The Exmoor Pony is an ancient British pony breed native to the moorlands of South West England. These ponies thrived in remote Exmoor for thousands of years, but modern wars drove them to the brink of extinction.

Today, Exmoor ponies are classified as an endangered breed, with only a few thousand remaining worldwide. Preservation efforts are underway, with breeding programs and conservation grazing projects aiming to ensure their survival.

Many remaining Exmoors are beloved family ponies, who thrive in when given appropriate care and nutrition. They are used in a range of equine disciplines, including driving, dressage, trail riding, and as riding ponies for children.

This breed profile will review the history, characteristics, common health problems, and nutritional needs of the Exmoor breed. Keep reading to learn more about feeding and caring for Exmoor Ponies.

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Exmoor Pony History

Tracing its lineage back to ancient times, the Exmoor pony is believed to be the closest existing relative to the wild horse type that roamed Britain thousands of years ago.

Morphological and genetic evidence suggest this lineage evolved separately from other domestic horse breeds. However, genetic bottlenecks in the past century have required human intervention to save the breed from extinction.

Origin

Wild ponies first migrated to the British Isles during the late Pleistocene period (circa 129,000 – 11,700 BCE). This population was subsequently isolated when floods eroded the land bridge connecting the British Isles to mainland Europe around 7000 BC. [1]

DNA studies of ancient European horse remains reveal significant genetic links to Exmoor Ponies. Modern Exmoors also display several primitive morphological traits, suggesting the breed is a direct descendent of these prehistoric wild horses. [1]

Humans began cross-breeding different types of horses following the domestication of the species approximately 5,500 years ago. However, boats could not transport live horses to the British Isles until 2,000 BC. [1]

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) studies in other British breeds reveal variations inherited from multiple wild populations. However, these studies found Exmoors had low variability in mtDNA sequences and unique haplotypes that indicate a maternal link to an ancient Northern horse. [2]

Today, Exmoors are one of few remaining breeds with deep lower jaw morphology that resembles the Pleistocene remains of Northern horses adapted to cold climates. These ponies likely remained isolated due to their remote geographic location. [2]

Historic Use

Ancient ponies were an important food source for Stone Age hunters in the British Isles. The hides and fat of the ponies also helped humans survive cold winters in the harsh climate. Once domesticated, native ponies were used to transport goods and people throughout Britain.

The first written record of ponies in Exmoor appears in the Domesday Book, published in 1086. These ponies roamed lands that eventually became the Exmoor Royal Forest, a territory reserved as hunting grounds for kings. [1]

Sir Thomas Acland, the last warden of the Royal Forest, took ownership of 30 ponies when the crown sold the Royal Forest to industrialist John Knight in 1818. Other local farmers also established Exmoor herds from stock purchased at the dispersal sale.

Moorland farmers used ponies for shepherding, hunting, and plowing. In the 1930s, Exmoor Ponies became popular riding ponies for children following the success of the Moorland Mousie children’s book series.

World War II drastically decreased the Exmoor Pony population. Troops used the remaining wild ponies for target practice, and starving civilians stole ponies for food.

At the end of WWII, no more than fifty Exmoor ponies remained, putting the breed on the brink of extinction. However, thanks to the dedication of local breeders, these unique equines were saved and preserved.

Their native lands are now part of Exmoor National Park, where privately-owned herds still roam freely on the moor. [3]

Breed Registry

In 1921, moorland farmers founded the Exmoor Pony Society to support the conservation of this breed. The society preserves the breed standard inherited from the Exmoor’s ancient ancestors and maintains a registry for purebred Exmoor Ponies.

Members work in collaboration with the Exmoor National Park Authority and the Rare Breed Survival Trust to ensure the future survival of the Exmoor breed and conserve their wild heritage.

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Breed Characteristics

Exmoor