Rare Breeds Briefing – The Conservation of Native Equines – everyone’s responsibility.


The conservation and preservation of our native equines involves a wide range of stakeholders, these include breeders, keepers, breed societies and conservation organisations.

Our native equine breeds were created for the British landscape and climate. Bred to fulfil a purpose and thrive in a wide range of environments and perform a variety of tasks, they were used in agriculture, in industry, for driving and for pleasure. They were used by the military as artillery pack ponies and mounts, used for the transportation of wool and ore, for logging and played a crucial role in agriculture.  Mechanisation affected native equines on a large scale. No longer required to perform the tasks they were created for, their numbers declined.   

In modern society native breed equines are often discounted as competitive prospects and viewed as leisure animals only, or they are judged by their historic role and discounted from any other.


Most equines are owned by the public.

They are kept for pleasure, leisure, for competing, for working and may be bred from at intervals. They are not chosen predominantly for their grazing abilities but for their ability to fulfil a role or task desired by the keeper.

If our native equines are to survive, those keepers and potential keepers need to be made aware of all they can do.

Native breeds are well adapted to living outside, often able to outwinter and survive extreme conditions. They are often able to survive on forage alone and can require less input to maintain their nutritional requirements than some of the more mainstream competitive types.

When competing in equestrian sports the native equine is often overlooked. Their innate adaptability lends itself to a multitude of uses. They and their part breds have competed successfully on an international level in many disciplines from para dressage to driving and eventing.

Draught horses and native ponies are still used for logging and forestry purposes, dray work and as driving animals. These equines that are used for a commercial purpose often double up as ridden pleasure animals, demonstrating their versatility.

Horse owners and potential keepers should look to our native breeds when researching a potential equine partner. Native equines are able to fulfil a huge number of roles from conservation grazing to lead rein ponies, hunters and FEI competitors.


Breeders are responsible for keeping our native breeds alive. Whether it is their business, or their hobby native equines would not exist if there was no interest in their proliferation. They are responsible for choosing genetically sound matings and for producing the next generation of our native breeds.

We need to ensure they have access to the latest research and upto date data.

Those breeders who do not keep or have native equines also have an important part to play. It is up to them to consider using one of the native equines as a sire. Introducing bone, substance and hardiness may be some of the qualities desired. 93

Breed Societies

A Breed society exists to promote its breed, its place in today’s society and its breeding. They have a major role to play in establishing breeding programmes and promoting the working attributes of their breed and their place in modern society. Encouraging communication between breeders, owners and potential keepers is essential here.

Organisations such as RBST should encourage interaction between keepers, breed societies and others and work to raise awareness of the importance and value of native equine breeds.

Conservation organisations

Many nature conservation organisations own or manage land which is used for conservation grazing. Native breed ponies are particularly suited to this. Different breeds are known to have varying grazing and browsing habits. Used alone or in combination with other species they are effective at managing and creating habitats including pasture, on wetlands and in a sand dune environment. Native breed equines are being used for conservation grazing successfully at various sites within their natural range and without.

The draught breeds and several others can be used in place of heavy machinery on sensitive land and where the lay of the land does not permit access. There are current examples where native equines are being used in forestry work, on steep hillsides where gradient does not permit machinery and in agricultural management. They are capable of performing the tasks required with the minimum disruption of habitat. 

Often historical conservation organisations will own native equines and other native breeds to demonstrate to the public that our native breeds are part of our cultural and sociological heritage and their historic roles.

Native equine conservation

So in summary, how do we conserve our native equine breeds?

  • The conservation of native equine breeds requires a multifaceted approach.


  • Breeding, genetics and reproductive work is essential. Having accurate information in order for breeders, breed societies and organisations to co operate and facilitate the preservation and proliferation of the breeds.


  • Responsible breeding with true to type animals of correct nature and the use of reproductive technologies to maintain a diverse genepool.

  • In modern society the native equine is often regarded as a ‘one trick pony’ encouraging the public and potential keepers to think outside the box in regard to their equine needs. Effective marketing, emphasising abilities and attributes, is essential and should help differentiate the animal, demonstrating to the worth to the purchaser and providing a reasonable return for the producer.


  • Effective marketing of the potential of native breed animals to perform several roles from conservation grazing to competition would generate a market for non breeding animals. An often raised topic is the lack of demand for males and castrates, encouraging their use for non traditional roles and publicizing the virtues of the breeds would encourage greater uptake.


  • Publicising the roles that native breed equines currently hold in modern society. Extolling the virtues of those who are used for working, for demonstrations, riding, driving and those who are used for roles outside of the breed stereotype in order to educate and engage the general public.