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Animal Fact File: Exmoor Pony

Name: Exmoor Pony

Scientific Name: Equus ferus caballus

Description: Exmoor ponies are a small breed of pony reaching up to 12.3hh (130cm). They are stocky with a thick neck and short legs, small ears and a unique ‘toad eye’. This is caused by extra fleshiness around the eyelids, which is beneficial to the pony, protecting them from water and providing additional insulation. The ponies are known to be hardy, with their ability to survive the harsh Exmoor winters.

a brown exmoor pony standing on the moorSpecies: While scientists have identified that wild horses have been present in the UK since 700,000 BC, it has been difficult to trace the individual heritage of wild ponies through DNA analysis. However, Exmoor ponies are known to be an ancient breed. Ponies characteristically similar to the Exmoor can be seen pulling chariots in Roman carvings found in Somerset.

Colouring: The ponies colouring is a range of brown, bay and dun, with black points and mealy markings around the muzzle and eyes, which can extend to the flanks and underbelly. To register an Exmoor pony, it must have no white markings. Their colouring helps them to blend effortlessly with the native heather, grass and bracken of Exmoor.

Coat: In the winter the ponies grow a double layer coat consisting of a fine, woolly underlayer for warmth and a topcoat of long, oily hairs that provide excellent waterproofing.

Height: For stallions and geldings a range from 11.3hh to 12.3hh (119.4 cm to 129.5 cm) at maturity. For mares 11.2hh to 12.2hh (116.8 cm to 127 cm) at maturity.

Weight: On average between 315 – 360kg

Habitat: Exmoor ponies are native to the moorland of Exmoor that stretches across Somerset and North Devon. While semi-wild herds still exist there, Exmoor ponies are known for their versatility and can be found domesticated across the UK and beyond.

a map showing the exmoor national parkCredit: Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right

Diet: Their digestive systems have a large capacity allowing them to eat large quantities of rough grasses and material native to Exmoor, such as gorse and rush. In the winter, this also provides them with internal insulation.

Breeding: Exmoor ponies can still be found breeding in semi-wild herds on Exmoor as well as domestically. The Exmoor pony society estimates there are around 500 breeding mares and 100 licenced, registered stallions in any given five year period. Around 100-150 foals are born per year. Each breeding herd is assigned a heard number and each foal born is given a registration number, for example, 17/300. This would mean that the pony is from herd 17, and was the 300th pony to be bred into that herd. Breeding and registration guidelines for Exmoor ponies are stringent; this is to help preserve the rare native breed.

Lifespan: On average ponies can live well into their late 20’s and some are known to live much longer.

a group of brown exmoor poniesOther Facts:

• Exmoor ponies are classed as an endangered species. After the second world war, it was estimated there were only around 50 of the ponies left. Thanks to a group of breeders, conservationists and the Exmoor Pony Society, numbers have since improved, as of 2010 there were an estimated 800 Exmoor ponies worldwide.
• The Exmoor Pony Society was formed in 1921 and published its first stud book in 1963. The registered charity continues to this day and aims to continue the conservation and protect the breeding standards of the ponies, in extension maintaining Exmoor’s heritage.
• Exmoor ponies are important contributors to conservation grazing. Grazing is essential to preserve the biodiversity of semi-natural habitats, and the ponies hardiness to rough foliage makes them perfect for this task.
• Exmoor ponies were mentioned in the Doomsday Book in 1086.
• While they often make great children’s ponies, their stocky nature means that Exmoor ponies can comfortably carry an adult of up to 12 stone (76kg).
• A naturally curious and reliable breed, Exmoor ponies are known for their versatility and are used for all horsy pursuits from endurance and agility to showing and cross country. Many herds are well known for their national successes including the Anchor and Tawbitts herds.

You can see the ponies wild on Exmoor or at events and shows in Somerset and across the country. Shop our range of ladies tweed shooting coats to make sure you look the part and head to Exmoor to meet these lovely animals for yourself! If you have enjoyed this animal fact file, you can read more in the Birds & Wildlife section of our blog.