Nearly as old as the hills themselves, Dartmoor Hill Ponies have been roaming Dartmoor National Park for 500,000 years. The long history of these animals is indicated from bones found to date back to the Ice Age and fossilised footprints found at Bronze Age excavations of Dartmoor in the 1970s. These artefacts and writings indicate the long history of Dartmoor’s ponies and their intimate connection with the land and people. Today, the lovely semi-wild pony herds of Dartmoor are just one of the many attractions for people camping on Dartmoor.
One of the many ways to enjoy the ponies of Dartmoor is to book some time with one of the many riding centres. Our closest pony riding centre is Cholwell Riding Stables at Mary Tavy. One to two-hour pony rides can be arranged by calling or booking directly on the website. Riders of all ages and experience levels will enjoy the break from camping and a ride upon the moor.
A number of well-mannered horses at the stables can be matched to riders based on their experience, height and weight; as well as any special requirements they may have. This family-run stable and their staff pride themselves of providing enjoyable rides across the moor for nearly all ages and experience levels.
The first mention wild ponies on Dartmoor dates back to 1012. Exeter’s Doomsday Book of 1086 notes their existence again. William the Conqueror considered counting the ponies and taxing the people of Dartmoor for them. By this time, Dartmoor’s ponies had gone from being wild beasts hunted in the stone ages for their meat, to semi-wild creatures owned and cared for by residents of the moorlands.
The ponies of Dartmoor were recognised as agile and strong animals, by the 19th century. The Ponies helped the postman deliver mail. Some were set to more arduous work like pulling trucks on Haytor’s granite railway. In other cases, smugglers appropriated ponies to carry their booty!
Today the Friends of the Dartmoor Hill Pony work to ensure all hill ponies on Dartmoor are supported, promoted and taken care of, recognising their value on and off the moorlands and the many other benefits they impart to the local area.