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The History of the Dartmoor Pony

It must be remembered that the horse was not indigenous to Britain although it is known that when Julius Caesar landed at Pegwell Bay there were horses existent within British shores, as he makes a note of it in his ‘Commentaries’. It is thought that these animals were small, tough and wiry; probably standing no higher than 13 hh.

The first mention of The Dartmoor Pony appeared in 1012. Between the 12th and 15th century the ponies were used extensively to carry tin off the Moor to the stannary towns, but when the tin mining boom came to an end some of these ponies were probably left to roam the moor although some continued to be used on the farms. Whilst these equines were no doubt fast and agile due to their small size they were not exactly efficient weight carriers, and a knight in his shining armour would weigh a considerable amount, let alone the basic cavalry soldier.

In 1535 Henry VIII, who looked upon ‘Little horses and nags of small stature’ with distaste, directed that any person who kept their mares with ‘any stoned horse under the stature of 14 handfuls’ were to be liable to a fine of 40 shillings and furthermore all occupiers of land, ‘to the extent of one mile in compass’ were to keep ‘two mares apt and able to bear foals of the altitude and height of 13 handfuls at least upon pain of 40s. So the quest for the larger weight-bearing horse began, although it is thought that in certain remote and wild areas such as Dartmoor little attention was actually paid to this legislation, as to enforce it would be difficult and no doubt the little hardy ponies were of great use on the land.

Around 1750 came the Industrial Revolution where the little horse came into its own again mainly in the coal mines closely followed by demands on the sporting front where small, fast, agile ponies were required for polo, when the 10th Hussars, returned from India, bringing the game back with them.

In 1893 The National Pony Society was formed, (the first of its kind), and for some years this was known as ‘The Polo Pony Society’. This was closely followed in 1899 by The Mountain And Moorland sections opened in The Polo Pony Stud Book, and it was agreed to accept the Dartmoor registrations with a local committee appointed to select suitable ponies. In 1925 The Dartmoor Pony Society was formed and from here the Dartmoor pony breed has grown to its present day standard. For further reference to the history of The Dartmoor Pony there is a very good book called ‘The Dartmoor Pony’ written by Joseph Palmer, complete with foreword by H.R.H The Prince Of Wales, Duke Of Cornwall.