Are Exmoor Ponies Endangered

Elaine Sutton
• Saturday, 12 December, 2020
• 11 min read

The hills of Ex moor in Southwest England are home to wet winters, harsh winds, and a distinctive breed of pony that has roamed the moorland for millennia. The Ex moor Pony lived in wild herds on the moor, thriving in the remote area until modern wars of men threatened the survival of the breed.

exmoor ponies neulahuovutus rare
(Source: www.flickr.com)


The ancestors of the modern Ex moor Pony existed in relative isolation on the moor, maintaining the breed's genetic integrity. Ancient Roman carvings illustrated wild horses similar to the Ex moor Pony found in the moorland today.

The breed's short legs, stocky build, and strong jaw suit the rugged terrain and coarse vegetation of its habitat. Their dark bay or brown coats consist of a dense undercoat to insulate them from freezing winter temperatures.

“Mealy” markings of buff coloring around their eyes, muzzle, flanks, and belly also characterize the Ex moor Pony. The Domesday survey of England in 1086 AD mentioned ponies resembling the modern breed inhabiting the Ex moor and designated the area as a Royal Hunting Forest.

Wild herds freely roamed the Royal Ex moor Forest under the management of a Warden until the land sold to a private buyer in 1818. The last Warden, Sir Thomas Ac land, established an anchor herd of 30 ponies at his Wins ford Hill estate after the sale.

Passionate breeders like Mary Torrington rallied an effort to carefully bring the breed back from the brink. In the 1990s, The Ex moor Pony Society established small semi-feral herds on nature preserves in the breed's ancestral home.

exmoor meadow ponies two milovice czech republic endangered brown
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Native farmers tended to the ponies because of a desire to restore the natural beauty of the moorland, not the prospect of income. Every autumn, ponies are gathered to their home farms in Ex moor to decide which foals are sold and remove any individuals that may not survive the impending winter.

The Moorland Mousie Trust funds the gelding and training of young colts that are not returned to the herds for breeding. Ancient man hunted primitive ponies on the Ex moor thousands of years ago and began using them for cart transportation in 400 BC.

Their strong jaws enable them to eat the rugged competitors of fragile plants, allowing delicate flora to replenish. The efforts to protect the endangeredExmoor pony may very well contribute to the conservation of many more species thanks to this breed's tenacity to thrive in nature.

But when this remarkable pony isn't saving the environment, they are just as much at home as a well-loved, small, fluffy member of your equine family. Ex moor another names Celtic ponyCountry of originated KingdomTraitsDistinguishing featuresMealy markings around eyes and muzzle, “ice tail”, “toad eye” Equines have been present in Britain since 700,000 BC, and fossil remains have been found in the area of Ex moor dating back to about 50,000 BC.

Some claim that the breed has been purebred since the ice age; this is unsupported by modern DNA research. There is however a close morphological resemblance to the primitive wild horse.

exmoor pony ihearthorses horse horses endangered wild facts
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Archeological investigations have shown that horses were used for transport in the southwest of England as early as 400 BC, and Roman carvings show ponies phenotypically similar to the Ex moor pony. The Domesday Book records ponies on Ex moor in 1086, and descendants of ponies removed from the moor in 1818 form the foundation bloodstock of today's Ex moor breed, although a breed society was not formed until 1921.

The breed nearly became extinct after the Second World War, owing to soldiers using them for target practice and thieves killing them for their meat. After the war a small group of breeders worked to save the Ex moor, and during the 1950s ponies began to be exported to North America.

Exmoorponies are usually a variant of dark bay, called “brown”, with hangar (“mealy”) markings around the eyes, muzzle, flanks, and underbelly. Hangar markings occur in other equines as well as horses, and are considered to be a primitive trait.

Entry in the breed registry requires that the animal have no white markings. With a stocky, powerful build, the Ex moor pony is strong for its height, and noted for its hardiness and endurance.

Although many sources state that the Ex moor has a distinctly different jaw structure from other horse breeds, which includes the beginnings of development of a seventh molar, this is a misunderstanding based on an incorrect translation of a German study. The study, when properly translated, refers to a feature, found in multiple horse breeds and perhaps all animals with sizable lower jaws, that appears to be an extra branch of blood supply in the area.

(Source: www.flickr.com)

While an extra tooth may have eventually developed from this extra blood supply, its frequency among the general horse population makes its appearance in the Ex moor pony unremarkable. The head is somewhat large in proportion to the body, with small ears, and has a unique feature called a “toad eye” caused by extra flashiness of the eyelids, which helps to deflect water and provide extra insulation.

As with most cold-weather pony breeds, the Ex moor grows a winter coat consisting of a highly insulating woolly under layer and a topcoat of longer, oily hairs that prevent the undercoat from becoming waterlogged by diverting water down the sides of the animal to fall from just a few drip areas. The mane and tail are thick and long, and the dock of the tail is of a type common in cold-weather ponies, having coarse hairs, called a “frost cap,” “snow chute,” or “ice tail” that deflects rainwater away from the groin and underbelly areas to fall from the long hairs on the back of the hind legs.

The Domesday Book mentions ponies in Ex moor in 1086. At the end of the joint Hill and March warden ship of the Royal Ex moor Forest in 1748, all free-living ponies except registered horses were removed from the moor and Forest.

After that in 1767 Sir Thomas Ac land I brought in a new herd of ponies and turned them out on the moor. Sales records of these horses in 1805 and 1809 list the colors black, gray, bay, dun, 'chant', and piebald.

In 1818 nearly the entire moor was sold to John Knight. Sir Thomas Ac land, the previous warden, took some horses to Wins ford Hill, while others were sold.

exmoor pony ponies park breeds national
(Source: www.thebestofexmoor.co.uk)

Starting in 1826, Knight crossed the remaining ponies with Arabians, Thoroughbreds, and other breeds to increase their size. It is said that the modern Ex moor pony descends from the Ac land herd.

By the late nineteenth century, the Ex moors were being selectively bred for the characteristic mealy muzzle. In 1893, the ponies were described in Sidney's Book of the Horse as around 12 hands (48 inches, 122 cm) high, usually bay, and with conformation similar to what it is today.

In 1921, the Ex moor Pony Society was formed, and published its first stud book in 1963. The Second World War led to a sharp decrease in the breed population as the moor became a training ground.

The breed nearly became extinct, with only 50 ponies surviving the war. This was partially due to soldiers using some ponies for target practice and others being stolen and eaten by people in the cities.

After the war, a small group of breeders, including Mary Torrington, continued to preserve the population, and publicity in 1981 resulted in increased interest in the breed. The first Ex moors in North America were imported to Canada in the 1950s, and several small herds are still maintained there.

ponies endangered exmoor delay passport cull farmers forced breed native
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In the 1990s, small herds of Exmoorponies were established in various areas of England. These herds are used to maintain vegetation on nature reserves, many being managed by organizations such as the National Trust, Natural England, and County Wildlife Trusts.

Every purebred registered Ex moor is branded with a four-point star on the near (left) shoulder until the 2000s which attracted criticism. However it is now limited to semi feral ponies as the breeders' choice.

In 2000, the Moorland Mousie Trust, a British organization, was established to assist in the preservation of the Ex moor pony. There is little market for Ex moor colts, so the organization works to raise funds for the gelding and training of these horses.

Exmoorponies in their native habitatCurrently, The Livestock Conservancy considers the population of the Ex moor to be at “threatened” levels, meaning that the estimated global population of the breed is less than 5,000 and there are less than 1,000 registrations annually in the US. The UK Rare Breeds Survival Trust considers the breed to be endangered “, meaning that population numbers are estimated to be less than 500 in Great Britain.

However, modern DNA researches to date does not support that view, as existing studies indicate they share their maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA with various other horse breeds from across the world, and their paternally inherited Y-chromosome is identical to that of most other domesticated horses. Wild horses have lived in Britain for hundreds of thousands of years.

rare exmoor breed germany pony colour endangered gemerkt equine critically england
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However, no genetic studies to date have correlated these prehistoric remains to any modern breed. What has been studied are Y-chromosomes (Y-DNA) and mitochondrial DNA (mt DNA) obtained from Exmoorponies.

The Y-chromosome is passed on through the male line, and worldwide shows very little genetic variation in horses, except for a second Y-chromosome haplotype found in China, suggesting that a very limited number of stallions contributed to the original genome of the domestic horse. The Ex moor pony shares this general Y-chromosome haplotype.

In contrast, mitochondrial DNA is passed on though the female line, and shows far more variation than Y-DNA, indicating that many wild mares from several regions have contributed to modern domestic breeds. Some mtDNA-haplotypes have been found in DNA samples obtained from wild horses in prehistoric deposits, while other mtDNA-haplotypes have only been found in domesticated horses, from both living individuals and archeological finds.

The Ex moor pony has a high frequency of pre-domestication mtDNA-haplotypes, but these are also found in different breeds all around the world. Currently, for the British Isles, there are only three DNA archeological samples available, all from Ireland.

Although wild horses were abundant after the last ice age, the lack of sufficient pre-domestication DNA samples makes it impossible to determine the contribution of the wild horses of the British Islands to modern breeds, including the Ex moor pony. A 1995 study of morphological characteristics, the outward appearance of organisms, indicated that the Ex moor, the Pollock, and the now-extinct Tarzan have an extremely close resemblance; these breeds were consistently grouped together in the results from several analyses, with the Ex moor showing the closest relationship to the Tarzan of all the breeds studied, at 0.27; the next-closest breeds to the Tarzan were the Pollock and Means, both with a genetic distance from the Tarzan of 0.47.

exmoor ponys ponies running field weide herde ein stockfoto
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The first indication of domesticated horses in England comes from archaeological investigations showing that the ancient Britons were using wheeled horse-drawn transport extensively in southwest England as early as 400 BC. Recent research has indicated that there was significant Roman involvement in mining on Ex moor.

Metals including iron, tin, and copper were transported to Hengistbury Head in neighboring Dorset for export, and Roman carvings, showing British and Roman chariots pulled by ponies phenotypically similar to the Ex moor, have been found in Somerset. Ponies not kept in semi-feral conditions are used for a variety of activities including showing, long-distance riding, driving, and agility.

The breed's hardiness makes it suitable for conservation grazing, and it contributes to the management of many heathlands, chalk grassland and other natural pasture habitats, as well as to the conservation of Ex moor itself. A herd of 14 Ex moors from Ex moor National park were moved to the former military base of Milo vice (Number District), Czech Republic, in an effort to improve biodiversity by conservation grazing, in January 2015.

^ “Persecuted Ex moor ponies trot back from the brink”. • “Grazing Ex moor ponies to protect County Durham flowers”.

^ “Parameters of Livestock Breeds on the Alec Conservation Priority List (2007)”. ^ “Equus Survival Trust Equine Conservation List” (PDF).

exmoor pony endangered grazing porlock common officially sounds bad still
(Source: www.northdevongazette.co.uk)

“On the origins of the Ex moor pony: did the wild horse survive in Britain?” “Origin and History of Mitochondrial DNA Lineages in Domestic Horses”.

^ a b c Lindgren, Gabriella; Backstroke, Nicolas; Swinburne, June; Hellebore, Linda; Einarsson, Annika; et al. (1985). “Limited number of patricides in horse domestication” (PDF).

^ Stuart, Tony (2006) “Exotic world before Suffolk”, British Archaeology (86). Archived page ^ Ling, Sinful; Ma, Queue; Gun, Cajun; Cheng, Mejia; Wang, Y.; et al. (2010).

“Identification of Y chromosome genetic variations in Chinese indigenous horse breeds”. ^ Jansen, Thomas; Forster, Peter; Levine, Marsha A.; Else, Hardy; Hurdles, Matthew (2002).

^ Vila, Charles; Leonard, Jennifer A.; Götherström, Andes; Maryland, Stefan; Sandberg, Key; et al. (2001). ^ Woodman, Peter; McCarthy, Margaret; Jonathan, Nigel (1997).

exmoor pony ponies pferderassen meine history endangered why national park
(Source: www.thebestofexmoor.co.uk)

“Analysis of genetic relationships in horse breeds” (PDF). “A Biometric Study of Equips in the Roman World” (PDF).

Brown, Antony; Bennett, Jenny; Rhodes, Edward (April 2009). “Roman mining on Ex moor : a geomorphological approach at Anita's Come, Fullerton”.

Story's Illustrated Guide to 96 Horse Breeds of North America. Early man in Britain and Ireland: an introduction to Paleolithic and Mesolithic cultures.

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