Equine Watchlist





At Risk


Cleveland Bay




New Forest Pony 




Eriskay     Shire  
Hackney horse & pony        

Other native breeds: Shetland pony and Welsh pony



Most of Britain's native equine breeds were traditionally used as working animals. Heavy breeds, such as the Suffolk Punch and Clydesdale, ploughed the rich lowlands, while both the large and small pony breeds provided agricultural power on upland farms. Highlands are well known as stalking ponies bringing the deer down from the hills and were extensively used on crofts. In the island crofting communities the Eriskay carried panniers of seaweed from the shore and peat from the moor and, in addition to its agricultural role, the sturdy Dales was used to transport loads of lead from mines in the high Pennines to the coast. The tireless Exmoor could carry a shepherd all day as could the fast-trotting Fell, which was also a popular mount for postmen. As well as working on the hill farms Dartmoors were used to transport prisoners across the moor and the Welsh Mountain pony was used extensively in mining.

Mechanised power has overtaken horsepower in most of these activities, and many of the breeds which were once common are now endangered. Others have already become extinct such as the Cushendale, Goonhilly, Tiree and Longmynd pony.

Most breeds that remain owe their survival in a great part to the leisure industry; adaptation was the rule for most breeds. All of the pony breeds make excellent family ponies, many are quite capable of carrying an adult, and they regularly compete in all ridden activities, make excellent driving ponies and adapt well to riding and driving for the disabled. The heavy breeds, especially the Shire, found a temporary respite hauling drays for brewery companies whilst hunting, show-jumping and eventing provided a more secure role for other breeds such as the Irish Draught and the Cleveland Bay which is also well known as a carriage horse. The Hackney Horse and pony are, of course, best known for their driven activities.

The Trust understands the need for breeds to adapt and change to meet new challenges, but it recognises the dangers of genetic loss where the changes are too great, and especially where introgression is part of the process of change. In some cases, such as Fell and Exmoor Ponies, semi-feral herds have been maintained in their original native habitat, but this is rare. Many of the pony breeds make excellent conservation grazers, conserving themselves as well as their environment. Although competitive sporting events are likely to continue to be a significant factor in the future use of most breeds, the Trust is concerned to re-establish utility values of native breeds outside the leisure industry, and is exploring their use in activities such as forestry and farming. Dales Ponies, Suffolk Punch and Clydesdale heavy horses have all demonstrated their worth in forestry work, and a proven efficient function is the best safeguard for the future security of rare breeds.