The Old Story of the End of Ponies on Dartmoor

The Guardian has a piece on the plight of the Dartmoor Hill Pony. Apparently prices are falling, and by the close of a recent auction only 20 of 60 animals had been sold. The piece goes on to say that “in the last century” the hill pony thrived.

This isn’t strictly true. I’ve blogged about this before – pony prices frequently tumble, causing fears that there will soon be no ponies on the moor. There’s also a long-standing debate as to whether the Hill Pony should even be there in the first place – purists think the “true” Dartmoor pony has a better claim than the Heinz 57 Hill Pony. On the whole it’s one long decline, which is unsurprising as a) ponies have fewer uses these days, thanks to cars and b) we’re in the middle of a long recession.

  • Here’s a 2010 piece which echoes a 2001 article and one from 1998.
  • And here are historical sources including one from 1928, showing concern at the end of the Dartmoor Pony breed, and one from the 1950s that makes the distinction between the true Dartmoor Pony and the Hill Pony. Both are pretty fascinating reads if you want to understand more about the story. Even with no adjustment for inflation, the ponies sold in 1928 fetch more than those in 2013.
  • This is a 1920s letter from Ada Cole concerning the shipment of Dartmoor Ponies to Belgium for slaughter.
  • Whole Heap of Little Horse Links: the Pony Adventure Edition


    • A sanctuary in Devon provide an orphaned foal with teddy bears for company. Video ensues. (ZapIt)
    • A pony in Canada is attacked by a bear while minding its own business. (Kamloops)
    • A cob called Buddy goes for a swim in Kent, and requires the help fo the fire brigade. (Kent Online) A pony in Essex also took a dip with the same results. (Epping Forest Guardian)
    • Two-headed pony discovered in Wales. Sort of. (Daily Mail)
    • A man in Rhode Island took a shetland pony called Willy Wonka into his local Liquor store. Something entirely predictable ensued. (ABC News – thank you Ed Ward)
    • A psychic helped rescue an adventurous Norwegian Fjord who wound up in a ravine in Seattle. (Seattle Times – thank you to Christina Wilsdon)
    • Edinburgh decides it’s really rather nice to have pony rides in the centre of town. (The Edinburgh Reporter)
    • Mumbai teenagers rescue a tiny, sick pony they found grazing on a garbage dump. (

    Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

    Carved graffiti at St Benet's Abbey, Norfolk. Thank you to mum for this shot.

    Carved graffiti at St Benet’s Abbey, Norfolk. Thank you to mum for this shot.

    • Nice New York Times piece on the family that bred Kentucky Derby winner Orb. Post-and-rail and lush pastures galore. Orb is the seventh generation descendent of a mare the family bought in 1926: truly the breeder’s dream  (NYT)
    • A restored cheese barge (they existed!) is the first horse-drawn canal boat to cross the Chirk aqueduct near Wrexham in decades (BBC)
    • A plan to put semi-feral Dartmoor Hill Ponies on contraception has been hailed as a success (BBC)
    • Ireland plans to introduce a central equine database in the wake of the horse meat scandal (Irish Times)
    • You’ve probably heard about the official culls of Brumbie horses in Australia, but did you know that there’s a proposal to kill 10,000 walers – the nation’s classic cavalry horse breed? (ABC)
    • When Metro Meteor retired, he took up painting. Some sell for thousands, but his handlers remain sanguine: “Lets face reality. Art scholars are not going to have long lengthy discussions trying to decipher the hidden meaning to Metro’s paintings. He is a horse.” Thank you Rowan, for this treat. (TIME)
    • A horse is found disembowelled and mutilated in Dublin. €5,000 offered as a reward for information. Not for the fainthearted. (Irish Times)
    • Larry Wheelon, president of the East Tennessee Trainers’ Association and member of the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association board and ethics committee, has resigned both posts after nineteen Tennessee Walking horses were removed from his care showing signs of soring and other illegal and harmful training methods. Between 1991 and June 2012, he’d racked (ha!) up fourteen violations. I wonder who else is on that ethics committee and what’s in their barns. (WBIR)
    • A romantic British man took riding lessons, then found a white steed and a suit of armour to make his proposal to his girlfriend especially memorable. Unfortunately he didn’t practice his dismount, and came a cropper. Fortunately his girlfriend said yes anyway (The Sun)
    • Meanwhile, in India, a dalit or “untouchable” man who claimed his right to equal status with other Indian castes by riding a horse to his wedding was pelted with stones. Three people were subsequently arrested. (Times of India)

    Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

    Found horse, Berlin street.

    Found horse, Berlin street.

    First up: please go directly to Horse Nation to read Susan Corwin’s account of joining a hunt in Meath, Ireland to break the world record for the number of side-saddle attendees. Fans of Molly Keane and Somerville & Ross will enjoy the craic. This was Susan’s first choice of riding expedition after a gruelling course of cancer treatment. Turns out a thick application of Irish mud, a wilful Connemara pony and some very large ditches are just the ticket.

    After about the second ditch, a very kind Irish gentleman handed me his flask and assured me that the more I drank now, the smaller the ditches would get, and the more I drank at the pub later, the bigger they would get.

    And now on with the more mixed news of all that’s weird or worrying in the horse world. Not much light-hearted fun this week, I’m afraid, but some steps forward.

    • Burger King finds itself implicated in the horse meat scandal. (CNN) Which has probably been going on for over a year… (Telegraph) Meanwhile, Poland say that five of the six slaugherhouses that supply meat to Ireland have no traces of horsemeat on site. (Reuters)
    • Aqueduct racetrack in New York begins to cancel race days in order to try and get a grip on horse safety. Six horses have broken down on the turf course and been shot since December. More of the NYT’s excellent coverage of the lethal intersection of big, casino-inflated purses and medication abuse in US horse racing (NYT)
    • Denver International Airport erected a statue of a giant blue mustang with neon red eyes five years ago, and everyone hated it. Now that those five years have passed, locals are legally allowed to petition for its removal. Will it become a cult classic or a bad taste memory? (
    • Danish scientists on the challenges and rewards of studying social hierarchy in horses. (The Horse)
    • I’ve covered donkey-milk soap as a beauty aid. Now Kazakhstan is getting in on the act with horse-milk soap. (
    • Emaciated and gravely injured cob youngster abandoned in an Essex playground. Photo not for the faint-hearted; the horse had to be put down immediately. (Thisistotalessex)
    • The number of ponies hit by cars on Dartmoor has risen with the poor weather: the ponies come to the roads for the sale that’s laid down to melt snow. (BBC)
    • An American man says he violated a horse because he was trying to make a “horseman baby”. (The Smoking Gun) And Germany outlaws bestiality. Good news for German horses, if not for wannabe centaur begetters. (NYT)

    Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

    Prague carriage horses

    • Questions are raised over the treatment of horses on film and TV show sets. Are trainers’ welfare concerns being overruled? (LA Times)
    • A “horse palace” in Montreal seeks donors for a makeover. (Montreal Gazette)
    • A woman “gives birth to a pony” during a church service in Nigeria. (PM News)
    • Lady Gaga arrived at the launch of her new signature fragrance in a horse-drawn carriage shaped like the perfume flask. (Ace ShowBiz)
    • Don’t touch the horse! An arrest for drunkenness and touching a police horse. (Tampa Bay Times) Elsewhere, in Philly, a police horse is punched. (
    • Claims of assault fly in the fight to save wild horses in Reno. (
    • A smalltown official who defrauded millions sees her illgotten gains – pedigree quarter horses – sold for over a million dollars at internet auction. (Chicago Tribune)
    • A little girl’s dream comes true when she comes home from school to find her very own pony waiting for her. (This is Gloucestershire)
    • The first Exmoor Pony Festival works like a charm (This is the West Country)
    • Muslims in Gaza have to break Islamic “best practice” and eat horsemeat. (NYT)
    • The number of horse rescues in the US has nearly doubled in five years. Major welfare groups suggest accreditation for newcomers (Ventura County Star)

    Donkeys, Books, Unicorn Boadiceas and Brixton Ponies

    This is my “what I did on my busman’s holiday” post, except that there will be multiple posts because I can’t do multiple slideshows in a single post.

    My first stop was Dartington Hall, home of this lovely donkey statue. I was giving a talk at the Telegraph‘s Way with Words literary festival – my debut as a jobbing, all-singing, all-dancing 21st-century performing author. Owing to the whole “working from home” effect (The Oatmeal sums it up nicely here), general feelings of inadequacy and a large dollop of overexcitement at the possibilities of Power Point, I prepared for the talk as if it were a PhD viva. As I launched into the talk, which coincided exactly with the beginning of Andy Murray’s Wimbedon final, I realised that (a) it would have been far better if I’d trusted myself to improvise the whole thing and (b) what’s required is not a lecture but a piece of stand-up comedy. If I told you that my first question from the floor was, “Well, why do girls like horses?” then you’ll understand how muddled I was. I live, I learn.

    Once I’d finished I was able to relax and chat to some of the other authors, discovering that Michele Hanson of the Guardian is a secret ex-horsey girl, and that a very reliable Highland pony once managed to slip Monty Halls off his shoulder three times in less than an hour. I then, via a crammed train, a nose bleed and a long wait at Swindon, reached Tetbury where the Yellow Lighted Bookshop had drummed up a fantastic audience who seemed to enjoy the newly written, improved and improvised If Wishes Were Horses talk. Hereward and his team run a beautiful shop, and let me range through the shelves ogling cookbooks which I (rudely) forgot to buy when the talk was over as I was so relieved.

    I spent the night with some friends just outside Stroud, and found this curious welcoming arrangement on my bedroom windowsill:

    Back in London I had an afternoon of setting the world to rights with Rose Spearing MBE at Ebony Horse Club in Brixton. We watched as the after-school club had their lessons (part of which included “wearing” a bridle and being steered around the yard) and the older kids prepared ponies for an event at Hickstead. To be continued…