Are Dartmoor Ponies Endangered

Christina Perez
• Saturday, 10 October, 2020
• 7 min read

PSA was formed for the goal of preserving and promoting the critically endangered Dartmoor Pony in the USA. Scientists at the Aberystwyth University has discovered that the Dartmoor Hill Pony has a distinct genetic signature designed for survival.

(Source: theecologist.org)


All are owned by farmers with moorland grazing rights and all contribute to the management, heritage and history of the Dartmoor landscape and to its appeal for tourists. Support to encourage farmers to prioritize breeding quality ‘true-to-type’ Pedigree and non-pedigree ponies was agreed and put in place through the DPT.

Resulting foals can join the DPS Supplementary Register and are eligible to compete with Pedigree ponies. The DPT’s remit is to inform and educate the public and to help safeguard the future of the traditional Dartmoor pony.

They stamp on old stems of gorse to make it easier to eat and love the young shoots; they trample the bracken; nibble away at dense bramble and push into areas that other animals would not wish to go. This activity, along with dunging and constant movement, creates environments which encourage other plants to grow and provide a food source for insects.

For example, ponies graze on the ever-more-invasive Molina (purple moor grass) which turns the landscape into a straw-coloured, dense environment that is not suitable for other grazers. They’ll eat the sweeter grass all year round but in winter/early spring, when they are having to work hard at finding nourishment, they will push in to this growth and help to keep it under control so that better quality grazing and other plants can come through.

The ponies are monitored by the farmers all the time but each autumn the herds are rounded up for inspection in the traditional annual ‘drift’ where some are selected for sale and others are returned to the moor. This herd demonstrates the benefits of conservation grazing by helping to keep archaeological sites clear, making an impact on Molina and opening up the land for more species to flourish and for visitors to enjoy.

dartmoor ponies rare pony rspb help thrive devon reserve bird trust heritage
(Source: pressreleases.responsesource.com)

The RSP believes that without the pony grazing, this special habitat would disappear under bracken and scrub and its value for Devon wildlife would be diminished. Ponies are suited to the site even in the winter because they are robust and hardy, graze a variety of plants and thrive on the sparse, steep landscape.

Combining year-round pony grazing with cattle in the summer, creates the varied structure favored by Girl Buntings and perfect conditions to provide invertebrate rich grassland for birds to find lots of prey to feed their chicks. The DPT believes that working in partnership on Dartmoor, along with increasing public understanding, will ensure that ponies remain the very visible emblem of the spectacular home they helped to create.

The Dartmoor Pony was noted in an 1870 magazine, for jumping ability and the breed still jumps well today but is also one of the more elegant of riding ponies today, with much success too in driving competitions. There was an early connection with the Old Devon Pack horse, drawn from both Ex moor and Dartmoor blood, and the Cornish Goon hilly Pony.

Mention was made of the Dartmoor Pony in 1820 by an equine authority, William Youth, who wrote that there was a pony on the rough moorland of the Dartmoor Forest, larger than then Ex moor pony, that was much in request in the Dartmoor vicinity and that was sure-footed, hardy and capable of scrambling over the rough roads and dreary wild of that mountainous district, although its beauty was not great. Fifty years later, The field Magazine wrote about the ability of the Dartmoor Pony to jump.

Oriental or eastern horses may have been introduces as early as the twelfth century. The Dartmoor pony, Like all the British native breeds, is hardy and constitutionally sound.

dartmoor ponies pony devon guide expert trail passion animal visit riding jumping
(Source: www.visitdevon.co.uk)

The head sets gracefully on the neck which is strong but with the length associated with a riding pony. Skewbald or piebald are not accepted by the breed society, which also discourages any excessive white markings.

The Pony is notable for the excellence of the shoulder which is wonderfully sloped to give the best sort of riding action, and ensures that the Dartmoor Pony is a first class performer. This pony's conformation gives the breed a natural balance.

The cannons are short and the bone measurement under the knee of the forelimbs is ample. The second cross with the thoroughbred produces class competition horses.

Reproduction of any portion of this copyrighted website without written permission of the publisher is prohibited and subject to legal action. This copyrighted photo above displays Liz well Gambling Queen, and Singletree Tabitha Twit chit, owned by Tracey Morgan, in the pairs' division at the World Championships for Pony Combined Driving, Denmark 2007 Photo © Vicki Long. Photos for this page were provided by Singletree Farm.

Their strength and ability to survive the harsh conditions of Dartmoor made them suitable for both farm work and as riding ponies. The modern type of Dartmoor Pony was established at the end of the nineteenth century.

dartmoor ponies
(Source: www.huffingtonpost.co.uk)

Previously the influence of a good deal of exotic animals had been evident. The breed was severely threatened during the Second World War when the army used the moor as a training area, but was rescued by committed owners.

In 1988 the Duchy of Cornwall established the Moorland Scheme to preserve the Dartmoor Pony in its natural environment. It has been successful and has slowly increased the “true type” Dartmoor Ponies on the Moor.

The Dartmoor Pony is a sturdily build breed with a steady temperament, which makes it ideal for juvenile riders. The breed is suited to most equestrian disciplines including driving, being well muscled for their size.

Being small and hardy, the Dartmoor Pony is a great breed for grazing poor quality forage. Rest is reviewing the methodology for compiling the Watch list to ensure its fit for purpose.

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.

dartmoor ponies
(Source: earthstarblog.wordpress.com)

Despite this, numbers living on the open moor have declined from an estimated 5,000 in 1900 to about 300 registered ponies today. The Dartmoor Pony has a small head, with large, wide-set eyes and alert ears.

The body is strong, with a broad, deep rib cage, and of medium length. The legs are strong, long from body to knee and hock, but with short cannons with strong, dense bone, and a flat-fronted knee; the foreleg rises to a shoulder that is well-angled and with good freedom of movement, and the hind leg rises to a quarter that is well-muscled and rounded in appearance, rather than flat or sloping.

The mane and tail should be full and flowing, and the pony's movement free and smooth. The Dartmoor Pony has a kind temperament, being reliable, gentle, and calm.

Archeological investigation from the 1970s has shown that domesticated ponies were to be found on Dartmoor as early as 1500 BC. However, after the war, local people began to inspect and register as many ponies as they could, and by the 1950s, numbers were back up.

Two schemes have been introduced to halt the decline in numbers, and broaden the gene pool of the Dartmoor Pony. Dartmoor Hill pony on DartmoorDartmoorPonies are native to Britain, but are also seen in other parts of the world, including the USA, Continental Europe, New Zealand, and Australia.

ponies dartmoor pony heritage known traditional famous
(Source: www.visitdartmoor.co.uk)

Profitability: in the landscape of agri-environment schemes cutting grazing levels by 75% on Dartmoor commons, these ponies vie for a place to stand on the moor where they have stood for millennia with cattle and sheep. Cattle and Sheep producing meat on Severely Disadvantage upland are made falsely profitable by Debra farm payments.

To receive extra payment, would you take off ‘profitable’ sheep, or cull ‘worthless’ ponies ? If we are not to lose pony herds whose ancestors where dragged into Kent’s Cavern by hyena as lunch, walked this region alongside woolly mammoths and were farmed alongside cattle and sheep when man first learned to farm 4000 years so, then Debra must work with us to design grazing management and funding of Dartmoor which accommodates them.

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