The rugged mountains and vast moors of the British Isles are more than beautiful landscapes. They are also the birthplace of nine hardy native pony breeds. The Exmoor, New Forest, Dartmoor, Welsh, Fell, Dales, Highland, Shetland and Connemara Ponies are referred to as the Mountain and Moorland breeds, a nod to the environment that contributed to their development. Although feral herds still exist in these areas, the ponies are mainly domesticated and kept like any other riding horse.
Dartmoor is an area of moorland in the county of Devon in southwest England. Its many solid granite hilltops (known as tors) are often barren, with sparse forage for wildlife and little protection from the elements. Read more >>
The Dales is a native of the upper dales (valleys) in the eastern slopes of northern England’s Pennine Range, spanning from Derbyshire to the Scottish border. Small Dales herds can still be found on the upper dales of the rivers Tyne, Wear, Allen, Tees and Swale. Read more >>
The Fell evolved in northern England’s fells, the hills surrounding the Lake District in Cumbria. The weather, with its rainy summers and long, cold winters, fostered the development of ponies that could thrive under such challenging conditions. Read more >>
Off the coast of Scotland lie the Shetland Islands, the native habitat of the smallest native equine in Great Britain: the Shetland Pony. It’s thought that the breed developed in the Scandinavian tundra and was possibly brought over by Viking raiders. Read more >>
Roaming over the Scottish Highlands is a sturdy pony that has thrived among the rugged, rocky coastline, lochs and windswept valleys for centuries: the Highland Pony. The breed developed from a pre-historic pony that received an influx of different blood over time, depending on which army was conquering the area. Read more >>
The Connemara developed on the coastline of the same name in western Ireland’s County Galway. There were ponies in this area for centuries, and Celtic raiders were responsible for introducing new blood. Read more >>
Welsh Pony and Welsh Cob
The hilly environment of Wales’ wild landscapes helped develop native ponies with the characteristics of today’s Welsh Pony and Cob. The Celtic people, who immigrated to the area in pre-historic times, hitched these tough native ponies to their chariots and drove them into battle. Read more >>
Exmoor lies on the Bristol Channel coast of Devon and Somerset in southwestern England. This is the home of the Exmoor Ponies that still roam freely on the moors. Read more >>
New Forest Pony
Near the southern coast of England in southwest Hampshire is the beautiful New Forest. Ponies were said to roam the area six decades before William the Conqueror established a royal hunting ground there in 1079. Read more >>
Sharon Biggs is a frequent contributor to Horse Illustrated and a dressage instructor. She is the author of Advanced English Riding (BowTie Press) and In One Arena (Half Halt Press).
This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of Horse Illustrated. Click here to subscribe.