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Widecombe History Group Talk September 2002

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Widecombe History Group Talk on the Dartmoor Pony


An Illustrated Talk on the History of The Dartmoor Pony

by Elizabeth Newbolt-Young

Mrs Elizabeth Newbolt-Young assisted by her daughter Alona & Chris Mayhead, gave a very interesting and detailed illustrated talk about the origins, history, breeding and present day Dartmoor Pony.

The earliest written record of The Dartmoor Pony is in 1012 A.D. in the will of the Saxon Bishop of Crediton. In 1100 Henry I had a mare covered by a stallion from Dartmoor. In 1296 ponies were mentioned in accounts of The Earldom of Cornwall it mentions ponies being pastured on the moor at 2d per head.

It was 1820 before the first real description of what was considered a Dartmoor Pony should look like a breed of pony much in demand in that area, sure footed and hardy and able to scramble over the rocks and rough roads and by 1888 it was agreed that The Dartmoor should be no more than 13,1 h.h. (Hands High - a Hand being about four inches)!

The early Kings and their supporters were keen sporting types and in 1898 Polo became fashionable, the description of the ideal Polo Pony was similar to today’s Dartmoor Pony. In the early part of the last century c1902 there was a decree that no more than a quarter of alien blood should be permitted to enter the Dartmoor Pony Bloodlines, however in 1920 a remarkable pony; ‘The Leat’, was introduced to the area and used on several mares. During the address some beautiful photographs of Dartmoor Ponies were shown and amongst them, The Leat. From about 1915 onwards, it was accepted that Stallions up to 14.0 h.h. and Mares up to 13.2h.h. were the accepted sizes and that black, brown, bay and the occasional grey were the colourings. The versatility of the Dartmoor was being realised, driving, riding, packhorse, jumping, pit pony, and even cross-country and most of all the remarkable quality for child’s riding pony. Photographs of children just having fun with their ponies were evidence of their good nature. Returning to The Leat, born in 1918 at Tor Royal from the imported Arab stallion Dwarka, it is accepted that it is most likely that all Dartmoors have some of his blood in them, contrary to the 1902 decree. 1924 saw the launch of the first Dartmoor Breed Society and its recommended height was set at 12.2 h.h. the Society only lasted 5 years. Miss Calmady Hamlyn is a name very much associated with the Dartmoor Pony. She reformed the Society and remained its secretary until 1960 - she was a well respected Dartmoor Breeder.

In 1935 two exceptional ponies were introduced to the Dartmoor Breed, they were ‘Dwarka’ and ‘Jude’, and were the last outside blood to enter the Society’s bloodline.

In 1960, a Supplementary Register was set up, this lasted about 10 years, whereby stock could be bred up to pedigree quality. Records of four generations of breeding were and still are necessary to get to a standard where the pony could be entered into the herd book.

Historically a variety of bloodlines have entered what we now know as The Dartmoor, this has been the result of commercial breeding. The native pony was crossed with Roadsters, Arabs, Fells, New Forest, Exmoors, and for Pit Ponies the Shetland was used and this led to the Piebald and Skewbald that we see today. Particularly during the past 10hat the Dartmoor was an ideal pony to graze some of their wilder areas - for conservation of the habitat. The Dartmoor was perfect for grazing the clifftops of Devon and Cornwall, securing the habitats for birds, mammals and the insect life, flora and fauna were to benefit from this grazing beast.

In 1998 the Registered Dartmoor Pony was recognised as being a rare breed category III, and in 2002 a plan was set up to run for the ten years to 2012, and an extra effort will put into securing its future. Last year semen from 9 stallions was taken and frozen. The gene bank has been set up and if as a result of major disease affecting the breed and prime stock being lost or depleted, this would help to maintain the breed, a further 80 stallions will be used for this scheme soon. The Dartmoor has been exported to most continents of the world, a photograph of a large herd of lovely Dartmoors from Virginia USA, was shown as an example.

One recent Government decision which is causing concern however, is the threatening new ‘passport’ regulation. With the mention of passports, costing up to £50 per horse/pony when the colts can barely realise £1 in the autumn sales, could be another nail in the coffin of the Moorland ponies. There are cases when top quality Dartmoor mares, broken in and ready for riding can realise £1000, the majority of breeders can only dream of such prices. Promotion of the breed is paramount. In 2001, 14 Dartmoor Ponies were entered in the Horse of The Year Show and a Dartmoor Gelding won Supreme Champion at one Show.

Elizabeth then told the meeting of how she first became involved with the Dartmoors, and she in conjunction with her husband and family, are considered to be amongst the top breeders of The Pedigree Dartmoor Pony. Her first pony was bought for her from Brentor when she was a child living near Throwleigh. The pony lived on the moors and would come to her by a simple whistle. This shows the affinity that can develop between pony and child, even at a very young age. Her mother acquired a Fell cross Dartmoor, bought a trap and the pony was soon being used for transportation.

The Newbolt-Young’s stud is known as The Shilstone Rocks Stud and this name stems from a Tor near Chagford, where Elizabeth grew up. Her early attempt in the show ring was at Chagford and was unsuccessful, when the pre-mentioned Miss Calamady Hamlyn ordered her out of the ring, as the pony was too high for the class. Ultimately she acquired her first real Dartmoor Mare and Foal from the White family at Merripit, and a yearling colt sired by "Ruston Bay" a stallion owned by Freda Wilkinson was still running with her. Borrowing a stallion from Mr Rowe, of Chagford, ‘you can borrow him if you can catch him!’ was the deal, and since then she has bred up to her present stud. Stock from Mann Bros of Widecombe were used as a base, Elizabeth stated that in every mare in her stud there is some Mann Bros Dartmoor Blood. A very nice local story concerns Sally Warren who found an orphan filly and set about rearing it, not an easy thing to do with ordinary cows milk, generally special propriety milk is needed - well done Sally!

If breeding pedigree stock is your business, then showing is an important part of keeping your name and stock in the public eye. The Newbolt-Youngs show at about seven shows a year to promote their stud.

Currently there is great concern over the number of ponies being killed on our open Moorland roads. Elizabeth showed a photograph of a pony wearing a neck band that has been used with some success, it shows up in the headlights of cars at night, the only thing is from an appearance point of view the pony just does not look so attractive, but neither does a dead pony!

N.B. Freda Wilkinson, Ann Williams, Charlotte Faulkner and several other breeders of ponies on the moor have formed a group named "The Friends of the Dartmoor Hill Pony". This Group also hopes to promote the Ponies of Dartmoor and with some form of traceability, create more demand for these wonderful animals. The Dartmoor Pony is the Symbol of The Dartmoor National Park and what would Dartmoor be without its beloved Ponies. The Market, influences what is needed, and if more people would realise the versatility of these creatures and so help with their survival, the environment will also benefit. Dartmoor itself must not become a wilderness that is no good for man or beast. Dartmoor is what it is today because of the stock that breed and live and graze the moors. The best animals to do that job are those whose ancestors have roamed the moors for thousands of years. Long live the Dartmoor Pony.

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