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Exmoor Pony

Exmoor Pony
A herd of Exmoor ponies
Alternative names: Celtic pony
Country of origin: United Kingdom
Horse (Equus ferus caballus)

The Exmoor pony is the oldest and most primitive of the British Isles native ponies, as well as the purest, and some still roam as semi-feral livestock on Exmoor, a large area of moorland in Devon and Somerset in southwest England. The Exmoor is one of the British Isles mountain and moorland pony breeds.


Breed characteristics

An Exmoor mare and foal

The Exmoor is extremely hardy, resistant to many equine diseases, with great powers of endurance. A small, sturdy breed, it has ample bone, and can carry heavy burdens in relation to its build. It is very sure-footed, and has strong legs and feet with a smooth stride. The head is large, with small ears. The eyes have a "toad-eyed" appearance due to the fleshy rims that serve to divert water. In cold, wet winters the Exmoor grows a double coat, with a soft, woolly undercoat and a longer, oily, water-repellent outer coat. The ponies also have unique hair patterns, including a “snow-chute,” where the hair splays outward toward the dock, channelling the water away from the belly.[1]

Exmoor ponies are usually bay, and they have tan or "mealy" Pangaré markings around the eyes and muzzle. Because similar markings occur in equines other than horses, these markings are considered to be a primitive trait in horses.

Entry in the breed registry requires that the animal has no white markings and is not too tall. They usually stand 11.1 to 12.3 hands (1.13 to 1.25 m), with the height limit for mares being 12.2 hands (1.24 m) and that for stallions and geldings 12.3 hands (1.25 m).

Breed history

File:Exmoor Family.jpg
A herd of Exmoor ponies

There has been very little crossbreeding with other horses or ponies, making the Exmoor the purest of the native pony breeds.

Exmoor was once a Royal Forest and hunting ground, and was sold off in 1818. Sir Richard Acland, the last warden of Exmoor, took thirty ponies and established the famous Anchor herd, which still exists to this day. Local farmers also bought ponies at the dispersal sale, keeping the bloodlines pure.

Some farmers tried crossing the pony with other breeds, but the offspring were not hardy enough to survive the harsh moor, and these herds died out early this century.[1]

The Exmoor Pony Society was formed in 1921, aiming to preserve the purebred Exmoor.

The Second World War was disastrous for the ponies. The moor became a training ground, and the breed was nearly killed off, with only 50 ponies surviving the war.[2] However, local people were able to rescue and re-establish herds. Exmoor numbers remained low until the early 1980s, when a publicity campaign drew outside attention to the rarity of the breed.

The Exmoor today

File:Exmoors on Exmoor.jpg
Exmoor Ponies in their native habitat

The Exmoor is bred throughout Britain, and although the worldwide population is close to 2,000, the effective breeding population is less than 250, making Exmoors a rare breed. Some ponies still roam on the moor, and are privately owned. Every October, they are rounded up and the foals are inspected and registered with the Exmoor Pony Society. Every purebred is branded with a four-point star on the near shoulder, although this practice has attracted criticism.[3] Colts considered below standard are gelded.

Those that are not wild are used for a variety of activities, including showing, jumping, long-distance riding, and driving.

The Exmoor's hardiness makes it suitable for conservation grazing, and it contributes to the management of many heathland, chalk grassland and other natural pasture habitats, as well as to the conservation of Exmoor itself.


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