The Exmoor Pony is native to the British Isles and fossils have been found in and around Exmoor dating back some 50,000 years. Some residence claim the Exmoor Pony has been there since the Ice Age. DNA to confirm this has not been supported, however, a close match to primitive wild horses has been determined. Roman carvings depicting drawings similar to the Exmoor Pony have been found in Somerset.
The breed’s first documented mention was in Exmoor in 1086. Now other documents mentioning the breed were found until 1818. Sir Richard Acland was Exmoor Royal Forest’s last warden and took 400 ponies to his own property in Winsford Hill. The herd became known as the Anchor herd and descendents of this herd still roam around Winsford Hill.
From the 1820s to 1860s the Exmoor was crossbred and in the late 1800s, the Exmoor and its crossbreeds began to be registered. The Exmoor Pony Society was formed in 1921 and their first stud book was published in 1963.
During WW II the moor was used as a training ground which lead to the Exmoor almost becoming extinct. Only 50 ponies endured the war partly from soldiers using them for target practice, being stolen or eaten. A small group of breeders took interest in the breed and began to preserve the pony. Several small herds were exported to North America and Canada in the 1950s and several small herds remain.
Several organizations have been formed that register and preserve Exmoors worldwide. The breed is considered to be a threaten species with a global population of less than 5,000 and less than 1,000 annual registrations. In Great Britain there is only an estimated 500 ponies, and between 100 and 300 breeding adults worldwide. A total of around 800 Exmoor ponies are estimated to be currently alive.
The jaw structure of the Exmoor is different from other breeds of horses including development of a seventh molar. The head is proportionately larger than the body. Its ears are small with the eye lids having extra flesh to deflect water and used for insulating the eyes. This is called “toad eye”. The Exmoor will grow an extra coat for the winter made of a woolly under-layer and its top coat contains oily hair making the breed waterproof. The mane and tail are long and thick with coarse hairs on the tail called “frost cap”, “snow chute”, or “ice tail”. Its purpose is to keep rainwater away from the underbelly. The Exmoor is usually a dark bay with markings around the eyes, muzzle, flanks and underbelly. The usual height is of the pony is 45 to 51 inches.
The Exmoor is used in a variety of ways, from showing, show jumping, long-distance riding, driving and riding, In 2012, Exmoor ponies won The International Horse Agility Championships. The breed is also used for conservation grazing to preserve pastureland as well as itself.
Image Caption: Exmoor Pony. Credit: me’nthedogs/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)