The Dartmoor descends from the native ponies present for centuries on Dartmoor in southwestern England. Ponies were used for riding, agricultural work, and pulling skips in coal and tin mines. It was customary to range ponies on the moor when they were not needed, and natural selection helped shape a breed that could thrive on rough terrain and poor forage. Dartmoors are one of five native, regionally adapted English ponies. The others being the Dales, Exmoor, Fell, and the New Forest.
Dartmoor ponies nearly disappeared during the first half of the 1900s. Mechanization eliminated the need for working ponies, and purebreds were crossed for the production of polo ponies and other sport horses. The formation of the Dartmoor Pony Society in the 1930s was a first step in the breed’s survival, although the breed didn’t begin to increase until after World War II. One of the Society’s goals today is the reestablishment of purebred, free-roaming herds on Dartmoor to replace the mixed breed ponies that currently exist.
Dartmoor ponies average 12 hands (48″) at the withers. Bay and brown are the most common colors, but black, chestnut, and gray also exist. White markings are uncommon. The head is small with a broad forehead and small ears. The neck is strong and the quarters are well muscled. The legs have dense, flat bones, and the hooves are durable. Manes and tails are full. The sloping shoulder and long stride give a smooth ride. The ponies’ calm, friendly, and willing dispositions make them popular as children’s mounts. The breed’s consistency of appearance makes it easy to pick Dartmoors out of a crowd and to match ponies for driving teams.
The Dartmoor breed has an estimated global population of two to three thousand. About 200 are found in the United States, descending from imports made during the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s. The registry of the Dartmoor Pony Society of America was established in 1936. Demand for the breed exceeds the supply, but the increasing number of ponies will gradually make it possible for more people to become involved with this versatile and charming breed.
Did you know:
The Livestock Conservancy is America’s leading organization working to save over 150 heritage breeds from extinction. We rely on the support of our members, grants, and donations from the public to raise the $700,000 a year needed to maintain our conservation work with rare breeds of farm animals. Click here to learn how you can help.