Dales Pony

  • HEIGHT: 14–14.2 hands
  • PLACE OF ORIGIN: Northern England
  • SPECIAL QUALITIES: Sturdiness, tractability, excellent gaits
  • BEST SUITED FOR: Dressage, hunting, trail riding, driving; ideal first mount for a child

Dales Ponies were bred especially as pack animals for the lead-mining industry in northern England. The stages of the lead-mining process had to occur in several remote environments. The mines were located on the high moors, which are open, treeless, boggy plains; the ore-washing area had to be near a stream. Smelting took place on a hill, where the wind kept the wood-fueled fires burning consistently at the necessary high temperatures. Then the final smelted product had to be transported to the ports of the northeast coast of England.

Before there were roads in the high hills of the eastern Pennine range, pack ponies were the answer, traveling from one remote processing area to another. They traveled in groups of nine to twenty loose ponies, accompanied by one mounted man. Packing 240 pounds of lead each, the ponies covered up to two hundred miles a week over some of the most difficult terrain in England. Dales Ponies, then called Dale Galloways for the admixture of Scotch Galloway blood, were favored for their great strength, toughness, and endurance, as well as for their ability to get over rough country fast. (The Scotch Galloway, which had some Friesian blood, was itself a fast, sturdy pony.)

The Dales were also comfortable riding animals, strong enough to do draft work, and able to survive on little feed. For these reasons they were often chosen to work the small farms of the area, hauling carts, serving as shepherds’ ponies, and pulling plows. They had an excellent fast trot and were also clever jumpers when used for hunting. When the railways solved transportation problems for the lead industry, the ponies continued to have value as farm animals because they were so well suited to the very small, rough plots of farmland in the area.

Roads improved greatly in the late eighteenth century, creating a demand for faster animals for mail and stage lines. Norfolk Cobs were the fastest roadsters at the time, and many were brought into Yorkshire to cross on the local horses. The result was the wonderful Yorkshire Trotter. As trotting races came into vogue, the best Norfolk, Yorkshire, and sometimes Welsh Cob stallions were crossed on the Dales mares to add speed to the local ponies. The best of these crossbred Dales gained spectacular action but lost nothing as farm or riding horses.

Early in the twentieth century, city dwellers increasingly needed vanners, horses to pull commercial wagons of all sorts, while the military required gunners to pull artillery. For both these tasks, animals larger than ponies were useful. Crossing Clydesdale stallions on the Dales mares became such a large business that it threatened to wipe out the Dales. The Dales Pony studbook opened in 1916, in an effort to preserve the breed.

In 1923 and 1924, the army bought two hundred of the best Dales ponies from the small remaining population. The army buyer selected only ponies that showed no sign of carthorse blood, stood between 14 and 14.2 hands, and were five years old or older. Each had to weigh 1,000 pounds, have a 68-inch girth, and be able to carry 21 stone (294 pounds) on a mountain.

Originally bred to work as packhorses, today the Dales Pony can be seen in a variety of equine endeavors, including dressage, driving, and trail riding.

World War II nearly saw the extinction of the breed. The army again took ponies, and others were used to breed vanners. Very few pure Dales remained. By 1955, only four ponies were registered. In 1964, the Dales Pony Society reorganized itself and implemented a “Grading-up Register” to find and develop ponies that showed the best of the old Dales qualities. This register succeeded to the extent that it closed in 1971. The number of registered ponies has risen steadily since then, and the quality remains excellent.

Breed Characteristics

Dales have always been valued for their tractability, strength, and excellent movement. Their action is described in the breed standard as “going forward on all fours with tremendous energy,” with lifted knees and hind legs flexed under the body for powerful drive. Today they are used for dressage, hunting, and trail riding and make beautiful driving animals. Because their size is not intimidating but they are very strong, Dales make excellent mounts for both children and adults.

This Dales Pony shows the typically long forelock of the breed.

BREED ASSOCIATION FACTS AND FIGURES

According to the Dales Pony Association of North America (DPANA) (founded in 1993):

  • DPANA is the liaison to the Dales Pony Society of the United Kingdom and is also the registry for all Dales Ponies in both the United States and Canada.
  • In North America, there are approximately 100 Dales ponies.
  • There are 20 to 25 new foals registered in an average year.
  • Animals registered with the DPANA are not automatically registered with the Dales Society in the United Kingdom.
  • The English registry accepts animals with at least one parent from the United Kingdom, but ponies of pure domestic breeding must be registered with the association in their country of origin.

According to the Dales Pony Society of America Inc., a second organization with slightly different rules (founded in 1999):

  • About 20 ponies were registered as of 2002.
  • The society does register part-breds.
  • Ponies registered with the American Dales Society are not automatically registered with the association in the United Kingdom; however, many ponies carry double registration.

Conformation

Dales range from 14 to 14.2 hands and weigh 800 to 1,000 pounds. The head is broad between the eyes and has typical pony ears that curve in slightly. The neck is strong and of ample length, with a long, flowing mane. An ideal Dales has a long forelock of straight hair down the face. The muscular shoulders are well laid back, and the withers not too fine. The body is short-coupled and deep through the chest, with well-sprung ribs.

The hindquarters are deep and powerful. The tail is well set, not high, with plenty of long straight hair reaching the ground. Dales have excellent feet and legs with good joints and dense, flat bone, showing quality with no coarseness. The pasterns slope nicely, with ample silky feathering at the heels. The feet are large, round, and open at the heels with well-developed frogs.

Color

Dales are usually black or brown, although some are gray or occasionally roan. White markings are minimal; only a star or snip on the face or white on the fetlocks of the hind legs is allowed.

With a pleasant character and excellent movement, Dales Ponies make popular mounts for both children and adults.