Breed Organization The Exmoor Pony Society Website: http://www.exmoorponysociety.org.uk Native Country ------------ Other Names ------------ Average Height 11.2hh to 13.1hh Adult Weight ------------ Rider Experience Level ------------
Breed Description All Exmoor ponies are essentially identical, conforming to a natural blueprint. Variation in color and markings which is typical
of breeds which man has created is noticeably absent. This suggests that the Exmoor remains more a wild race than a selected
The characteristics of Exmoor ponies are all adaptations to survival: this may be surviving hostile elements or
avoiding being eaten by predators.
Coloring: Exmoors are all some shade of brown with darker legs and striking mealy (oatmeal) colored markings on
the muzzle, around the eyes and sometimes under the belly. The mane and tail are usually a darker brown than the body, sometimes
almost black but occasionally such long hair is lighter, more mousie in color. The shade of brown of the coat ranges from a light
rich brown termed "bay" through every shade of brown to almost black in just a few individuals.
This pattern of
coloring/marking which is uniform throughout the population is a very primitive design and found elsewhere in the horse family
(e.g. Przewalski's Horse) and is displayed by many herbivorous prey animals in other animal families such as cattle, sheep and
antelopes. The purpose of this type of appearance seems related to camouflage and the avoidance of predators.
blend in very well against the background of mixed heather, grass and bracken in their moorland habitat. The mealy muzzle and mealy
eye ring perhaps serve to break up the outline of the head making its movements less obvious to a predator.
are born with the mealy markings set against a much lighter coat color. This changes as they grow their first winter coat and by
six months or so they match the adults in color.
The ponies are very stocky with deep chests and large girths; the large capacity of the digestive system is important in winter as they consume large
quantities of coarse plant material which provides them with internal warmth. The Exmoor pony presents an example within the horse
family of high efficiency in the business of finding, gathering, chewing and digesting food.
Coat Structure: One of the major forces of natural selection is climate and the Exmoor pony's external anatomy is
designed to withstand extremes of cold and, most importantly, rain; these are the descendants of a mountain pony prototype which
evolved to live in wet upland environments.
The coat grows in two phases giving a summer and winter coat. The winter coat
grows in two layers which, in effect, provide "thermal underwear" and a "raincoat". The hairs next to the skin forming the
undercoat are fine and springy in texture and form an insulating layer. The outer hairs are coarse, greasy and therefore
water-repellent. The efficiency of this double layered coat is evident from the phenomenon of "snow-thatching": snow collects on
the ponies' backs as insufficient body heat escapes to melt it. Thus the body is not chilled by melting snow and the snow is just
shaken off periodically.
The body hair grows in a surface drainage pattern: it lies in an arrangement of whirls and
vortices which maximise water dispersal away from the vulnerable parts of the body and the body openings.
The tail, mane,
forelock and, in winter, the beard all show water-shedding specialization. The fan of short hairs near the root of the tail is
called a "snow-chute" but its function is more to channel rain water out over the buttocks so that it does not run under the
tail. The long fully haired mane and tail, which contrast to the upright mane and partially haired tail of a Przewalski, are
adaptations to this prime need of dispersing water from the body.
The Exmoor pony molts out this winter coat by early
summer and for a short time, until about mid August, sports its summer coat. This retains the drainage properties but consists
of just a single layer, insulation being unnecessary. It is a hard, shiny coat that in some individuals has a slight dappling
Eyes: Exmoors are described as having "toad eyes" and this is often erroneously thought to relate to the mealy
colored ring. It refers, however, to the raised fleshy rim above and below the eye which the coloring accentuates. This rim
serves to protect the eye from rain water and to divert it down the length of the head to run off the lower jaw.
Teeth: The teeth of Exmoors are well adapted to a coarse diet. The incisors (biting teeth) are curved so that
they meet vertically like a pair of pliers and therefore cut cleanly and efficiently. The efficiency of the bite does not
appear to decline so rapidly with age as is seen in many other horses. The molars (chewing teeth) are very large and set into
the jaw so that they maximum chewing pressure is exerted on the tough plants.
Contrary to many publications, Exmoor ponies
do not have an extra, seventh, molar tooth. This misconception arose from mistranslation of some German research which in fact
referred to an extra branch off the blood supply to the lower jaw which might have been the beginnings of the evolution of an
extra tooth. This feature does not seem to be confined to Exmoors and is perhaps simply present in animals with large lower jaws.
Legs and Feet: The limbs of Exmoor ponies are designed for movement over hilly terrain. They are immensely b ponies
for their size and can carry up to 170 pounds, making them an ideal family pony not just limited to carrying children. They have
outstandingly hard feet, a slate blue/black color.
Rarity: The Exmoor pony is a very rare animal. At the last census in the mid 80's there were just under 800 ponies
in total; it is thought that the population has risen to around 1200 since then. This still makes them a tiny part of the British
fauna; there are twice as many wildcats in Scotland as Exmoor ponies anywhere, over 5 times as many otters in Britain as Exmoors.
The Rare Breeds Survival Trust has the Exmoor Pony as one of its listed animals; originally categorized as "critical", the population
increase since 1985 has led to its reclassification as "endangered". This is based upon the size of the breeding population.
coarse not all the 1200 ponies are bred from - many are geldings and many of the mares are never bred. It is estimated that in the
mid 90's the breeding population is still under 500. Of these, probably less than a half are living free in natural habitats. There
are about 40 Exmoors in North America, but the numbers are increasing due to recent imports and the work of the Canadian Moorland and
Mountain Society, which serves as a breed association for the Exmoor. The Exmoor can be found in Ontario and Nova Scotia, Canada as
well as California, Washington, Virginia and New York in the U.S.
History The first wild ponies came to Britain between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago, walking across a swampy plain that was later to
become the English Channel. They became widespread throughout Britain and were very successful, living alongside Mammoths and
preyed upon by saber-toothed tigers, wolves and bears. Their presence in Britain ebbed and flowed with the advances and retreats
of many ice ages.
These equine colonisers provided an important resource for Stone Age hunters when they came to Britain;
hunting reduced numbers significantly. Climate changes in the Mesolithic period brought a drastic change with trees covering
lowland areas. The open grazing habitat of the ponies became available only on the mountains and hills of Britain, and the pony
populations consequently became restricted to these.
When the English Channel formed (5,000 - 8,000 years ago) this equine
population became isolated on the British Isles with no possible further contact with continental populations in the future other
than through man's interference. The British Hill Pony continued to be an attractive prey for hunters, and some scientists theorize
that they were hunted to extinction and re-introduced by Celts. Other scientists believe they remained in reduced numbers on the
When man became a farmer and settled the lowland areas, dividing the land into fields and agricultural
holdings, these populations of British Hill ponies became isolated from each other and their destinies followed different paths.
This resulted in the nine recognized native breeds of pony in Britain today. In each area, human interference led to the mixing of
different genetic ingredients to produce distinctive breeds. As an example, Roman mercenaries introduced Friesian horses to the north
of England which blended with British Hill ponies to produce the Fell pony.On Exmoor a very different story unfolded. While in
every other part of Britain other equine blood was introduced to a degree which drastically altered the appearance of the British Hill
pony, on Exmoor this did not happen. Most of the changes to ponies elsewhere in Britain took place in the last few hundred years and can
be linked to the influences of major trade routes and ports introducing new ideas and new animals or to the influences of landowners
doing the same. Exmoor, until very recently, was a forgotten place with no such routes across it or large ports nearby; few landowners
feature in its history. It was in effect a social island within the British Isles and because of this the original type of pony
A few people on Exmoor followed the trend for crossing and "improving" the local pony but it is significant that
their herds died out and they leave no legacy. The Exmoor ponies of today are descended from stock which was managed on the principle
that nature had the best design and introducing other blood led to dilution of hardiness.
Until 1818, most of the open expanse of
Exmoor was designated a "Royal Forest". This was not tree covered but "Forest" in this sense meant a hunting ground. A Warden worked
for the Crown and managed Exmoor as an upland grazing expanse where farmers from its fringes could graze their stock (ponies, sheep
and cattle) upon payment of fees. The Warden alone ran the stallions which it is recorded were of the original native type.
In 1818 the Royal Forest was sold to John Knight, an industrialist who believed he could tame Exmoor and make it a more productive
agricultural system. He considered that whatever nature had created he could improve upon, including the ponies.
Warden, Sir Thomas Acland, took thirty of the true Exmoor ponies which had run on the forest to his own estate; other local farmers
who had worked with him bought up small numbers of ponies at the 1818 dispersal sale and began their own breeding herds. Knight and
a few others experimented and produced ponies which could not thrive living out in Exmoor's harsh winters. Acland and his colleagues
became perhaps some of the first "conservationists", breeding the Exmoor ponies true to type.
The last of the crossed herds,
which had lived separately from the true Exmoors, died out early this century. The Acland ponies continued and their descendants now
form the famous "Anchor" herd which runs on Winsford Hill. In most cases, those farming families which had saved ponies back in 1818
are still involved today in breeding Exmoors.
Having survived the dispersal in 1818 and the fashion for "improvement" which
could well have changed them beyond recognition, the Exmoor ponies were nearly exterminated during the Second World War. Exmoor was
used for training troops, some of whom practiced on live targets including ponies. Gates were left open and grazing areas were no
longer safe for stock. Many ponies were stolen and transported away to cities to feed the hungry people. By the end of the War it
is estimated that no more than 50 Exmoor ponies survived.
Mary Etherington, who lived on Exmoor, rallied farmers and
landowners to restart pony breeding and build up numbers. She even exhibited two Exmoors at London Zoo to draw attention to their
plight. Cattle grids were installed and stock returned to the commons and moors. Steadily the population recovered and started to
Although numbers increased gradually, even by the mid 1970s just around 30 Exmoor foals a year were being registered.
However, the early 1980s saw attention once again being focused upon their zoological importance and their rarity. Enthusiasm for
breeding Exmoors returned as demand for foals increased. Many new owners at the time bought Exmoors as a commitment to their
conservation. However, whilst numbers rose away from Exmoor, the population of ponies living free, roaming the moor subject to the
laws of nature remained and remains under 200.
A boost to this free-living population has come in the last decade with the
recognition that Exmoor Ponies can be a useful conservation tool themselves. The National Trust, English Nature and several county
wildlife trusts have set up small free-living herds on sensitive nature reserves to manage the vegetation. This is proving most
successful and benefits the conservation of the Exmoor pony alongside the conservation of whole habitats.
Behavior Today Exmoor ponies are seldom used for work, but throughout Britain participate in every sphere of equestrian activity, be it showing, riding,
driving, jumping, long-distance riding, riding and driving for the disabled. Their considerable strength makes them highly suited to driving
but also means that they require a competent child rider rather than a novice.
As well as being able to serve many family members, the Exmoor finds favor because it is economical to keep. In fact, when kept in fields, one
of the most important aspects is to ensure that an Exmoor does not get too much food.