The Highland Pony is a mountain pony breed native to Scotland. They are one of the largest native pony breeds from the British Isles. While records of this breed date back to the 18th century, ponies have inhabited the Scottish Highlands for millennia.

Once the mounts of Highland warriors, these ponies would go on to gain the admiration of modern monarchs. While the Rare Breed Survival Trust classifies Highland Ponies as vulnerable, they remain popular throughout the United Kingdom.

Harsh conditions resulted in a hardy pony adapted to survive the rough mountain terrain. Feral Highland Ponies still roam their native ranges, but of the breed today live pampered lives as beloved family mounts.

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

Highland Pony History

Highland Ponies are one of three native Scottish Pony breeds, along with the Shetland Pony and the Eriskay Pony.

The unique environment of the Scottish Highlands, with its challenging weather, rugged terrain, and varied ecosystems, played a significant role in shaping the distinct characteristics of the Highland Pony breed.

Origin

Archeological evidence suggests that ancient ponies inhabited the British Isles by the late Pleistocene period. Genetic studies reveal links to these primitive ponies in several native British breeds, including the Highland Pony. [1]

Researchers don’t know if wild ponies naturally migrated to Scotland after the glaciers retreated 10,000 years ago or if human settlers brought the first horses to the region. Stone carvings from the Pictish period indicate ponies played important roles in Scottish society by the 6th century AD. [2]

Smaller ponies developed in the Western Isles off the Scottish coast, while larger ponies developed on the Scottish mainland. Genetic links suggest Fell and Dales Ponies brought to Scotland influenced the development of Highland Ponies. [1].

Spanish and French breeds, including the Percheron, reached Scotland in the 16th century. While pedigree records for Highland Ponies began in the 1830s, Scottish agricultural records from the 18th century describe ponies resembling the modern breed.

Historic Use

The harsh landscape and sparse vegetation of the Scottish Highlands could not support the heavy horses that developed in other parts of the British Isles.

Instead of using these heavy breeds for agriculture, Scottish farmers relied on their ponies for every aspect of life in the Highlands.

While historical dramas often depict Highland warriors riding large war horses, cavalry soldiers in medieval Scotland likely also rode the hardy native ponies.

Breeding programs produced strong, sturdy ponies with the stamina to carry heavy loads and haul timber through the mountains. Highland Ponies also did draft work on farms, plowing fields and pulling farm equipment.

The ponies had to be sure-footed to traverse rough terrain and needed quiet dispositions to accompany hunters on the game trail. Many Highlands continue serving traditional roles transporting game off the hills and forests of Scottish sporting estates. [3]

The late Queen Elizabeth II supported the conservation of the Highland breed in the 20th century, maintaining a breeding herd of Highlands at the Royal Family’s Balmoral estate in Scotland.

Breed Registry

The Highland Pony Society (HPS) in the UK maintains the official registry for the breed. Most purebred Highland Ponies reside in the UK, although a few breeders are located in North America.

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Breed Characteristics

The HPS established breed standards for the Highland Pony to maintain the historical characteristics of the proper Highland type. The traits that once helped ponies survive in the Highlands now make them versatile driving and riding ponies.

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