Dales Pony - History

History

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, and the Romans themselves named an ancient British tribe to the east of the Pennines the Gabrantovici, or 'horse-riding warriors'. 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, and Richard Scrope, then Chancellor of England, owned lead mines at Wensleydale in the 14th century. 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. Pack pony trains of up to 20 ponies worked 'loose' (in other words, not led), under the supervision of one mounted train leader.

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 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. The bloodline of the Welsh Cob stallion Comet was also added during the 1850s to improve the breed's gait. With their agility, power and speed, the Dales had great success in the trotting races of the 18th century and the 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.

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. 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.

The breed almost disappeared during the Second World War, as ponies were taken for breeding vanners, for work in towns and cities, and for use by the British Army as pack and artillery ponies. At the end of the war, the future of the Dales pony was preserved by a small but dedicated group of breeders, and in 1964 The Dales Pony Society underwent reorganisation, and a drive was instigated to find and register as many ponies as possible.

The Dales pony has 'endangered' status with the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.

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