Use and characteristics of the Exmoor Pony
Another of the Exmoor pony’s special qualities is the remarkable two-layer coat which keeps it snug in winter and is as good at repelling rain as a mackintosh! The layer nearest the skin is short and wool-like for insulation, whereas the outer coat is longer, and coated in natural oils to protect against snow and rain. These special adaptations are part of the hardiness that people value when they buy an Exmoor pony. Equestrians who sell an Exmoor pony also know that they are some of the most surefooted ponies in existence. Exmoor stallions must not exceed 12 hands 3 inches (51 inches/130 cm). Small they may be, but they are very strong.
Origin and history of breeding Exmoor Ponies
Exmoor ponies were first mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 when 104 brood mares were listed for the manor of Brandon. Neighbouring manors had horses listed as part of the stock, too. For many centuries after the Norman Conquest, Exmoor was a Royal Forest, meaning an area of land where the king could hunt rather than a woodland zone. The next reference to ponies came much later, when in 1818 the last Warden of the Royal Forest, Sir Richard Acland, was recorded as moving a herd of 30 ponies onto his own land. There was a large dispersal sale of ponies at the same time. The Aclands were to play an important part in the history of the breed and their ponies were given the famous Acland anchor brand. Until the 19th century, Exmoor ponies were used as pack animals by people on Dartmoor, an activity that may have been going on since pre-Roman times. This is part of the evidence that the Exmoor is one of the oldest types of pony in the British Isles. Some have argued that its ancestors may have existed before the last Ice Age, and then survived it, a view which has some support from the latest DNA research. The way the Exmoor ponies are managed also has parallels with other British breeds since they live throughout the year in semi-feral herds, but all have owners. Those on the moor are members of the The Moorland Exmoor Pony Breeders Group, and every year the ponies are brought in from the moor for the autumn sales.
Exmoor Ponies in equestrianism
Centuries, and possibly millennia, of fending for themselves means that Exmoor ponies are wise survivors. Once they have built trust in a human, they make willing and hard-working partners, being successful as both riding and driving ponies. In recent years, they have also been used in conservation grazing projects in the UK and elsewhere. These free-moving ponies with their independent spirits and fascinating history now have a worldwide following. They are celebrated on Exmoor with an annual event, The Exmoor Pony Festival.