The Highland Pony was originally bred to work on small farms in Scotland, hauling timber and game as well as plowing. They are one of the three breeds that are native to Scotland, the others being the Shetland and Eriskay ponies.
There is evidence of equines in Scotland since at least the 8th century BCE, but it is uncertain if they were wild or if they were brough by migrating humans. Some feel that the 5th– 8th CE century AD Pict horses influenced the development of the Highland pony. In the 16th century, French and Spanish breeds, including the Percheron, were brought to Scotland. There is no record of the breed until the 1800s, although some 18th century accounts describe what is believed to be the Highland pony. Scottish ponies were also crossed with British Fells and Dales ponies in the 1800s.
A registry for the breed was begun in the 1830s. Currently, Highland pony breeders do not have any specific guidelines for breeding, like to “approved” or “selected” stallions, so they retain a broad variety of acceptable types within the breed as well as genetic diversity.
Highland ponies measure 13-14.2 (maximum for breeding stallions) hands and weigh 1,100-1,320 lbs. “The breed is a strong, well-balanced, compact pony with all its features in proportion to its height. It is one of the largest of the British Native breeds and should show substance and strength – short cannon bones, well-developed forearm and second thigh, deep chest and well-sprung ribs, strong quarters, broad flat hocks and knees, and hard round feet.” (Highland Pony Enthusiasts Club of America) Their long, flowing mane and tail are natural and flowing and untrimmed when showing.
Their colors range from dun (mouse, yellow, grey, and cream) to grey, brown, black, and occasionally bay or liver chestnut with silver mane and tail. Some dun ponies have “primitive markings” – a dorsal stripe and zebra stripes on their legs and shoulders. Colors may change during the pony’s life and during winter and summer. White markings, other than a small star, are not acceptable.
Highland ponies have a good temperament, although it is important that they learn good manners when young as they can be stubborn and pushy if not trained. They are calm, friendly, and patient, but like to be kept busy. The Highland is an easy keeper, but care must be taken so that they do not become obese. They may not require shoes.
The late Queen Elizabeth was a fan and patron of the breed and there is a large breeding herd at The Balmoral Estate. The Highland pony continues to have a place as a working animal, riding mount for children and small adults, and in the show ring.
There are only a few breeders in the US, but the lines that they have are important genetically. This endangered breed is in need of additional stewards.
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