Rare Breeds - The Dales Pony
The next native rare breed we are taking a closer look at is the Dales pony. Listed as 'Critical' on the Rare Breed Survival Trust Watchlist 2016, the Dales pony has fewer than 300 registered breeding females in the UK and is at risk of disappearing if we are not careful to preserve them.
The Dales Pony
Dales ponies are a hardy breed of moorland and mountain pony linked to the lead mining industry in the Dales area of England - from Derbyshire to the Scottish boarders. Known for their strength, courage, intelligence and endurance and now used as all rounder ponies for riding and driving.
You can tell a Dales pony from its height of around 14 hh to 14.2 hh. They are mostly found with black coats but sometimes you find browns, bays and even greys. A white star or snip facial marking and white hind fetlocks are allowed. The Dales ponies usually have good confirmation being broad between the eyes and their heads are without a dish (concave profile), inward curving ears and smallish muzzle. Their bodies are muscular with broad chests and they have hard well shaped feet and legs with feathers as well as a long flowing mane and tail.
The Dales pony is thought to be a descendent of several breeds including the Scottish Galloway Pony. They had been used to transport lead, coal and wood over many miles of tough terrain with sure-footed speed over hundreds of years for the mining industries. The Dales ponies were also popular as rural working and farming ponies in the north of England.
As roadways were improving from the late eighteenth century and there was more demand for faster horses and ponies for carriages and riding. The demand for 'vanners' for town work in the early twentieth century placed the purity of the Dales pony under threat, as they were being crossed with the Clydesdale. This prompted the Dales Pony Improvement Society to be formed in 1916 to try and protect the breed. The World Wars then dispersed and nearly destroyed the breed altogether as many Dales ponies were taken abroad and never returned.
The group changed its name in 1964 to become the Dales Pony Society after realising how low numbers were. They set out to save the breed by seeking out ponies that fitted the Dales criteria and the quality traits, and then registering them in a stud book. This gradually improved the breed and kept track of rebuilding the population.
Nowadays, the Dales ponies are used as excellent for riding as all rounders, are great for endurance and trekking as well as driving. Their calm nature and kind temperaments means they are good for beginners as well as more experienced riders.
The Dales Pony Society still protects and promotes the breed, holds regular shows for the ponies and HRH Prince of Wales is patron of the society. With less than 300 registered breed females in the UK there is still a keen needed to make sure we don't lose one of our native breeds forever.