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Rare Horse Breeds: Two of the World's Rarest Ponies: Dartmoor and Exmoor

Updated on April 26, 2017

Rare Horse Breeds

What makes an animal rare? They become rare when demand exceeds supply. During a telephone interview with Susan Deuterman, president of the Dartmoor Pony Registry of America, she had this to say about the urgent reasons for preserving rare breeds of horses and ponies.

“Preservation programs are the most important programs for maintaining the integrity of the breed, and maintaining what makes these native ponies so wonderful. We can’t forget their roots.”1 Let’s examine two rare pony breeds and their stories.

Rare Horse Breeds: Dartmoor & Exmoor Ponies

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Rare horse breed grazing on Hameldon on DartmoorDartmoor foals and ponies on Hameldon on DartmoorDartmoor pony in snow at Burrator in South Devon.Exmoor foals on the moorsExmoor pony in its native British home
Rare horse breed grazing on Hameldon on Dartmoor
Rare horse breed grazing on Hameldon on Dartmoor | Source
Dartmoor foals and ponies on Hameldon on Dartmoor
Dartmoor foals and ponies on Hameldon on Dartmoor | Source
Dartmoor pony in snow at Burrator in South Devon.
Dartmoor pony in snow at Burrator in South Devon. | Source
Exmoor foals on the moors
Exmoor foals on the moors | Source
Exmoor pony in its native British home
Exmoor pony in its native British home | Source

Decoding Equine Terminology

Let’s start by defining some common terminology used to discuss equines such as the difference between horses and ponies or the equivalent of a “hand.”

  • Equine experts list many differences between horses and ponies—height, physical attributes, leg length—but for our purposes here, we use the distinction of a horse being more than 14.2 hands (58 inches, or 1.4732 meters) and a pony being any horse shorter than 58 inches.
  • Equines are measured in terms of “hands,” or how tall they are at the withers. One hand equals four inches, and the height is given in full hands, a decimal point, and inches: 14.2 = 12 hands (12x4 inches) plus 2 inches = 58.
  • Withers are the highest part of an animal’s back; the top of the shoulder blades.
  • Roan: body coloring that is a balance of white and another color evenly mixed, with points, or areas of darker colors, on the extremities (think Siamese cat.)
  • Bay: reddish brown body with dark points on extremities such as a black mane, tail, ear tips, and lower legs.
  • Dun: creamy yellow or reddish brown coats with a dorsal stripe and darker legs.

Rare British Native Ponies

What do Dartmoor and Exmoor ponies have in common? They are both British native ponies; there are nine native breeds. In fact, there isn’t a native pony in existence that has an older ancestry than the Exmoor pony.

These ponies have historically been used as pack animals, transportation and prison guard mounts, and children’s riding ponies. All these ponies are fine specimens exhibiting the traditional characteristics of a hardy native breed accustomed to survive in harsh moorland environments.

When the moorlands were utilized for military training during WW II, these breeds were almost wiped out. Today, they are popular mounts for children and adults, well suited for riding, showing, hunting, jumping and driving because of their intelligence and gentle temperament.


Dartmoor England:
Dartmoor National Park, Devon PL20 6SD, UK

get directions

Dartmoor Pony

Standard coat colors are bay, roan, black, grey, chestnut, and brown. There should be little or no white markings on head or legs. The Dartmoor pony is approximately 12.2 hands (50 inches or 1.27 meters.)

Some important events in the history of the Dartmoor pony are:

  • 1898, the first Dartmoor pony was registered in the Polo Pony Society studbook.
  • 1988, the Dartmoor Pony Moorland Scheme was established to preserve the breed, and restore a purebred gene pool.
  • 2010 - listed as a rare breed with the Rare Breed Survival Trust (RBST), category 3, Vulnerable.

The Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust is another organization dedicated to the preservation of the Dartmoor pony and oversees the Dartmoor Pony Preservation Scheme.

Rare Horse Breeds: Dartmoor Pony

Exmoor Pony

Standard coat colors are bay, brown, or dun, with mealy (light points) noses. The ponies are approximately 12.2 hands (50 inches or 1.27 meters.)

The breed was established with the Anchor herd in 1818, and in 1921, the Exmoor Pony Society was formed to preserve the purebred line.

Breeder Dawn Williams had this to say about their status at the end of World War II, “At the end of the war there were only 4 stallions left and 50 Exmoor ponies in the world.”2 At the time of this writing, there are approximately 2,700 Exmoor ponies in existence.

Exmoor Pony Agility

Natural Habitat of the Exmoor Ponies

exmoor england:
Exmoor National Park, Dulverton TA22 9HL, UK

get directions

Exmoor National Park is home to two herds of Exmoor ponies.

Rare Horse Breeds Conservation Efforts

Animals become rare when supply is less than demand. The rare pony breeds discussed here are being protected and preserved with a goal of perpetuating their species. If you’re interested in learning more about British Native Ponies, why not research some of these other breeds?

  • Dales Pony
  • Connemara Pony
  • Shetland Pony
  • New Forest Pony
  • Welsh Breeds from Sections A, B, C, and D
  • Welsh Mountain Pony
  • Highland Pony
  • Kerry Bog Pony
  • Fell Pony

If you’d like more information about the conservation of rare breeds, visit your local library or the website of the Rare Breed Survival Trust.

America is not without her share of rare breeds of horses, and there is a famous pony swim, penning and auction each year on Chincoteague Island of the rare Chincoteague ponies that inhabit the island.


1 - The Dartmoor Pony Registry of America, Susan Deuterman, President, telephone interview 07/21/2010

2 - Author unknown, BBC, “Exmoor Ponies – a Dying Breed?,” last updated 4/15/2008

Author unknown, Oklahoma State University, “Breeds of Livestock: Dartmoor Pony”

Rare Breed Survival Trust Watchlist - "Equines, Dartmoor,”

Wilson, Jayne, EquiSearch, “Breed Profile: Dartmoor Pony”

Moorland Mousie Trust, Exmoor Pony Center

Author unknown, The Fell Pony Society, “About Fell Ponies,” last updated 02/04/2011

What Are Your Thoughts About the Conservation of Rare Horse Breeds?

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    • DonnaCosmato profile imageAUTHOR

      Donna Cosmato 

      7 years ago from USA

      Hi Claire, thanks for letting me know about your informative article on the rare Exmoor ponies. I've included a link to your article in this hub.

    • clairemy profile image


      7 years ago

      Donna ,I have also just done an article on Exmoor Ponies, because their still so low in numbers and these rare and ancient ponies need all the help we can give them

    • DonnaCosmato profile imageAUTHOR

      Donna Cosmato 

      7 years ago from USA

      Thank you, my good friend Eddy, for always supporting me with encouraging words! We share a love for nature that bonds us together across the miles:)

    • Eiddwen profile image


      7 years ago from Wales

      Oh how I enjoyed this one Donna and it has to be awarded my Up up and away!!'

      Thank you so much for sharing;I love anything to do with animals and nature whatever the topic within this.

      Take care and have a wonderful day.


    • DonnaCosmato profile imageAUTHOR

      Donna Cosmato 

      7 years ago from USA

      Hi Sterling, I'm glad you enjoyed this hub on rare horse breeds, and thanks for sharing that story. I'll bet seeing your dad tackle that pony was lots of fun! Thanks you for sharing this with your Twitter network...I really appreciate that and the awesome fan mail you sent me.

    • Sterling Carter profile image

      Sterling Carter 

      7 years ago from Indian Mound, Tennessee

      I actually owed an Shetland Pony when I was a kid. That animal was smart as heck. He loved kids but hated heavy riders such as my dad. Every time my dad would ride him he would wind up on the ground and the pony would come over to us, the kids. I loved that critter. Excellent hub and I shared it with my twitter followers as well.

    • DonnaCosmato profile imageAUTHOR

      Donna Cosmato 

      7 years ago from USA

      Thank you for the vote of confidence, Pollyannalana! I'm glad you enjoyed this hub on rare horse breeds.

    • DonnaCosmato profile imageAUTHOR

      Donna Cosmato 

      7 years ago from USA

      Thank you, Hillbilly Zen! They are adorable little ponies, aren't they, and quite the sturdy little breed. They remind me so much of the Chincoteague ponies with which I am so familiar as I lived near and visited Chincoteague Island for years before I relocated to the Blue Ridge area. It's nice to see the concerted efforts to save these rare horse breeds from extinction.

    • Hillbilly Zen profile image

      Hillbilly Zen 

      7 years ago from Kentucky

      This is a fascinating Hub, Ms. Donna. Such cute little guys with such a rich history. I'm glad they're making a comeback - it would be a shame to lose these wonderful breeds.

      Voted up, interesting and beautiful.

    • Pollyannalana profile image


      7 years ago from US

      Voted up and across, great hub. Loved it.


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