Essential Wessex: Feral Ponies

Wessex is home to many breeds of feral pony, on Exmoor, Dartmoor, Lundy and in the New Forest.

Ponies have existed in the New Forest since the end of the last Ice Age. Currently, all New Forest ponies are owned collectively by the Foresters who have right of pasture over common land. The Court of Verderers appoints five Agisters to look after the ponies, each covering a different area of the Forest.

New Forest ponies formed the basis of the breeding stock for Lundy Ponies in the 1920s., crossed with a Welsh Mountain stallion. Exmoor or Dartmoor ponies would have been closer geographically, but the owner of the Island at the time, Martin Coles Harman, wanted a larger breed, able to cope with the relatively harsh conditions on Lundy.

Fossil remains of Exmoor ponies have been found dating back to around 50,000 BC. They are smaller than New Forest or Lundy ponies, but are agile and sturdy. They were used as pit ponies in the past.

Finally, Dartmoor ponies were also used by tin miners, and make excellent foundation stock for riding ponies. Their numbers are in steep decline, however, from around 5000 in 1900 to 800 today. The Dartmoor Pony Society and the Duchy of Cornwall are currently engaged in a breeding programme to try and reverse this trend.

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