Ponies have existed on the moor since AD 1012 and hoof prints have been found on Dartmoor dating back nearly 4000 years! It’s this that makes the ponies so iconic and coming across one is always a special experience.
About Dartmoor’s ponies
The most important thing to remember is that, although they are all owned by various Dartmoor landowners, Dartmoor Ponies are wild animals and you shouldn’t feed or pet them. Don’t worry about them getting cold or going hungry – the ponies are very hardy and thrive on the moor, despite the harsh weather.
Dartmoor Ponies have a naturally calm demeanour and are known for their strength which is why they have been used for various jobs over the years, including as pit ponies, shepherding and even delivering post. During the 1800s the ponies were used to transport granite from the moorland quarries, so don’t worry if you spot them out and about, they’re perfectly fine!
In 1950, it is said there were around 30,000 ponies living on Dartmoor, however, this has gone down to around 1,500, with herds of pedigree Dartmoor ponies, Heritage ponies, Hill ponies, Shetlands, Welsh and Spotted ponies around the moor.
Know your pony
There are various breed of pony living on Exmoor, here’s your guide to identifying them all!
Purebred Dartmoor Ponies
- Dark coats
- Thick mains and tails
- Black feet
- Up to 12.2 hands
- Solid colours only
These are now an endgangered rare-breed but there are breeders making sure that they don’t go extinct. These have the genetics to thrive in the harshest conditions. Their thick coats give great protection from the sun and their feet are perfect for travelling across the uneven moorland.
The Purebred ponies have the ideal metabolism to prosper in the conditions of the moor and are known for their calm temperament.
- Long flowing mains
- Single coloured
- No more than 12 hands
Heritage ponies or Traditional Dartmoor Ponies are bred on the moor and have the same colouring and size as recognised by the Breed Standard for Pedigree Dartmoor Ponies.
Like the Purebred ponies they are tough, hardy, sure footed and have great temperaments. They thrive in the harshest conditions and really help with managing Dartmoor’s biodiversity.
- Any colour
- Any build
- Any size
Most of the ponies you’ll see around the moor are Hill Ponies and have mixed heritage, because of this, they are known as a type of pony rather than a specific breed. These will be mixed from Shetland, Welsh, Arab and Spotted breeds, so may appear to have characteristics from lots of different ponies.
These do a great job of maintaining the moor alongside the other resident ponies.
The hill ponies are taken off the moor during the annual ‘drifts’, where they are given handling and training to be pets or riding/driving ponies.
Charities across Dartmoor and the wider county work to make sure that there are good homes for the surplus ponies that come off the moor every year.
- Small stature
- Different colours
- Fluffy coats
Instantly recognisable, Shetland Ponies were introduced to the moor to breed with other ponies to create animals that could be used in mining. These Shetlands are tiny, hardy and strong and can be seen all over the moor.
Each year, Shetland Ponies are sold to private owners at the Chagford Pony Sale.
What to do if you see an injured pony
If you see a pony, or any other wildlife, that is in distress, looks ill or is injured, it is important not to approach them – instead you can contact the Dartmoor Livestock Protection Officer.
Call: 07873 587561
Any member of the public or the police can help, so call for help as soon as you can.
You can find out more about the Dartmoor Livestock Protection Society online here.
Don’t forget, it is illegal to feed the ponies, so please do not attempt to feed any of the ponies you see on the moor.
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