There are a lot of ponies running around in Dartmoor National Park in southwest England, but very few of them are actually of the Dartmoor breed. Since the turn of the millennium, Dartmoor has been a favorite dumping ground for horses and ponies of all types. Many Dartmoors no longer live on the windy, wet moorland of their ancestors and now spend their lives in barns and pastures. There are worse fates for a pony.
Dartmoors now thrive in America and several parts of Europe, although part-breds are in demand as riding ponies for larger children and small adults. Although now living the privileged life, Dartmoors are still intelligent, calm and nimble enough to be competitive in many sports, including jumping events.
Some could argue that the Dartmoor is extinct, since the breed has been so close to extinction that several other pony breeds were introduced in order to save it. However, all horse breeds contain the genetic material of every other horse breed, although most of it lies dormant. No matter how pure a Dartmoor pony is, they are still excellent animals with plenty of character and charm.
According to “International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds” (University of Oklahoma Press, 1995), the oldest mention of a Dartmoor pony in history was described in a will of a Saxon Bishop written in 1012. Like most pony breeds in the UK, they were left outside year round and rarely given any supplemental feed in the winter. They were caught when needed. This turned any surviving breed into a tough, resourceful animal.
Dartmoors were used heavily in the tin mining industry until the mines dried up in the 1800s. The breed was nearly wiped out in the two World Wars. In rebuilding the Dartmoor from the few ponies who remained, small Arabian stallions were used and quite possibly the Fell, Dales, Shetland, Welsh and Connemara.
Dartmoors were first imported to North America in the 1930s and became a big hit as a sporting pony for children. They were also used to create a larger type called Dartmoor Sport Pony.
These are small ponies only averaging about 12 hands high. They come in several solid colors but mostly are shades of bay. Other rarer colors are chestnut, black, roan and grey. White markings are to be very small. They have profuse manes and tails but usually do not have feathering on the lower legs.
The Dartmoor has wide, bright eyes, small ears and small muzzle on a straight profiled head. Their necks are thick and strong. They have sloping shoulders and tail set on fairly high. Often Dartmoors have very tough hooves and may not need shoeing, although they will need to have their hooves trimmed regularly.
“The Ultimate Horse Book.” Elwyn Hartley Edwards. Dorling Kimbersley; 1991.
“International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds.” Bonnie Hendricks. University of Oklahoma Press; 1995.
“Storey’s Illustrated Guide to 96 Horse Breeds of North America.” Judith Dutson. Storey Publishing; 2005.
Dartmmor Pony Society. “About the Breed.”