The Newfoundland pony is a critically endangered breed of small equine from Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada. These ponies descended from British pony breeds brought to the Western Hemisphere by English, Irish, and Scottish settlers.

Already well adapted to the harsh climate of North Atlantic islands, these ponies were able to thrive in their new Canadian home. Settlers kept free-roaming herds of these ponies in Newfoundland, where the population once grew into the thousands.

Newfoundland ponies were used as hardy and versatile all-around horses on the island for centuries, until a ban on open pasturing and the mechanization of agriculture drove them to brink of extinction. Today, Newfoundland ponies are protected by the Heritage Animals Act.

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

Newfoundland Pony History

The history of the Newfoundland pony breed is closely intertwined with the history of their native homeland. These ponies were essential to early pioneer life in Newfoundland.

This heritage breed survives today thanks to protection from the Canadian government and dedicated breed enthusiasts.

Origin

Ponies first accompanied settlers to Newfoundland in the early 17th century. John Guy, the first Proprietary Governor of Newfoundland, imported a shipment of Dartmoor Ponies from England in 1611.

Other shipments of ponies from all over the British Isles followed. Historical records show these ponies included Connemaras, Exmoors, Highland, Fell, and New Forest ponies. [1]

DNA studies of native Canadian horse populations confirm genetic links between Newfoundland Ponies and several British breeds. The climate of Newfoundland closely resembled that of the islands where these horse breeds originally developed, enabled their descendants to flourish in the newly established settlements. [2]

Farmers kept early Newfoundland ponies in free-roaming herds on the island, allowing the ponies to graze and reproduce with minimal human intervention. Natural selection acted on the population to favour hardy animals that could survive the harsh weather and sparse winter vegetation.

Historic Use

Although they lived in herds on open pastures, Newfoundland ponies were not considered feral. Settlers relied on the ponies for everyday life in Colonial Newfoundland. Their agricultural lifestyle required strong ponies to plow fields, haul kelp and wood, pull fishing nets, and transport families.

By 1935, the island’s pony population peaked at 9,000, but their numbers soon sharply declined with the modernization of agriculture and societal changes. A mid-20th century ban on free-roaming livestock in Newfoundland further contributed to their population decline. [1] Exports of ponies to France for horse meat also increased in the 1970s.

Shortly before the Newfoundland pony neared extinction, breeders stepped in to preserve the breed. They gathered the free-roaming herds on the island and began breeding the horses in captivity.

In 1997, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador passed the Heritage Animals Act, which made these horses the first recognized heritage animal of the province. This law gave Newfoundland ponies protected status, but the breed is still considered critically endangered. [3]

Breed Registry

The provincial government appointed the Newfoundland Pony Society (NPS) as the official organization responsible for maintaining the breed registry for these ponies. Incorporated in 1981, the NPS is dedicated to preserving, protecting, and promoting the Newfoundland pony breed.

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