When you think of Dartmoor, what’s the first thing that springs to mind? For plenty of us it’ll be the sight of the Dartmoor pony, arguably the landscape’s most hardy animal and one that has become the official symbol on the national park’s logo. They’ve lived on the moor for centuries, thriving despite harsh winter weather; there are records going back to 1012 AD acknowledging their presence and footprints being discovered that date back 3,500 years! There’s plenty of information about Dartmoor’s ponies here but here’s a quick breakdown of all you need to know about these resilient creatures:
- They have a close relationship with man — Over the centuries, ponies have been used in Dartmoor’s mining industry to transport ore, for shepherding, taking families to market and on occasion, even helping the postman deliver letters! Yet they retain their wildness…
- Most ponies have not been handled — All of the moor’s ponies belong to different pony keepers, who ensure that each herd is healthy. Despite this, the vast majority are not used to being handled, so they can be skittish around people and we recommend not approaching them too closely so they can’t kick or bite you.
- It’s illegal to feed them — As you might expect, the diets of a human and pony are drastically different, so even foods like organic vegetables can be bad for them. If people feed ponies, it attracts them to the roadside and puts them at risk of being killed. The animals have plenty of places to graze and never run out of food… so just don’t do it!
- They’re vital for the eco-system — The grazing that the ponies do on our moorland plays a vital role in maintaining a variety of habitats, supporting other wildlife. So if you see other animals on the moor, they may have directly benefitted from the ponies!
- There are several different types — The very small ponies are the result of breeding Dartmoors with Shetlands, originally bred for the mining industry. The single colour ponies are the traditional type and share some of the same ancestry as registered pedigree ponies. Ponies with mixed colouring have been bred to meet popular demand.