The ponies have been on the Moor since ancient times, and the Moor shapes their size, their characteristic hardness, their independent spirit, and that native intelligence which gets them out of trouble in difficult conditions. Although Exmoors are now being bred throughout the country, the Moor pony is the foundation stock of this unique breed from which outside breeders can replenish their stock.
When driving along roads on Exmoor herds or groups of ponies are frequently to be seen. Not all the ponies on the Moor are pure bred but there are places such as Withypool, Winsford Hill, Warren Farm, Molland, Brendon Common and Haddon Hill; here pure bred Exmoor ponies still find their own living 'in the wild' all the year round. In the Autumn the mares and foals are 'gathered' and driven down to the farms then the pure-bred 'suckers', as the foals are called, are individually examined by the Society's Inspectors. If they are accepted into the breed as typical specimens, they are given an individual number and then branded with that number on the near flank, together with the Society's star and their herd number on the near shoulder. That is how you can be sure that the pony shown to you is a true Exmoor, and how the Society can always tell you his herd, his breeding, and his original owner. Furthermore it is only from the brand marks that ponies can be identified as they have no white markings and vary little in colour and height.
The Exmoor National Park Authority, great supporters of the breed, have established two herds on Exmoor in the interests of conservation and to ensure that the Exmoor Pony remains in its natural environment for the visitor to enjoy. The National Trust and English Heritage also have "free living" herds to help to assist in the conservation of flora and reduction of scrub. Exmoors are very much a rare breed with numbers of less than 1000 worldwide. Of these there are only around 300 breeding mares producing some 130 foals annually. 150 of the mares are still "free living" on Exmoor the remainder being in small groups throughout Britain. Exmoors are "Endangered" on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust list and of major concern, in addition to the low numbers, are the few bloodlines remaining and therefore little genetic diversity. Exmoor Ponies need support, emphasis must be on increasing and preserving the ponies natural environment and producing a breeding programme to ensure a sound genetic base for the future of the breed.
Despite their increasing popularity "free living" Exmoor ponies are wild in the sense that they have to live on the moor throughout the year, find their own food, care for their young and wander free over huge areas of moorland surviving a bad winter without additional shelter or food, although their owners do keep a watchful eye on them. To maintain breed quality, foals are rigorously inspected prior to registration. Registered ponies are branded with their herd and pony number and the Society's star, from this we can always identify its breeder and pedigree. The "free living" herds remain the essential reservoir of natural characteristics and it is of utmost importance that the moorland herds continue to enable breeders, away from the moor, to return to the foundation stock in future generations. Unlike most other breeds, which have been tailored to human purpose, the Exmoor's characteristics have evolved naturally. The pony is quite literally the "child of the moor", the food, climate and living conditions producing the pony as he is today.
The Royal (Dick) Veterinary College, Edinburgh, maintains a herd of Exmoors for the benefit of students' studies, the mature ponies being broken to provide trekking ponies. Exmoors are also bred on Scoraig, a wild part of North West Scotland, where they are used for postal delivery, taking the children to school and carrying peat in panniers.
The Exmoor Pony also plays a vital role in the conservation of many other rare species. Click here to find out more