The Exmoor Pony is the oldest and most primitive of the British native ponies, as well as the purest, and some herds still roam free in the moors of southwest England (i.e. Exmoor).
The Exmoor is extremely hardy, resistant to many equine diseases, with great powers of endurance. The small, sturdy breed has ample bone, and can carry heavy burdens in relation to its build. It is very sure-footed, and has strong legs and feet with a smooth stride. The head is large, with small ears. The ponies’ eyes are surrounded by a ring of light colored hair, and have a toad-eye appearance due to the fleshy rims that are used to divert water.
In the cold, wet winters the Exmoor grows a double coat, with a soft, wooly undercoat and a longer, oily, water-repellant outer coat. The ponies also have unique hair patterns, including an “ice tail,” where the hair splays outward toward the dock, channeling the water away from the belly.
The ponies have a primitive appearance. They are usually bay, but can be any shade of brown, and they have mealy (oatmeal-colored) markings around the eyes and muzzle. They must not have any white markings in order to be a true Exmoor. They usually only stand 11.1 to 12.3 hh, with the[[HEIGHT] limit for mares being 12.2 hh and the height limit for stallions and geldings being 12.3 hh.
The Exmoor is thought to be directly descended from the ponies that migrated from North America across the prehistoric land bridge. There has been very little crossbreeding, making the Exmoor the purest of the native pony breeds. The earliest crossing was with Celtic ponies, who bred with the native ponies of the region in 1000 BC. Only the hardiest of animals survived.
Exmoor was once a Royal Forest and hunting ground, and was sold off in 1818. Sir Richard Acland, the last warden of Exmoor, took thirty ponies and established the famous Anchor herd, which still exists to this day. Local farmers also bought ponies at the dispersal sale, keeping the bloodlines pure.
Some farmers tried crossing the pony with other breeds, but the offspring were not hardy enough to survive the harsh moor, and these herds died out early this century.
The Exmoor Pony Society was formed in 1921, aiming to preserve the purebred Exmoor.
World War II was disastrous for the ponies. The moor became a training ground, and the breed was nearly killed off, with only 50 ponies surviving the war. However, local people were able to rescue and reestablish herds. Exmoor numbers remained low until the early 1980s, when a publicity campaign drew outside attention to the rarity of the breed.
The Exmoor today
The Exmoor is bred throughout Britain, and although the worldwide population is close to 2000, the effective breeding population is less than 250 making Exmoors a rare breed. Some ponies still roam on the moor, and are privately owned. Every October they are rounded up and the foals are inspected and registered with the Exmoor Pony Society. They are branded with a star and herd number on the near shoulder, and the pony’s number on the left hindquarter. Colts considered below standard are gelded.
Those that are not wild are used for a variety of activities, including showing, jumping, long-distance riding, and driving.