Hill Ponies found on Dartmoor
A pony that has been bred on the commons of Dartmoor, by a registered Commoner, and whose sire and dam run on the Commons, is a Dartmoor Hill Pony.
A pony can’t be called thus if it is bred off the Commons of Dartmoor, even if both its parents are Dartmoor Hill Ponies. The reason for this is that the main purpose of these ponies existence is as a conservation tool on Dartmoor.
They do all look different though, and there are many variations of colour and type, but they all have the same underlying tradition of hardiness and a good temperament and inherant knowledge to survive on Dartmoor whether it is crushing the gorse with their feet to make it palatable as gorse contains sugars and oil to help keep warm, knowing where to go for water when the regular water supply turns to ice, recognising which way to go at drift time to reach home.
The variety of ponies found on Dartmoor is the result of hundreds of years of survival in this diverse wilderness, which ranges from 98 foot high to over 2000 foot above sea level. The breeders have, over the generations, found which type of pony thrives best in each particular area with its specific habitat. Generally, the higher you go, the smaller the pony.
The Shetland Hill Pony type
This small, tough breed was introduced to the Moor approximately 300 years ago. It has adapted well and thrives on the high Moor where vegetation and shelter from the wind and rain is sparse. There are approximately 200 of this type. It is thought that with the introduction of cattle grids on the Moor, migration to more sheltered parts can no longer take place, and so the Shetland types are the only ponies to stay on the high Moor all the time.
Coloured Hill Pony type
The coloured pony has been found on Dartmoor since Medieval times, according to historical records. They can be found all over the Moor, varying in size and shape according to habitat. There are approximately 200 at present, and are increasing in numbers as coloured stallions are being used to respond to market demand for them, although this is now changing.
Classic Dartmoor Hill Pony type
The lower you go on the Moor, the larger you will find the ponies. As the climate becomes less harsh, the vegetation becomes more plentiful and palatable, and so the habitat is able to sustain a bigger pony. These larger ponies are mainly bays, blacks, chestnuts and greys and are the largest group, with about 1100 in total. It is beleived that the value of a pony with no white upon it was very useful when smuggling was important to the west country.