Dartmoor Pony

  • HEIGHT: 12–12.2 hands
  • PLACE OF ORIGIN: Southwestern England
  • SPECIAL QUALITIES: A rare breed; world population of only 5,000 to 7,000 animals, with fewer than 100 in North America
  • BEST SUITED FOR: First mounts for children; jumping and driving

The Dartmoor is an old breed: the earliest written reference to it appears in the will of a Saxon bishop in the year 1012. It originated in the region of Dartmoor, in southwestern England, which was a center of tin production from the twelfth to the beginning of the twentieth century. When the mines of Dartmoor were flourishing, the ponies were used to transport tin. As the tin industry faded, many ponies were left to run free.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the Polo Pony Society, now known as the National Pony Society, recognized that old, traditional breeds of English ponies were declining to the point of near extinction. In 1898, the organization set up committees to produce descriptions of each of England’s native pony breeds. Five Dartmoor stallions and seventy-two mares were inspected and entered into the first studbook. The height limit at that time was 14 hands for stallions and 13.2 hands for mares, but very few ponies came near that upper limit. The breed society, formed in 1924, eventually fixed the height limit at 12.2 hands. Other than the height, today’s breed standard remains identical to the one defined then.

These shaggy little Dartmoor Ponies show the typical dark coloring of their breed.

Sure-footed and gentle, Dartmoors make an excellent first mount for children. They are good jumpers and drive well.

Less than twenty years after the founding of the studbook came World War I, which hit the breed hard, as many ponies were conscripted for military service and private breeding efforts came to a halt. At about the same time, however, the Duchy Stud, owned by the Prince of Wales, began buying Dartmoor ponies for a program to develop an all-around saddle horse. Some outstanding animals emerged from this program. Several of today’s most influential bloodlines first attracted attention during this period.

World War II also took its toll. Ponies were taken for military use and to feed hungry families. By the end of the war very few ponies remained. Out of necessity, breeders began registering ponies by inspection rather than pedigree. To increase breed numbers, prizewinning ponies at selected shows, regardless of their pedigree, were automatically eligible for registration. Membership and registration gradually increased, and by 1957, the process of registering ponies only by show wins or by inspection was eliminated. After that, all registered animals were required to have registered parents.

BREED ASSOCIATION FACTS AND FIGURES

According to the American Dartmoor Pony Association (founded in 1993):

• As of 2005, there are 62 registered ponies.

• Part-breds are registered as Dartmoor Sport Ponies.

• The breed is most common on the East Coast of the United States.

• The society in Great Britain does not register animals outside of the country.

Dartmoors were introduced to the United States in the 1930s, with more following in the ’40s and ’50s. Because breeders used many of those first animals to produce crossbreds, most of the pure blood was lost. Later imports were more successful. Today there is renewed interest in this attractive and useful pony, although the breed is still quite rare here.

Breed Characteristics

The sure-footed, quiet, and gentle Dartmoor makes an excellent mount for children, though these ponies are certainly capable of carrying a small adult. The breed is versatile, excelling at both jumping and driving. Its action is straight, low, free, and fluid.

It is hardy and strong and well adapted to harsh weather. Many horsemen consider these attractive ponies to be closer to warmblood horses in type than to the Welsh Ponies to which they are often compared.

Conformation

Dartmoors usually stand between 11.2 and 12.2 hands and weigh from 500 to 650 pounds. The head is small and well set, with large nostrils and prominent eyes. The ears are small and neatly set. The throat and jaws should show no signs of coarseness, and the neck is strong but not too heavy. Stallions have a moderate crest.

The shoulders are well laid back and sloping, but not too fine at the withers. The back is of medium length and strong, with well-muscled quarters. The tail is very full and set high. There should be a good depth of girth, allowing plenty of heart room. The legs have dense, flat bone, and the hooves are tough and well shaped.

Color

Dartmoors are usually bay, brown, or black, although an occasional gray or chestnut appears. White markings are minimal.