Dartmoor Pony Breed Guide
The Dartmoor pony is one of two native breeds of pony in the UK which originates from the south west of England. The other pony is the Exmoor pony and both are named after the respective moorland areas which are their geographical point of origin and their native home.
The Dartmoor and Exmoor are often paired together by virtue of geography, rather like the Dales and Fell ponies from the north of England. However the Dales and Fell ponies resemble each other far more closely than the Dartmoor and Exmoor which are actually quite distinct and pretty easy to tell apart.
Originally, Dartmoor ponies were registered in the Polo Pony Stud Book. During the Second World War, the breed nearly disappeared completely. Between 1941 and 1943, only two stallions and twelve mares were registered. The then Pony and Riding Society intervened, later becoming the National Pony Society and they managed the breed registration and records until the Dartmoor Pony Society was formed in 1985. The Dartmoor Pony Society now manages the recording of all pure bred Dartmoor ponies, holding all the original early records and studbooks which date back some one hundred years.
There are other groups with the name Dartmoor in their title that represent people involved mainly with unregistered mixed blood ponies that are sometimes described as Dartmoor Hill ponies - these organisations are distinct from the Dartmoor Pony Society. They have been formed in part to try and manage unregulated breeding on the moor, of ponies which are often unhandled and for which there is sometimes no viable future. There ponies almost certainly have mixed breeding and it is almost always unknown. These ponies would not be eligible for registration with the Dartmoor Pony Society but may be supported by the Dartmoor Heritage Trust which is an organisation involved with farmers with true to type but unregistered ponies running on the moor. Some of the wild ponies have very mixed parentage whereas there are others which are almost true to type but which are not eligible for registration because their exact breeding is unknown. The Dartmoor Pony Society runs an upgrading scheme on the moor in conjunction with the Duchy of Cornwall, for approved but non registered mares who are then run with a licensed pure bred Dartmoor stallion. Through generational breeding, it is then possible to reach a point where progeny may become eligible for registration with the Dartmoor Pony Society.
The pure bred and classic Dartmoor pony can be found far and wide across the UK being shown in hand or under saddle in a variety of native pony classes. These are the best places to see a classic example of the breed. Still vulnerable in its pure bred form, the Dartmoor Pony Society is also recognised by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust an organisation formed to preserve rare and native breeds of farm livestock. The Rare Breeds Survival Trust monitors different livestock species including horses where their data indicates that the pool of breeding females has fallen to a certain level which puts breed numbers at risk.
The terrain of Dartmoor is bleak, rugged and inhospitable which has given rise to a tough and hardy pony. Dartmoor, home to the ponies, is also the location of a famous prison and Dartmoor ponies were bred at the prison from around 1900 up until the 1960s; they were used by the prison guards to escort prisoners. As an ancient breed like many of the other native ponies, there have been other early breed influences which have come from the Old Devon Pack Horse and the Goonhilly pony from the Lizard in Cornwall - both of these breeds are now extinct. More recently in the nineteenth century, Welsh blood was introduced and there was also a period where there was a lot of cross breeding with Shetlands in order to produce a pit pony capable of working in the mines.
Dartmoor ponies should be no bigger than 12.2hh and are usually dark in colour with little or no white; it is a breed standard requirement that any white markings are minimal. Grey, chestnut and roan coat colours are permitted by the Dartmoor Pony Society but piebald and skewbald are not. Despite the harsh nature of its environment, the Dartmoor pony is also a pony of some refinement and modern breeding has produced a really beautiful animal which has become very popular in the show ring but one which has also had huge success as a ridden pony for children.