In the southwest corner of England is an area of wild moorland called Dartmoor, which gives it’s name to the breed of native pony that has lived there for centuries.
Of the nine native breeds of Great Britain, the Dartmoor Pony has perhaps been the most influenced by introductions of other breeds of which different stallions have been turned out on the moor to run with the native ponies. While not particularly attractive, the Dartmoor Pony of the end of the 19th century was noted for its jumping ability and good riding qualities.
However, those good riding qualities nearly disappeared during the Industrial Revolution, when Shetland pony stallions were turned out with the native moorland ponies, to produce pit ponies for the mines.
Following that period, quality was introduced back into the breed by the use of Welsh Mountain ponies, a Fell Pony and a Polo Pony stallion.
During World War II, when the Dartmoor region was used as a military training area, the breed again came close to disappearing. Between 1941 and 1943 there were only two males and twelve females registered. That the breed survived at all is due to a few dedicated breeders.
During the 1920’s there were three separate herds on Dartmoor, and although there are still wild ponies on the moor today, these are generally of poor quality and most Dartmoor ponies are bred on private studfarms throughout Great Britain and, increasingly, in the United States.
Dartmoor Pony Stallion, Brandsby Jack Frost
Used with permission of the American Dartmoor Pony Association
Today’s Dartmoor pony is an elegant and refined pony, with a delicate head and small, alert ears. The Dartmoor Pony breed standard limits the height to 12.2hh and the preferred colors are brown, black or bay, although any color except pinto is accepted. They have good, sloping shoulders which give them a long, low “daisy-cutting” action.
In the past, Dartmoor ponies have been used as pack animals in the tin mines around Dartmoor.
The Dartmoor of today is an extremely versatile riding pony. In addition to the Mountain and Moorland showing classes, Dartmoor ponies are extremely successful in Riding Pony classes, excel at jumping and are agile and fast in gymkhana events. They are also popular as driving ponies.
Along with the Welsh Mountain Pony, the Dartmoor has been vitally important in the development of the British Riding Pony. It is often crossed with the Thoroughbred to produce larger, quality riding ponies. Subsequent crosses with Thoroughbreds produce cross-country horses and hunters.
The Encyclopedia of the Horse – Elwyn Hartley-Edwards. ISBN 1-56458-614-6