new coins which highlight two of the more distinctive breeds of animal which are unique to the small Baltic state: the Lithuanian hound and the Žemaitukas, a particular breed of horse.

If a dog or a horse is considered to be a man’s best friend, the Lithuanian hound and Žemaitukas could be called companions of the Lithuanian people. The two breeds, which evolved under local environmental conditions from the strongest and most hardy stock, are among the oldest not only in Lithuania, but also in the world. Nowadays Lithuania counts around 500 pure-bred Žemaitukai registered in the herd book, and 200 purebred Lithuanian hounds.

One of the key tasks of the Lietuvos žirgynas—the oldest and largest stud farm in Lithuania—is to maintain and preserve the endangered Žemaitukas breed. Included in the Global Databank for Farm Animal Genetic Resources and the World Watch List for Domestic Animal Diversity, the Lietuvos žirgynas has been known since about the 6th to the 8th century. To preserve the Lithuanian hounds, it developed a special programme, yet it has been the hunters raising these dogs who are most invested in the breed’s purity and continuation.

(Hover to zoom)

The coins, which are struck in both silver and cupro-nickel versions, are designed by Rūta Ničajienė and Giedrius Paulauskis and produced by the Mint of Lithuania on behalf of the Bank of Lithuania. The reverse of the coin features two Lithuanian hounds standing in front of a Žemaitukas horse on stony ground. All are facing to the left, looking at something in the distance. Horse, hounds, and stones are textured with a pattern of fine diagonal lines, as in an etching. (The texture is more evident on the silver Proof coins; an overall pebbly texture of the Brilliant Uncirculated coins mutes the effect.) The encircling legend reads ŽEMAITUKAS clockwise at upper right, and LIETUVIU SKALIKAS counterclockwise at lower left.

(Hover to zoom)

The obverse features a stylised version of the national insignia, the Vytiswhich, which is usually depicted on the country’s coat of arms. As on the reverse, the emblem is textured with fine diagonal lines, as if etched. Above the emblem is the word LIETUVA. To the left is the date of issue, 2017, while the denomination, expressed as 10 or 1,50, is below.

Denom. Metal Weight Diameter Quality Maximum Mintage
€1.50 Cupro-nickel 11.1 g 27.5 mm Brilliant Unc. 25,000
€10 .925 silver 23.3 g 34 mm Proof 2,000

The €1.50 coin commemorating the Lithuanian hound and Žemaitukas horse is the second coin of this specific denomination issued by the Bank of Lithuania. With the issue of this smaller-face-value coin, the Bank of Lithuania seeks to expand the range of euro coins issued, highlight the more popular themes, and encourage younger people to take an interest in collecting coins. For more information on this and other coins issued by the Bank of Lithuania, please visit the website of the Mint of Lithuania.

Background of the Lithuanian Hound

After thriving for many centuries, the Lithuanian hound was on the brink of extinction in the early 20th century. Such a situation formed as a result of political shifts, restrictions on hunting, and decreases in populations of wild animals (potential hunting prey). Only in 1957–1958 did cynologist Zigmas Goštautas collect the remaining Lithuanian hounds in Samogitia and began to restore the vanishing breed.

In 1966, the breed standard was adopted; it was later amended more than once. The hound stands around 53 to 61 centimetres (21–24 inches) at the withers and measures about 52–60 centimetres (20–24 inches) in length, with a chest girth around 70 centimetres (28 inches). It weighs about (60–75 pounds). Its head is large and its forehead broad. The hound is found only in black with a brown snout, chest, underbelly, inner legs, and eyebrow ridge. Its coat is dense, with shiny ears that are triangular in shape with rounded ends. The tail is sword-shaped, carried below the line of the back. Every year several Lithuanian hound conformation shows are held in the country; here, the dogs are evaluated to select the best ones to maintain the appropriate varietal characteristics. In 1986, there were roughly 500 Lithuanian hounds, but their number fluctuates around 200 today.

The Lithuanian hound is a non-aggressive dog, friendly with strangers and perfect for families with children. Therefore, quite a few of them are kept for reasons other than their traditional purpose—assistance in hunting. The only Lithuanian breed of hunting dog, the Lithuanian hound has preserved its old attributes and characteristics. They remain highly resistant to disease. They are a truly valuable example of cultural and material heritage, and we should all be invested in keeping the breed alive.

English-language videos of these two Lithuanian breeds are difficult to come by, but the following—whose title translates to “First Lessons of Lithuanian Hound Puppies”—needs no voiceover or subtitles.

(YouTube video by Austieja /Auksa Žovis / Gončius)

Bankground of the Žemaitukas Horse

The Žemaitukas (pl. Žemaitukai) is the only ancient Lithuanian horse breed to have been preserved to the present day. This is attributable to the horse’s multiple abilities: it was a steed for Lithuanian warriors, or harnessed to a plough, a cart, or even an elegant carriage. Lithuanian warriors and farmers were not the only ones keen on these features—the Žemaitukas caught the attention of breeders from other European countries as well. Being one of the oldest horse breeds in the world, and having highly valuable genetic characteristics, the horse was used in East Prussia, in the town of Trakehnen (now Yasnaya Polyana, Russia), to derive the internationally celebrated Trakehner saddle-horse breed.

The Žemaitukas is a vigorous, undemanding, and tough horse with a strong physique. Nowadays, horse breeders classify it as a saddle pony, and they successfully compete in various sporting events. Even though Žemaitukai have been widespread across Lithuania for a very long time, it was not until 500 years ago, when they were finally recognised and accurate descriptions of their unique characteristics documented, that written records of their breed finally existed. Because of their unique characteristics, Žemaitukai have been used in Lithuania and beyond. Although it is a small horse, its stamina and excellent physique have amazed many. Famed Lithuanian animal breeder Romanas Žebenka described the žemaitukas as

a small, sturdy-built horse with very strong legs. It has a good trot, a well-formed front part. Its head is small, profile straight and forehead broad. Small, constantly moving ears and large, lively eyes give it an expression or an air of intelligence. The neck is relatively short, finely arched, strong—this is especially true for stallions.

A Žemaitukas horse at show. (Photo by Tomas Čekanavičius)

At their withers, Žemaitukas stallions stand at around 1.35 metres (4.43 feet) tall, or a little over 13 hands. (Mares are slightly smaller.) They weigh 360–420 kilograms (about 790 to 925 pounds). The chest girth measures about 173–175 centimetres (68–69 inches), and the torso length, about 142–143 (56–57 inches). Many people take note of the Žemaitukas’s rather massive body in relation to its thin, yet, strong legs. Its neck is of average length; its chest, wide and deep; its back, straight and broad; and its loins, nicely rounded. The hooves are small, almost round. In its gait, the Žemaitukas is easy, its movements elegant and graceful, with a broad trot and good jump. It is an ideal riding horse, and, according to various authors, it can easily cover up to 100 kilometres a day. The Žemaitukas can be chestnut coloured or black, but most often they are light or dark bay (more rarely, dark grey). They are relatively disease resistant and long lived (up to 30 years), and have a cheerful disposition.   ❑

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