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Two of the World's Rarest Pony Breeds: Dartmoor and Exmoor

Donna writes frequently about animals, especially dogs. She is a real estate agent and published author.

What makes an animal rare? They become rare when demand exceeds supply. During a telephone interview with Susan Deuterman, president of the Dartmoor Pony Registry of America, she had this to say about the urgent reasons for preserving rare breeds of horses and ponies:

“Preservation programs are the most important programs for maintaining the integrity of the breed, and maintaining what makes these native ponies so wonderful. We can’t forget their roots.”1

In this article, we'll examine these two rare pony breeds and their stories. But first, we'll go over some helpful terminology and background information. Let’s start by defining some common terminology used to discuss equines such as the difference between horses and ponies and the equivalent of a “hand.”

Decoding Equine Terminology

  • Withers are the highest part of an animal’s back, or the top of the shoulder blades.
  • Equines are measured in terms of “hands,” or how tall they are at the withers. One hand equals four inches, and the height is given in full hands, a decimal point, and inches: 14.2 = 12 hands (12x4 inches) plus 2 inches = 58.
  • Equine experts list many differences between horses and ponies—height, physical attributes, leg length—but for our purposes, we'll use the distinction of a horse being more than 14.2 hands (58 inches, or 1.4732 meters) and a pony being any horse shorter than 58 inches.
  • Roan refers to body coloring that is a balance of white and another color evenly mixed with points or areas of darker colors on the extremities (think Siamese cat.)
  • Bay refers to body coloring that is reddish brown body with dark points on extremities such as a black mane, tail, ear tips, and lower legs.
  • Dun refers to a body coloring that features a creamy yellow or reddish-brown coat with a dorsal stripe and darker legs.

Rare British Native Ponies

What do Dartmoor and Exmoor ponies have in common? They are both British native ponies. There are nine native breeds in total. In fact, there isn’t a native pony in existence that has an older ancestry than the Exmoor pony.

These ponies have historically been used as pack animals, transportation and prison guard mounts, and children’s riding ponies. All these ponies are fine specimens exhibiting the traditional characteristics of a hardy native breed accustomed to surviving in harsh moorland environments.

When the moorlands were utilized for military training during WW II, these breeds were almost wiped out. Today, they are popular mounts for children and adults, well suited for riding, showing, hunting, jumping, and driving because of their intelligence and gentle temperament.

Dartmoor Ponies

Standard coat colors are bay, roan, black, grey, chestnut, and brown. There should be little or no white markings on the head or legs. The Dartmoor pony is approximately 12.2 hands (50 inches or 1.27 meters.)

Some important events in the history of the Dartmoor pony are:

  • 1898, the first Dartmoor pony was registered in the Polo Pony Society studbook.
  • 1988, the Dartmoor Pony Moorland Scheme was established to preserve the breed, and restore a purebred gene pool.
  • 2010 - listed as a rare breed with the Rare Breed Survival Trust (RBST), category 3, Vulnerable.

The Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust is another organization dedicated to the preservation of the Dartmoor pony and oversees the Dartmoor Pony Preservation Scheme.

Exmoor Ponies

Standard coat colors are bay, brown, or dun, with mealy (light points) noses. The ponies are approximately 12.2 hands (50 inches or 1.27 meters.) The breed was established with the Anchor herd in 1818, and in 1921, the Exmoor Pony Society was formed to preserve the purebred line.

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Breeder Dawn Williams had this to say about their status at the end of World War II: “At the end of the war there were only 4 stallions left and 50 Exmoor ponies in the world.”2 At the time of this writing, there are approximately 2,700 Exmoor ponies in existence.

Rare Horse Breeds Conservation Efforts

Animals become rare when supply is less than demand. The rare pony breeds discussed here are being protected and preserved with a goal of perpetuating their species. If you’re interested in learning more about British Native Ponies, why not research some of these other breeds?

  • Dales Pony
  • Connemara Pony
  • Shetland Pony
  • New Forest Pony
  • Welsh Breeds from Sections A, B, C, and D
  • Welsh Mountain Pony
  • Highland Pony
  • Kerry Bog Pony
  • Fell Pony

If you’d like more information about the conservation of rare breeds, visit your local library or the website of the Rare Breed Survival Trust.

America is not without her share of rare breeds of horses, and there is a famous pony swim, penning, and auction each year on Chincoteague Island of the rare Chincoteague ponies that inhabit it.


  1. The Dartmoor Pony Registry of America, Susan Deuterman, President, telephone interview 07/21/2010
  2. Author unknown, BBC, “Exmoor Ponies: A Dying Breed?” last updated 4/15/2008
  3. Author unknown, Oklahoma State University, “Breeds of Livestock: Dartmoor Pony”
  4. Rare Breed Survival Trust Watchlist - "Equines, Dartmoor,”
  5. Wilson, Jayne, EquiSearch, “Breed Profile: Dartmoor Pony”
  6. Moorland Mousie Trust, Exmoor Pony Center
  7. Author unknown, The Fell Pony Society, “About Fell Ponies,” last updated 02/04/2011

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

What Are Your Thoughts About the Conservation of Rare Horse Breeds?

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on April 17, 2012:

Hi Claire, thanks for letting me know about your informative article on the rare Exmoor ponies. I've included a link to your article in this hub.

Claire on April 16, 2012:

Donna ,I have also just done an article on Exmoor Ponies, because their still so low in numbers and these rare and ancient ponies need all the help we can give them

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on March 27, 2012:

Thank you, my good friend Eddy, for always supporting me with encouraging words! We share a love for nature that bonds us together across the miles:)

Eiddwen from Wales on March 26, 2012:

Oh how I enjoyed this one Donna and it has to be awarded my Up up and away!!'

Thank you so much for sharing;I love anything to do with animals and nature whatever the topic within this.

Take care and have a wonderful day.


Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on December 08, 2011:

Hi Sterling, I'm glad you enjoyed this hub on rare horse breeds, and thanks for sharing that story. I'll bet seeing your dad tackle that pony was lots of fun! Thanks you for sharing this with your Twitter network...I really appreciate that and the awesome fan mail you sent me.

Sterling Carter from Indian Mound, Tennessee on December 08, 2011:

I actually owed an Shetland Pony when I was a kid. That animal was smart as heck. He loved kids but hated heavy riders such as my dad. Every time my dad would ride him he would wind up on the ground and the pony would come over to us, the kids. I loved that critter. Excellent hub and I shared it with my twitter followers as well.

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on December 07, 2011:

Thank you for the vote of confidence, Pollyannalana! I'm glad you enjoyed this hub on rare horse breeds.

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on December 07, 2011:

Thank you, Hillbilly Zen! They are adorable little ponies, aren't they, and quite the sturdy little breed. They remind me so much of the Chincoteague ponies with which I am so familiar as I lived near and visited Chincoteague Island for years before I relocated to the Blue Ridge area. It's nice to see the concerted efforts to save these rare horse breeds from extinction.

Hillbilly Zen from Kentucky on December 06, 2011:

This is a fascinating Hub, Ms. Donna. Such cute little guys with such a rich history. I'm glad they're making a comeback - it would be a shame to lose these wonderful breeds.

Voted up, interesting and beautiful.

Pollyannalana from US on December 06, 2011:

Voted up and across, great hub. Loved it.

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