Use and characteristics of the Highland Pony
The largest and strongest of the Mountain and Moorland breeds of Britain, breeders who sell a Highland pony know their value as all-rounders. Registered Highland Ponies must not exceed 14.2hh (58 inches/148cms). Most are over 13 hands (52 inches/132 cm) high. They have strong bodies with a good depth of chest, and a special winter coat to keep out the cold that consists of long coarse hairs over a softer undercoat. Coat colours tend to favour duns, creams, greys and mouse, with dorsal stripes, and it is sometimes possible to buy a Highland Pony with zebra leg markings.
Origin and history of breeding Highland Ponies
Ponies, or small horses, have played an important part in Scottish culture since prehistoric times. Archaeologists have discovered artefacts such as a chariot and an unusual decorated pony cap dating back to the Iron Age. Lively little horses with active movements appear on Pictish stones from the first millennium CE. In early modern times, the Galloway horse was internationally famous as a riding horse. The DNA of Scottish breeds such as the Shetland and Highland show they are part of a distinct northern group, and the Eriskay pony is often viewed as representative of the oldest Scottish pony type. By the nineteenth century, the ponies of the Highlands and Islands were well-established as working animals for riding, driving and pack work. They played an important part in deer stalking, being strong enough to carry the shooters and their game, usually red deer stags. They also worked on farms and crofts and were part of the early tourist trade, carrying visitors who came to view the beauties of the Scottish landscape. Although sometimes known as Garrons, this word simply means “gelding”, while in the islands of Scotland the ponies were usually called Gocans, meaning “Little Servants”. The ponies on the mainland came under the influence of other breeds, including the Clydesdale, Fell, Dales, Hackney and Arabian. The ponies of the islands retained more of the original qualities, although the two types have grown closer over the years. The ponies of Eriskay are viewed as a distinct breed. In the twentieth century, like so many other breeds, the Highland was threatened by increasing mechanisation. However, in the 1950s Ewan Ormiston opened the first trekking centre in Britain in Newtonmore in the Highlands. Soon this activity was a popular pastime throughout the country and Highlands were the breed of choice for the job. Being strong sensible ponies, they could carry all kinds of rider, allowing them to view the countryside from a pony’s back. The first register was created in 1896 and the breed society in 1923.
Highland Ponies in equestrianism
Today, Highland Ponies are a popular choice as family and riding club ponies because they are adaptable and easy to keep. They are willing “have-a-go” ponies who participate in all riding and driving activities. They are also crossed with larger horses to create eventers and show jumpers. Highland Ponies continue their working traditions at Queen Elizabeth II’s Scottish residence, Balmoral.