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EQUINETOURISM - WORLDWIDE - Pony Breeds of the World

Exploring the Pony Breeds of the World
The horse has evolved over millions of years - their bodies and temperaments shaped by nature, geography, environment, climate and vegetation. We look at some of todays breeds of 'little horses', known as ponies and where they have come from.
What is a Pony?

By modern rules, any equine under 148cm tall at the wither is classified as a pony. However, many of the ancient breeds, if true to type, are actually 'small horses' (such as the Haflinger and Fjiord ponies).
Many desert arabians stand smaller than 148cm but they could never be called 'ponies' in the true sense. Carmargue horses are also referred to as ponies, whereas Icelandic ponies are often referred to as Icelandic horses. The Exmoor pony has remained pure-blooded since the Ice Age and is known as a 'little horse'.

The pony is a definite 'type' descending from the primitive pony of the Ice Age. These ponies have an ample gut and digestive system designed to cope with large quantities of poor quality forage and vegetation, and their molars are large and strong, to cope with continuously grinding down of coarse matter. Their thick, hairy winter coats are designed to fend off severe weather and their short, stocky limbs enable them to cover ground at an easy pace over difficult, uneven terrain.

Until relatively recently, modern adults have tended to favour riding large horses. Over recent decades, Icelandic ponies have become popular for adult riding, mainly because of their placid temperaments and comfortable fifth gait - the tolt. In the UK, the Welsh breeds are popular and very recently, their has been considerable interest in Exmoors and Dartmoors as riding ponies. Exmoors are exceptionally strong, able to carry up to 12 stones when fully fit.

Ponies, compact in stature, are known for being hardy, less expensive to keep than horses, with stamina, sure-footedness and offering even temperaments - when handled fairly and well.

Breeds of Pony -Pony Breeds around the World

Camargue Pony
To be registered as a true 'Camargue', these ponies must be born free-living. They live in the marshes and swamps of the Rhone delta in france and have evolved to be small and hardy, ranging from 130cm to 145cm tall, and are grey to white in colour. They make excellent saddle horses and are used for tourism and by the cattle herders.

Connemara ponies descend from the riding ponies of the Celts (from the fourth century BC) and many live semi-wild in the North West barren Connemara, in Ireland. They range from 130cm - 140cm and are known for their gentle, pliable natures and great ability to jump. They make excellent riding ponies and compete in all spheres.

Dales Pony
This is a breed that has largely stayed indigenous to its natural habitat in Northern England. Largely black in colour, they range from 140cm to 148cm tall, they have many cold-blooded characteristics such as long thick manes, heavily feathered legs and substantial muscular structure that means they look more like horses than ponies. They were used as pack animals and cavalry mounts and a careful breeding programme is now in progress to preserve this important native breed.

Dartmoor Pony
Many Dartmoors are free-living on Dartmoor in Devon, South West England. Their original role was hauling tin from the mines and were bred to be as small and strong as posisble - often being crossed with Shetland ponies. Temperament was obviously important to cope with this arduous role and they are known for their sweet nature and suitability as children's riding ponies. Today they average about 120cm tall. Each year, foals are taken off the moorland areas and sold into domestic homes. There are a number of organisations involved in the protection and preservation of the Dartmoor breed.

Exmoor Pony - see the Exmoor Pony Editorial section for more information
The Exmoor descends directly from the primitive Ice Age pony and is still in its pure form, due to the dedication of a small number of moorland breeders. As the free living herds are largely untouched and have to fend for themselves during some of the harshest weather conditions, they have retained nearly all their pure-blooded qualities and are considered to be the most primitive of all breeds of domestic horses. They average 122cms tall but are exceptionally strong, well-conformed and intelligent. Independent, thinking ponies - Exmoors need careful, sensitive handling and, once trust has been established, make outstanding riding ponies.

Fell Pony
Very much like the Dales pony in appearance and characteristics, the black Fell pony is undergoing careful preservation and conservation to prevent extinction of the breed. They were much used at one time for carrying iron from mines to the towns on the coast of Northern England and so are exceptionally strong. There is some confusion as to their exact origins as they type does not appear to descend from the moorland ponies or the Celtic ponies. They are magnificent to look at with full manes, feathers and powerful muscles and proud heads. They are known for their excellent temperaments and qualities as riding ponies.

Fjord Pony
Originally descended from the ponies of the Vikings, they have evolved today as a result of the breeding programme undertaken by Norwegian Farmers. Small, compact and well muscled, they stand 130cm to 145cm tall, with a dun colouring and short, spiky mane. Ideally suited to farm work, they are also used as riding ponies.

The Haflinger has the hardiness of the mountain ponies which have lived for centuries in the Alps of the Tryol, but is also known for its high-spirit, lightness and agility. This is thought to be due to the influence of an Arabian stallion which was introduced in the late 1800s. The resulting ponies are popular as riding ponies which are widely bred in over 20 countries. The Halflinger is chestnut with a white mane and tail.

Highland Pony
The Scottish Highland Pony is the biggest and strongest of British ponies, with an average height of 145cm. It has been bred to be very sure-footed and capable of weightcarrying hunters and their loads across rough, steep terrain. Originally of Celtic descent, the Highland ponies were cross bred with arabians, Clydesdales and other breeds over the years.

Icelandic Pony
Originally brought to Iceland by the Vikings, the ponies remained pure-blooded for over 1000 years as no fresh stock was allowed to be brought into Iceland to try to prevent disease. These hardy ponies are still an essential means of transport in what can be hostile terrain and they are extremely hardy. As the ponies are entirely reliant on their owners for survival in the harshest winter months and have to live inside, they have developed an exceptional temperament and are sought after and popular riding ponies. Their fifth gait, the tolt, is very fast and extremely comfortable to ride over long distances.

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