The Dales Pony is a large working pony breed that originated in the Dales of Yorkshire in North England. Dale ponies are the largest native pony breed from England and are closely related to the smaller Fell Pony.

Dales descend from ancient breeds that lived in this region during Roman times. The breed’s development coincided with the growth of the lead mining industry, with these animals serving as pack ponies for most of their history.

Crossbreeding and World War I and II in the 20th century led to a significant decline in the breed’s population. A unique genetic disease also threatens endangered Dales Pony today, but DNA testing and growing popularity as riding ponies could help the breed rebound.

This breed profile will discuss the history, characteristics, health problems, and nutritional needs of the Dales Pony. Keep reading to learn more about feeding and caring for ponies from this breed.

Dales Pony History

Dales Ponies might look like some other horse breeds, but they have a unique history and are a distinct breed.

Their origins in Yorkshire played a major role in shaping the characteristics of the Dale pony, but various external bloodlines have fine-tuned the breed to its present form.

Origin

The first ponies to arrive in the British Isles likely migrated from Northern Europe before the land bridge to the continent flooded around 6500 BC. Archeological evidence suggests ancient ponies inhabited Yorkshire before the Roman occupation of England starting in the 1st century AD. [1]

Ancient Roman records describe horse-riding warriors living on the eastern slopes of the Pennines, where the Dales Pony breed originated. The upper dales of this mountainous region later became the center of Britain’s lead mining industry.

Yorkshire miners began cross-breeding black Scottish Galloways with native Pennine ponies in the late 17th century to produce hardy horses with good strength and endurance. Norfolk Cob, Norfolk Trotter, and Yorkshire Roadster blood improved the trotting ability of the local horses.

In the late 19th century, the Welsh Stallion Comet crossed with Dales mares to increase the breed’s athleticism. Outcrossing to Clydesdales in the early 20th century increased the size of Dales Ponies and differentiated them from the Fell Ponies of the western Pennines. [2]

Historic Use

The original Dales Ponies transported iron ore and lead across Britain in pack pony trains. The ponies had to be strong and reliable to carry heavy loads over hundreds of miles of rough terrain while following behind a mounted train leader.

During the growing season, Yorkshire farmers also used the Dales Ponies for draft work. Other Dales Ponies carried shepherds over the fells to tend to their herds.

Road improvements in the late eighteenth century shifted breeding directions to produce faster trotting horses for pulling carriages. Today, Dales Ponies continue to show the lively and energetic movement inherited from their carriage horse ancestors. [3]

In the early twentieth century, there was rising demand for larger horses capable of pulling heavy vans and equipment. Breeding programs used draft horses to produce bigger ponies. The Dales Pony Improvement Society was formed in 1916 to improve the quality of the breed.

World War I and II significantly reduced the Dales Pony population in the UK. However, a small group of breeders preserved the ponies, and the breed was rejuvenated in the 1960s with the addition of Fell blood. [1]

Breed Registry

The Dales Pony Improvement Society was renamed the Dales Pony Society (DPS) in 1964. The DPS maintains and publishes the official Dales Pony Stud Book.

The Dales Pony Society of America was formed in 1999 to preserve and promote this breed in the United States and Canada. The organization registered approximately 60 ponies in its first year, and the population continues to grow.

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Breed Characteristics

The Dales Pony Society developed breed standards based on the characteristic traits of original ponies from the dales of Yorkshire. These traits distinguish the breed from other native British equines and contribute to their versatility as riding ponies.

Conformation

The preferred height range for Dales Ponies is between 14 to 14.2 hands. The breed’s conformation gives the general impression of a robust and spirited pony. The head is neat with pony characteristics. Broad foreheads, alert eyes, and slightly curved ears add character.

Dales Ponies generally have long, thick forelocks and manes. Their necks are strong with adequate length and clean-cut throat latches. Stallions have a well-arched crest.

The breed has a short-coupled body with a deep chest and well-sprung ribs. Shoulders are long and sloping, while hindquarters are deep and powerful. Tails are well set but not high, with long, straight hair.

The Dale Pony is well known for exceptional hoof quality. They also have correct legs with ample feathering on their heels.

Colours

Dales Ponies can be any of the following colors:

  • Black
  • Bay
  • Grey
  • Brown
  • Roan

Black is the most common