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Rare Horse Breeds: Two of the World's Rarest Ponies: Dartmoor and Exmoor
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 PoniesClick thumbnail to view full-size
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.
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
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 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,” http://www.rbst.org.uk/watch-list/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