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Dales pony

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Dales pony
Champion Dales Pony.jpg
Dales Pony
Country of originEngland
Breed standards

The Dales pony is one of the United Kingdom's native mountain and moorland pony breeds. The breed is known for its strength, hardiness, stamina, courage, intelligence, and good disposition. The history of the modern Dales pony is strongly linked to the history of lead mining in the Dales area of Yorkshire, and it was originally a working pony descended from a number of breeds. A breed registry was created in 1916, and the breed was used extensively by the British Army in both world wars. The Dales pony almost became extinct during the Second World War, but post-war conservation efforts have had some success in rebuilding the population. Today it is used for many different activities, but population numbers are still low and this has led to it being considered "critical" by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust and "threatened" by The Livestock Conservancy.

Type: Native Pony

Colours: Black, Brown, Bay, Grey and Roan

Size: The preferred height range is 14 hands. (142.2 cms) to 14.2 hands (146.2 cms)

Breed characteristics[edit]

The Dales pony is ideally 14 to 14.2 hands (56 to 58 inches, 142 to 147 cm). The head is straight, neat, and broad between the eyes, with a fine muzzle and incurving ears. The body is fairly short in the back, with a broad and deep rib cage, long, broad and well-muscled quarters, a well-muscled neck of a good length joining neatly into strong withers and strong sloping shoulders. The legs are very muscular, with hard, dense bone, clearly defined tendons, flexible pasterns, and large round hooves with open heels. The mane, tail and leg feathers are straight, silky and abundant.[1]

The majority of Dales ponies are black, though brown, bay, grey and roan colours are also acceptable. The only white markings permitted on the head are a star and/or a snip; stripes, blazes, and white muzzles are not allowed. The hind legs may have a small amount of white, not extending above the fetlock joint, though ponies with excessive white markings may be registered in the B register of the stud book. A Dales pony should move with a great deal of energy and power, lifting the hooves well clear of the ground. The over-all impression should be of an alert, courageous but calm and kind animal.[1] Foals by Dales stallions and non-Dales mares may be registered as part-breds. Foals out of Dales mares and non-Dales stallions may not be registered, as the stud book wishes to promote breeding of purebred ponies to maintain the current population levels.[2]


A Dales Pony on the fells in England

Horses have been present and used in the Dales area from early times. Horse remains dating to Roman times were found in the Ribchester area of the Dales, during North Pennines Archaeology's excavations at land behind the Black Bull Inn in 2009.[3] The Romans themselves named an ancient British tribe to the east of the Pennines the Gabrantovici, or 'horse-riding warriors'.[4] The history of the modern Dales pony is strongly linked to the history of lead mining in the Dales area of England, which stretches from the Derbyshire peaks to the Scottish borders. Lead has been mined in this area since Roman times,[5] and Richard Scrope, then Chancellor of England, owned lead mines at Wensleydale in the 14th century.[6] Iron ore, fuel for smelting, and finished lead were all carried on pack ponies, with each pony carrying up to 240 lb (110 kg) at a time.[7] Pack pony trains of up to 20 ponies worked 'loose' (not led), under the supervision of one mounted train leader.[8]

The modern Dales pony is descended from a number of breeds, with the original working ponies being bred by crossing the Scottish Galloway pony with native Pennine pony[9][10] mares in the Dales area in the late 1600s. A century later Norfolk Cob bloodlines were brought into the breed, which traced back to the Darley Arabian, and most Dales ponies today have pedigrees which can trace back directly to this influential horse (one of the foundation sires of the modern Thoroughbred). Clydesdale, Norfolk Trotter, and Yorkshire Roadster blood was added to improve the trotting ability of the Dales.[11] The bloodline of the Welsh Cob stallion Comet was also added during the 19th century to increase the size of the Dales ponies, leaving a lasting resemblance between the two breeds.[12] With their agility, power and speed, the Dales had great success in trotting races of the 18th century and were also used in organized hunts. The Fell pony continued to intermingle with the Dales into the early 20th century. In 1912, Dalesman was chosen as a Fell premium stallion by the Board of Agriculture. In 1924, he was re-registered as a Dales pony.[13]

Dales pony under saddle

The Dales pony stud book was opened in 1916, with the formation of the Dales Pony Improvement Society, after the introduction of Clydesdale blood threatened to affect the quality of the Dales ponies.[11] Stallion premiums were awarded first by the Board of Agriculture, and later by the War Office, to ensure that stallions displaying the best of the breed characteristics were used for breeding. Members of the breed served with the British army in Europe during the First World War.[14] In the early 1920s, 200 Dales ponies were purchased by the British army. The army took only the finest stock, with the least amount of draft blood. The specifications for the purchased ponies were very specific: all were older than five years, stood 14.0 to 14.2 hands high, weighed at least 1,000 pounds (450 kg) with a girth measurement of 68 inches (170 cm), and were able to pack at least 294 pounds (133 kg) in mountainous terrain.[8]

The breed almost disappeared during the Second World War as ponies were taken for breeding vanners (animals which pulled commercial wagons), for work in towns and cities, and for use by the British Army as pack and artillery ponies.[15] Many ponies used by the military in Europe were left behind after the war, and in many cases they were slaughtered for food. The population declined during the war to such an extent that only four new fillies were registered in 1955. However, the post-war future of the Dales pony was preserved by a small group of breeders, who began to search for unregistered ponies of the proper type. The 1960s saw three Fell pony stallions interbred with Dale mares, to help save the breed.[16] In 1964 the Dales Pony Society underwent reorganisation. At the same time, a "Grading-Up Register" was developed, with the aim of identifying and breeding ponies with characteristics of the original Dales type. The grading-up program was successful, and by 1971, populations had been rebuilt to the point that the program was discontinued.[8] By the 1990s, the population had grown enough to allow some ponies to be exported – twelve to Canada in 1991 and four to the US in 1994. By 1999, there were 60 registered ponies in North America, and an estimated 800 worldwide.[16] In the same year, the Dales Pony Society of America was formed as the official US sub-registry of the UK breed registry.[17]

The Dales pony has moved to "critical" status with the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, meaning there is a United Kingdom population of fewer than 300 registered breeding females.[18] The US-based Livestock Conservancy lists the breed as "threatened", meaning that population numbers worldwide are sub-5,000 and annual US registrations are less than 1,000.[19]


The Dales pony is one of three breeds known to be a carrier of the fatal genetic disease foal immunodeficiency syndrome (FIS).[20] FIS is a recessive disease; affected foals are born when they inherit the gene from both parents. Foals with FIS appear normal when born, but have a compromised immune system and anemia, leading to untreatable infections and death within three months.[21] Following the development of a genetic test in 2010, 12% of Dales ponies tested in the UK were found to be carriers. The use of genetic testing has allowed breeders to avoid mating two carrier animals, so that the disease is avoided in foals.[20]


Dales pony in harness

Dales ponies today compete in show jumping, cross-country, dressage, driving, and eventing. Their calm, kind temperament, combined with their ability to carry heavy weights for long distances, has made them an ideal pony for endurance riding and trekking holidays, as they can carry novice or experienced riders, adults or children alike, over all kinds of terrain and for long distances.[22] Small herds still roam free in the eastern Pennines, and in 2007 there were estimated to be around 30 mares of breeding age in feral herds.[23]


  1. ^ a b Breed Standard, Dales Pony Society, July 9, 2012, archived from the original on September 21, 2014, retrieved March 27, 2014
  2. ^ Dales Pony, International Museum of the Horse, archived from the original on September 17, 2013, retrieved March 28, 2014
  3. ^ OASIS – OASIS reference northpen3-60750, Archaeology Data Service, retrieved March 27, 2014
  4. ^ Harding 2004, p. 23
  5. ^ Weigall 2008, p. 244
  6. ^ Transport: Ways and Means (PDF), Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-03-10, retrieved March 27, 2014
  7. ^ Lynghaug 2009, p. 455
  8. ^ a b c Dutson 2005, pp. 294–296
  9. ^ Dales pony, Oklahoma State University, archived from the original on December 30, 2008, retrieved December 22, 2008
  10. ^ Lynghaug 2009, pp. 455–456
  11. ^ a b Lynghaug 2009, p. 456
  12. ^ Swinney 2006, p. 33
  13. ^ Edwards 1992, pp. 68–73
  14. ^ History, Dales Pony Society, archived from the original on September 18, 2015, retrieved March 27, 2014
  15. ^ Lynghaug 2009, p. 457
  16. ^ a b Dales Pony, The Livestock Conservancy, retrieved March 27, 2014
  17. ^ History of the Breed, Dales Pony Society of America, archived from the original on May 12, 2014, retrieved March 27, 2014
  18. ^ Watchlist 2015, Rare Breeds Survival Trust, archived from the original on April 2, 2015, retrieved January 26, 2015
  19. ^ Conservation Priority Equine Breeds 2014 (PDF), The Livestock Conservancy, archived from the original (PDF) on August 16, 2014, retrieved March 27, 2014
  20. ^ a b Carter, S. D.; Fox-Clipsham, L. Y.; Christley, R.; Swinburne, J. (13 April 2013). "Foal immunodeficiency syndrome: carrier testing has markedly reduced disease incidence". Veterinary Record. 172 (15): 398.2–398. doi:10.1136/vr.101451. PMID 23486505. S2CID 39164130.
  21. ^ Fox-Clipsham, Laura Y.; Carter, Stuart D.; Goodhead, Ian; Hall, Neil; Knottenbelt, Derek C.; May, Paul D. F.; Ollier, William E.; Swinburne, June E.; Brooks, Samantha A. (7 July 2011). "Identification of a mutation associated with fatal foal immunodeficiency syndrome in the Fell and Dales Pony". PLOS Genetics. 7 (7): e1002133. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002133. PMC 3131283. PMID 21750681.
  22. ^ Curry 2004, p. 114
  23. ^ Murray, David (August 2, 2007), The pony's tale: native breeds under threat, The Independent, retrieved March 27, 2014


  • Curry, Marion (2004), Horses (1000 Facts On...S.), Miles Kelly Publishing Ltd, ISBN 1-84236-469-3CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Lynghaug, Fran (2009), The Official Horse Breeds Standards Guide: The Complete Guide to the Standards of All North American Equine Breed Associations, Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press, ISBN 978-0-7603-3499-7CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

External links[edit]