Use and characteristics of the Dales Pony
People buy a Dales pony for their strength and character, as well as their very active, powerful trot. They are one of the larger native ponies of Britain, between 14 hands (56 inches/142cm) and 14.2 hands (58 inches/147 cm) high. They are frequently black, but there are also bay, brown, grey and roan Dales ponies. When breeders sell a Dales pony they will always point out how exceptionally good their feet are. The feather on their legs is fine and silky, rather than full. On the whole, they are very healthy and hard-working animals that can tackle a range of tasks from logging to endurance riding. They also served in both World Wars.
Origin and history of breeding Dales Ponies
People tend to associate the word “dales” with Yorkshire, thanks to the famous National Park. However, the dales region stretches from Derbyshire in England to south west Scotland. The term is Norse for "valley" and the Dales pony is particularly associated with the dales of North Yorkshire, County Durham and Northumberland. The heartland of the breed has always been the dales of the rivers Wear, Tyne, Allen, Tees and Swale. The origins of the Dales pony are very similar to those of the Fell, in that they are the descendants of semi-feral ponies living on the fells, that is the moorlands, of the North Pennines and Cumbria. The extinct Galloway from south-west Scotland was also an important ancestor of both. However, the history of the Dales pony took a separate path from that of the Fell pony, largely because of their vital role in the lead mining industry of the dales on the eastern side of the Pennines. The dales farmers were often involved in lead mining as well as rearing livestock, and they needed strong, sturdy ponies to be available every working day. One of their jobs was to haul ore from the mines, carry it to the smelters, and then take the lead ingots, known as pigs, to the nearest navigable rivers or the docks on the northeast coast. Each pony carried two pigs that added up to 240lbs/109kg in weight (two hundredweight) and worked loose in strings of up to twenty without needing to be led. The farmers were always improving their ponies, and in the 19th century, Norfolk Trotters and Cobs, Clydesdales and Yorkshire Roadsters were used to make the Dales ponies more powerful and to give them speed and an active trot. When it was believed the influence of the Clydesdale was too great, this was adjusted to ensure the ponies kept their lively action. The Welsh cob Comet was also influential on the breed.
Dales Ponies in equestrianism
Weight-carrying Dales ponies make first-rate ponies for trekking. They also participate successfully in every major equestrian discipline. Now that they no longer work in mining, and there are far fewer on farms, Dales have also found a new role in the heritage sector, demonstrating their pack pony skills.