Ponies on Little Mis Tor
|Country of origin:||England|
|Horse (Equus ferus caballus)|
The Dartmoor Pony has lived in south-western England for centuries and is used for a variety of disciplines. Because of the extreme weather conditions experienced on the moors, the Dartmoor is a particularly hardy breed with excellent stamina. Over the centuries it has been used as a working animal by local tin miners and quarry workers. It is kept in a semi-feral state on Dartmoor, Devon. It is closely related to the Exmoor Pony, from Exmoor (also partly in Devon).
Despite this, numbers have declined - from an estimated 25,800 in the 1930s to perhaps 5,000 today.
The small head has wide-set eyes and alert ears. Most are close-coupled, with strong hindquarters and loins. The Dartmoor pony has short legs with a medium amount of bone, and tough feet. They have a free shoulder, with flowing gaits. The ponies have a full mane and tail.
The Dartmoor pony has a kind temperament, the ponies being reliable, gentle and calm. Under the breed standard, introduced in 1924, a Dartmoor pony should stand at no more than 12.2 hands (1.24 m), with most being between 11.1 hands (1.13 m) and 12.2 hands (1.24 m), and it should be bay, brown, black, grey, chestnut or roan. Piebald and skewbald exist but are not recognized by the breed society, and derive from interbreeding with other ponies; large amounts of white on legs or face are also frowned upon.
Although Exmoor ponies live fairly close geographically and markings are somewhat similar, evidence now suggests that Dartmoor ponies and Exmoor ponies are not related as was once thought.
History of the Dartmoor Pony
The Dartmoor Pony was used in medieval times for carrying heavy loads of tin from the mines across the moor. It suffered greatly from the infusion of Shetland blood in the years between 1789 and 1832, when breeders decreased the numbers of purebred stock while trying to produce a suitable pit pony. When the mines closed, some ponies were kept for farming, but most of the ponies were turned out onto the moor.
Ponies were bred at Dartmoor Prison from the early 1900s up until the 1960s, and used by guards for escorting prisoners.
The first attempt to define and register the breed was in 1898, when the ponies were entered into a studbook started by the Polo Pony Society. In 1924, the breed society was founded, and a studbook opened.
The Dartmoor received Arab blood from the stallion Dwarka, foaled in 1922, as well as Dwarka’s son, The Leat. It also received Welsh blood from the stallion Dinarth Spark. It also had infusions of Fell Pony blood.
World War I and World War II were devastating to the ponies. Only a handful of ponies were registered in World War II. However, local people began to inspect and register as many ponies as they could, and by the 1950s, numbers were back up.
The Dartmoor Pony Moorland Scheme (DPMS), established in 1988 in a bid to halt the decline in numbers and along with the Dartmoor Pony Society, runs a breeding scheme. The Dartmoor Pony has since been granted Rare Breed status. The scheme involves turning out approved mares with a purebred stallion for the summer, and has created a great improvement on the foals being born.
The Dartmoor Ponies today
Dartmoors ponies are bred in Britain, Europe, and in North America, and are often used as a basis for the Riding Pony. The breed makes an ideal children’s mount, but it is also quite capable of carrying an adult. With their natural jump and good movement, they are used for hunting, showing, and jumping, and are also excellent driving ponies.
Some are owned and protected by farmers - these animals are usually identifiable by branding. It is illegal for visitors to feed the ponies, although it is a common sight to see ponies being fed snacks through an open car window.