The Dartmoor and Exmoor ponies are both well loved breeds native to England. Theyare very hardy and easy to keep with kind temperaments that make them both excellent pets and children’s ponies. While the Dartmoor has had a more rocky past and faced near extinction, both breeds are now strong in number with many owners and breeders dedicated to the survival and purity of these bloodlines.
The Dartmoor pony is related to the ancient wild horses of the moorlands of Dartmoor in Devon, England. They have lived there for centuries having escaped extinction on several occasions.
Very few of these ponies now live in the wild in Dartmoor as the majority are kept and bred domestically. The Dartmoor’s first brush with extinction came between 1789 and 1832, which was the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The breed was crossed with Shetland ponies to create an ideal pit pony but caused the purity of the bloodlines to decrease greatly. The breed was improved upon through the use of Fell stallions and Welsh mountain ponies, but this situation didn’t last long due to the large losses of ponies in World War I.
During World War II, the numbers of Dartmoors decreased further when soldiers used the pony’s natural habitat for a training ground. Thankfully the ponies were saved through infusions of new bloodlines.
The ponies were crossbred with different bloodlines in the 20th century to include Arab stallions.
Other bloodlines included aWelsh Mountain Pony stud named Dinarth Spark. This continued breeding increased the great qualities of the pony to include its athleticism, movement, and jumping abilities.
They have a very sweet temperament and disposition. They are highly trainable and very willing to do what is asked of them. They are very balanced and attractive in overall looks and are well proportioned. They generally do not stand over 12.2 hands tall. They have very attractive heads, muscular necks, backs that are compact and sturdy, strong legs which are generally sound. Their manes and tails are very full. The most preferred colors are bay, brown or black with very few white markings. The breed registry does not accept any pinto coloration whatsoever.
Today the ponies are in high demand as children’s show and jumping ponies. They are also used to breed pleasure riding ponies. They have a long, low stride which produces a smooth, comfortable ride for long distances. They can be found on stud farms in France as well as Britain today.
The main habitat of the Exmoor pony is in the southwest of Devon, England. They live
in a semi-wild state. They are one of Europe’s most well known feral ponies and are allowed to run free over the moorlands. Careful management is necessary to ensure survival of the breed and purity in bloodlines as their numbers have been significantly reduced in recent times.
There are stud farms that breed domestic Exmoor ponies at the present.
The Exmoor is a very primitive pony as is evidenced by its dun coloration. Pleistocenecave paintings found in France and Spain show horses very similar to the Exmoor suggestingthat they may be a direct descendant of these ancient horses. It is believed that they walked from Europe to Britain before it was an island. These are believed to be the oldest and purest horses native to the British Isles.
The ponies have changed very little over the course of time mainly due to their geographical isolation. The features they do have are a result of evolution in a harsh climate. As noted, the ponies are dun in color with mealy colored muzzles and bellies. They have a unique winter coat that allows them to survive harsh weather conditions. The coat is basically waterproof with two layers. The first layer is long and greasy which repels water. The second layer is shorter and woollier which helps to retain heat.
They are very hardy and disease resistant. They are known to have a sound conformation. Their conformation should exhibit a nicely sloped shoulder, a deep and wide chest, a stout and compact figure, and short, strong legs. Mares should not exceed 12.2 hands tall and stallions should not exceed 12.3 hands.
Their heads are attractive and they should have wide set eyes with lighter hair around them. They have a heavy top lid on their eyes which is called “toad eye.” Their tails have a bushy, fan-like growth of hair on top which directs water and snow away from their body.
They are very durable and have great strength and stamina. They are popular as domestic children’s ponies. Once a year, the feral ponies are rounded up, inspected, and branded. The male foals that aren’t up to breed standard are gelded and then they are turned back out into their native habitat.
They were introduced to North America between ten and fifteen years ago. There are believed to be only about 800 Exmoors in the world at present.