Exmoor ponies are the most ancient of the British native breeds, with a deep instinct for survival and thriving in the harsh conditions of the bleak moorland. In domestication, these ponies can become the greatest of companions; creating genuine friendships with the people that take the time to get to know them which will last a lifetime.
Breed Standard & Features
To read the full and official Exmoor pony breed standard, click here to visit the Exmoor Pony Society Website.
Mealy Markings, Toad Eyes and Staving off the Weather
The mealy markings are the trademark of the Exmoor; instantly recognisable by this trait, the pale points around the muzzle, eyes and inside the flanks are important to offer some camouflage to the pony when living in it’s natural habitat on the moor. Toad eyes are an important feature of the Exmoor and one that some claim is being lost, possibly due to many people being ignorant to what truly defines this characteristic. The eye is expected to have a ring of pale colouration (mealy) that outlines the eye, it should also be hooded above the eye which provides protection from the elements and below the eye should be a fat pad which offers protection when browsing brier thickets for food. The eyes should also be set well apart and almost on the sides of the head for excellent peripheral vision.
Although an Exmoor’s coat through the summer months is close, hard and bright, through the winter it becomes the pony’s greatest protector from the cold. The dense double-layer offers warmth to the pony with short insulating layer of fine springy hair which has an over-layer of coarse, hard hair which is much greasier to encourage rain and snow to run off. Exmoor ponies are often seen to be ‘snow thatched’ where snow is piled across their back and necks and this is evidence of the double-layer system in action; the inner layer is so effective at retaining body heat that the snow that falls on the back of the Exmoor does not melt and the grease of the outer layer allows the snow to be periodically shaken off by the pony.
The low set tail has also evolved to aid the run off; it should be neatly set into the body with hairs that form a fan to channel snow and rain from the body which is why it is often known as a ‘snow chute’. Another point which should be given mention is the location of whorls. Whorl location is important to the function of the coat as the changes in hair direction act to direct water off the body and should a whorl say be located high on the back it would have the potential to collect water rather than allow for run off and in cold weather this water may even freeze causing great harm to the pony.
Exmoor ponies are extra special; the relationships which can be formed are long lasting and if you are prepared to treat your pony with respect and kindness, you can expect in return a friend for life. Their intelligence makes them very trainable and with hearts as big as lions, they usually have the boldness to take on any number of challenges, combine this with their strength and you have the recipe for the ultimate in versatility. Exmoor ponies also make wonderful children’s ponies with many being exhibited on the leading rein, doing pony club or making reliable steeds in riding schools proving just how good tempered they can be!
Unlike many of the native breeds, Exmoor ponies do not have a height limit but rather a preferred height range:-
Stallions & geldings – 11.3hh (119.4cm) to 12.3hh (129.5cm) at maturity.
Mares – 11.2hh (116.8cm) to 12.2hh (127cm) at maturity.
History of the Exmoor Pony
This section has been quoted from the Exmoor Pony Society’s website – we felt this to be the most accurate source for this information.
The first wild pony came to Britain from Alaska about 130 thousand years ago. They were very successful and widely distributed throughout the British Isles, living alongside animals such as the Mammoth and preyed upon by the Sabre-Tooth Tiger. After about 100 thousand years a new, dangerous predator came to Britain – Man. Pony meat was an important food source for the Stone Age hunters and the skins and fat from the animals were valuable to winter survival. About 9,600 years ago, climatic change restricted the open grazing habitats to mountain and moorland areas. Britain could then support far fewer ponies and these became isolated on the uplands as the British Hill Pony.
When the Celts settled in Britain, ponies from these wild herds were tamed and trained to pull their chariots. The first written records of ponies on Exmoor are within the Doomsday Book when Exmoor was designated a Royal Forest. Records from the 1500s onwards reveal that the equine population varied in numbers rising to about 1,000 at times. Non-Exmoor mares came to the moor to join the indigenous British Hill Pony type stock but it is thought that the wardens ran native stallions.
In 1818, the Crown sold the Royal Forest of Exmoor to industrialist John Knight. The outgoing Warden, Sir Thomas Acland, took 30 of the ponies and founded the Acland herd (now known as the Anchor herd) running on Winsford Hill. Farmers from Withypool and Hawkridge, who had worked for the warden, also bought stock at the dispersal sale and founded several herds of which Nos. 1, 10, 12, 23 and 44 still exist. John Knight’s attempts to “improve” the ponies through crossing had temporary success but his herd dwindled and died out.
In 1921, those who had been involved with the Aclands and the foundation herds became concerned that their true Exmoor ponies should not be lost to the fashion of the time for “improvement”. The Exmoor Pony Society was founded at the Lion Inn in Dulverton to form a stud book, to register pure-bred Exmoor ponies and to promote their breeding. Several years were spent with highly experienced breeders inspecting ponies for acceptance into the stud book as the foundation stock.
Showing Exmoors away from Exmoor in the early years of the Society sometimes involved quite an expedition. Ponies were walked to Dunster station and then travelled by train to compete at Islington in London.
In the 1930s Exmoors were very popular as children’s’ riding ponies, no doubt in part due to the success of the Moorland Mousie stories. On Exmoor, as they had for generations, ponies carried the farmers shepherding, hunting, to market and even ploughed the land, while the unhandled breeding herds continued to graze the Commons.
The late 1940s nearly saw the demise of the Exmoor Ponies. A combination of owners away at war, gates left open, trigger-happy troops and ponies stolen to provide food for city dwellers left the population decimated, perhaps no more than fifty. In the years immediately after the war Mary Etherington rallied the breeders and together they ensured that cattle grids restored the secure boundaries to the Commons and set about re-establishing their herds.
The Exmoor Pony then has had a very long history in Britain and shared perhaps thirty thousand years with Man. Since the arrival of the first humans it has contributed to our evolution into farmers and then industrialists. Today the Exmoor continues as our partner in leisure and competitive activities while the free-living herds carry on its role as part of the natural fauna of Britain.
The above text has been quoted from the Exmoor Pony Society’s website – we felt this to be the most accurate source for this information.
Exmoor Ponies & The Show Ring
The show ring, for some, may seem like a frivolous place for Exmoor ponies, yet it certainly plays an important role within maintaining our breed for the future by promoting strong breed type, good conformation and a correct way of going (movement). Show ring judges are challenged to find the pony that they feel is most true to the breed standard as laid out by the Exmoor Pony Society. It is true these guidelines are open to a certain degree of interpretation as each judge will show slightly different preferences, but fundamentally they should have a uniform view on what represents a good Exmoor. The Exmoor Pony Society judges go through a thorough assessment before being accepted to probation for three years under experienced judges who can fine tune their ‘eye for a pony’ and ensure that only the very best candidates reach full panel judge status.
Many county shows across the country have ridden & in-hand Exmoor specific breed classes which promote the ponies to a paying public audience. Exmoor Pony Society ‘Areas’ usually host area shows dedicated solely to the Exmoor pony and often have extra working hunter pony classes, ridden pairs (which can be most impressive as they all match so well!) and leading rein classes. The Midlands Area Show also plays host to the ‘Exmoor Pony of the Year’ where ridden and in-hand qualifiers all compete at the final for the supreme title.
The greatest highlight on the Exmoor showing calendar is possibly the Exmoor Pony Breed Show held at Exford Show in August. People and ponies travel from all over England, Wales and Scotland for the chance to compete at the show or to simply admire so many beautifully turned out Exmoor ponies all in one place and to share the experience with like-minded friends who also share the enthusiasm for the breed.
It is also very important for Exmoor ponies to compete in mixed M&M classes in order for them to be seen by a wider audience and to encourage other equine enthusiasts to become interested in the breed. They most certainly can hold their own with national titles being routinely won; Royal International and Horse of the Year Show qualifiers both on the flat & over working hunter fences and an excellent representation of the breed at all championship shows. In 2003, Stowbrook Jenny Wren became the first Exmoor pony to stand supreme at the Olympia M&M Championship and with other breeds still to attain this title it was most certainly a great day for Exmoor ponies!
Exmoors ponies are special. Creating a relationship with an Exmoor pony is something which will take a little extra time yet will give the strongest, most lasting relationship you’ll ever experience from any pony. The most rewarding experience is buying a foal and time can be spent developing the relationships until it is time to break the pony for riding or driving and it is at this point the rewards will come in abundance. Exmoor ponies make tremendous performance ponies, not only are they seen doing extremely well in the show ring both on the flat and workers but are known to compete in virtually every other discipline.
Dressage – Dressage is not what Exmoor ponies would normally be associated with, yet with good training they have all the cadence required to compete with those bred for the job. Frithesden Flint has competed successfully at novice level and in 2011 was selected to represent the local riding club in the British Riding Clubs area qualifier. In 2012, Dunkery Tawny Owl has represented his riding club at the British Riding Clubs Quadrille Championship at Aintree. In 2009, the Exmoor Pony
Society formed a musical ride which consisted of eight Exmoor ponies performing a choreographed routine which toured county shows and other events to promote the breed. Click here to view the ride: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YFRhYsjHH8s. Dunsmore Glenfiddich has even been known to compete in elementary dressage!
Jumping – Exmoors are intelligent and agile and combined these qualities you have a pony that is perfectly suited to tackling a show-jumping course or a cross country track. They are often seen as a steed for children to compete upon due to their trainable nature. In 2011, Gaoth won the Exmoor Pony Society performance awards with a vast majority of points stacked up from competitive jumping (including puissance events!) not only with adult jockeys but also with an 8 year old. Kingby Thistle (pictured) is competing at top level in Sweden on the junior affiliated tracks.
Driving – Exmoor ponies have long been used for all aspects of harness work, from working the fields to scurry driving. The most recent Exmoor to top the private driving world is Dunkery Bewick, who in 2011 became the first pony to win three titles at the British Driving Society National Championships.
Endurance & Trekking – The stamina and sure-footedness of the Exmoor pony makes them an excellent breed for endurance and trekking. They are also very strong and so in spite of their apparent height they are able to carry a small adult with no trouble. The Edinbugh University was donated a herd of Exmoor ponies by Jimmy Speed (a former professor of anatomy at the university) and this herd has blossomed into a trekking centre which is also open to the public. The trekking centre is run by the students with all monies being ploughed back into the care of the ponies and the day-to-day running of the business. Uttershill has been extremely successful career in endurance and was competing into his 20s in 20-30 mile rides. Annasach Bugatti is the most recent Exmoor to grace the top level endurance scene having most recently completed the Gold Shamrock Endurance Final at a staggering 50 miles (80km) and is believed to be the first Exmoor to have completed an endurance event of this length in a single day.
Le Trec & Horse Agility – Exmoor ponies are well suited to this with their aptitude for problem solving, trainability and natural curiosity. In 2011, two Exmoor ponies took international titles in the Horse Agility sport – Hawkwell Versuvius and Threeshires Zanatan – and several Exmoors have taken top awards since.