Reply To: Dartmoor Ponies.

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Yes, that’s the registered dartmoor, it’s been endangered for some time. Dru Butterfield at Parke has small herd.

There’s quite a lot of interesting history about the breed – it’s mildly popular in America for some reason – but like dogs, the breed standard isn’t that relevant to the originating conditions. Some think that registered dartmoors are overbred and now too fine to survive on the moor that formed them. (And having seen pictures of some of the show ponies, I tend to agree)

The dartmoor hill pony (not registered, loose classification) could also be called endangered if you consider it “A pony owned by commoners grazing on the moor” as there are only around 1200 of those. (And only 51 commoners with ponies on the moor)

These include the fashion ponies – cobs on the western moor, shetlands on the northern and southern, those with particular markings. The markets for these are varied, but all contracting. Eg, the speckled shetlands were mostly bred for the fur trade. The shetlands first landed on Dartmoor over a hundred years ago as a breeding colony for tin miners as pit ponies, and man has bred horses up there for various purposes since at least the bronze age. Nowadays the trade is tiny by comparison and the numbers of ponies on the moor shrinking fast – with the effect on the walking that we know about (encroachment of bracken, gorse etc – ponies are the only grazers on the moor with upper and lower teeth so the only ones that can deal with gorse in particular)

The rare breed issue does have another aspect – subsidies. The ponies attract very little at present (from various sources such as Europe but also English Heritage), but rare breed cattle get more – AND there’s a usable product to sell at the end. That’s one reason why you see so many Belted Galloways and Highland cattle on the moor.

I met with Robyn Petrie-Rice last week who’s doing a degree on the subject of dartmoor ponies and has done a huge amount of research and is a source of lots of interesting knowledge. She’s also one of many trying to forge a way forwards to preserve the future on ponies on the moor. (One that doesn’t include serving them for breakfast…)