If you're looking for the perfect first pony, there are two breeds that you and your parents should consider — the Dartmoor Pony and the Exmoor Pony. Both breeds come from England, and while they are kind of rare in the United States at the moment, they are well worth searching for because they make ideal ponies for kids. Both breeds come from the same area in England, the bleak moors on the southwest coast.
The Dartmoor Pony
Dartmoor Ponies have been roaming the wild moorland around the Dartmoor Forest in Devon, England since the 12th century. They are close relatives of the Welsh Pony, and their ancestors had Arab and Thoroughbred blood in them. The earliest record of the breed dates back to 1012 when a Dartmoor Pony was mentioned in a religious Bishop's will.
Several hundred years later, the breed was used as pack ponies, carting tin from the mines to the towns. A few of the ponies were kept by farmers when the tin mines closed down, but most were set free on the moors to fend for themselves. It was tough living on the moors, and the ponies had to become hardy to survive. They grew shaggy coats, and their hooves became hard and strong. Dartmoor Ponies are known to be "easy keepers," and can live happily outdoors all year round if given plenty of good hay and feed.
A breed society was set up in 1924, and breed guidelines were established. A Dartmoor Pony could stand no higher than 12.2hh and had to be bay, brown, chestnut or roan. Pintos were not allowed, and too many white markings were discouraged. Dartmoors are sturdy ponies, with strong necks and muscular hindquarters. They have small, fine heads with bright, intelligent eyes.
Over the years, Dartmoor Ponies have faced extinction several times. Henry the 8th (the king who had eight wives) decided he hated ponies and commanded his armies to kill any pony that measured less than 13hh. Luckily his armies missed quite a few ponies, so the breed lived on.
In 1987, Prince Charles, Prince William's dad, decided to help the Dartmoors and sponsored a plan to improve the standard of the ponies running wild on the moor. Fifteen top-class Dartmoor mares were turned out on the moor with a top-class Dartmoor stallion. They produced quality foals, and the quality of the moor ponies began to improve.
Today there are around 6000 Dartmoor Ponies around the world. The United States are home to only several hundred, but breed fans hope to import and breed more. Why? Because Dartmoors are so versatile. They are great for young riders. They are known for being friendly, quiet ponies. They are good jumpers, excellent trail mounts and wonderful driving ponies. They are also small enough for kids to groom and tack up by themselves. All in all, the perfect first pony!
To find out more about Dartmoor Ponies:
Dartmoor Pony Home Page
The American Dartmoor Pony Association
American Dartmoor Pony Association
15870 Pasco-Montra Rd.
Anna, OH 45302
The Exmoor Pony
Exmoor Ponies get their name from their habitat — windy, wild moorland on the coast in Southwest England. The Exmoor Pony is the oldest of the British pony breeds. Many believe that Exmoors are direct relatives of the ancient horses that first walked onto Britain before itwas an island. These horses migrated across Asia and Europe from Alaska. Fossils dating from the Pleistocene time (a long time ago!) look almost exactly like the Exmoor Ponies of today.
Exmoor Ponies are always bay, brown or dun with black points. They are well known for having a "mealy" or buff colored ring around their eyes and muzzle. They are muscular, sturdy little ponies that usually stand between 11.2 and 12.3hh. In the summer, they look sleek and shiny, but in the winter they grown a double-layered coat which keeps their skin warm and dry no matter how wet and cold the weather. They also have an unusual "hooded eye" or heavy upper brow that protects the eye from wind and rain. Like Dartmoor Ponies, Exmoors can live outside all year if given some shelter and plenty of good food.
In the past, Exmoors were used for herding and tending livestock on the moors. They are very strong ponies and have not trouble carrying adults. Today they are used for driving, jumping, dressage and endurance riding. Like Dartmoors, they are ideal ponies for kids.
Sadly, there are not a lot of Exmoor Ponies around. They are very rare. There are approximately 800 ponies in the world, and around 40 Exmoors in the United States.
To find out more about Exmoor Ponies:
The Exmoor Pony Society
Canadian Mountain and Moorland Society
RR#4, Box 273
Amherst, Nova Scotia BH4 3Y2
American Exmoor Registry
Pittsboro, NC 27312