Dales Pony Origin and Characteristics

The Dales Pony comes from the eastern Pennines. This range of mountains is found in Northern England and is one of the most scenic areas of England. Parts of the mountain range have been designated as National Park lands. One of England’s oldest long-distance walking paths, the Pennine Way, runs through the area and is over 250 miles in length.

It is from this area that the Dales Pony was developed. The mountainous region has unique challenges to it, which helped breeders create a pony breed that was strong, tough, but still gentle and calm. This allowed farmers in the area to work their lands while still having a pony that could take them into town when needed.

The Dales Pony has evolved over the years, with many changes occurring in the mid-20th century due to low population numbers. Numerous breeds have come together to help save the Dales Pony and provide some interesting physical characteristics for a pony breed.

Population numbers are also low for this breed because there are strict conformation standards in place. If a pony does not meet all the standards, they may be classified as an appendix pony instead. It is possible for a purebred pony to be excluded from the registry altogether if enough of the standards are not met.

The first breed registry for the Dales Pony was created in 1916. Used in both world wars, this breed fell out of favor and almost became extinct. Conservation efforts are ongoing and are seeing some success, but there is still much work to do to ensure the survival of the Dales Pony for future generations. 

What Is the History of the Dales Pony?

Horses have always been part of the history of England and the surrounding region. The remains of horses that have been dated to the Roman occupation period have been found in the Dales area, as recently as 2009.

Even when the Romans made it up to England, they named the people living there the “horse-riding warriors.” One of those horses was likely an ancestor to the modern Dales Pony.

Horses were required in this region because of the mining activities that have taken place historically in the Dales region. Lead was found in abundance there and has been mined for nearly 2,000 years. Before mechanization, miners used pony trains to carry lead out of the mines. When fully grown, a Dales pony could support more than 200 pounds at a time.

When looking at the modern Dales pony as a breed, however, there isn’t one specific ancestor that can be traced to its lineage. Several working pony breeds from the region were crossed with Pennine and Galloway ponies in Dales around the 17th century, which would create the foundation for this breed. 

In the 18th century, Norfolk Cob genetics were added to the breed as well, which added some Arabian ancestry into the modern Dales Pony as well. To improve the trotting of the breed, bloodlines from Clydesdales, Trotters, and the Yorkshire Roadster were also added. A Welsh Cob was brought into the breed in the 19th century to add a bit of size to the Dales Pony as well.

This has led to the modern breed having a unique look. There is feathering and a disposition like a coldblooded horse, a desire to work and learn like a warmblood breed, and a competitive spirit that would rival any hotblooded horse.

After World War II, the Dales Pony would be exported to the Americas. The existence of the breed was threatened because many were abandoned after the war. Due to the food shortages in Europe in the years following the second world war, many were slaughtered for provisions.  By 1955, only 4 new fillies were being registered.

To preserve the breed, a handful of Fell ponies were interbred with Dales Pony mares, continuing the tradition of a Fell Pony stallion named Dalesman, who was registered as a Fell Pony and then later a Dales Pony. By 1971, the grading program was considered a success and discontinued. A total population of about 1,000 horses is currently registered, though there are fewer than 300 registered breeding mares in the United Kingdom.

Conformation Characteristics of the Dales Pony

Most Dales ponies are between 13-14 hands high. They typically have a muzzle that is fine, a broadness between the eyes, and a profile that is neat and straight. The ears are incurving and curious. Pasterns should be flexible and feathering is typically present around the hooves

The Dales Pony has a deep rib case that creates a broad appearance when seen from a distance. The body of this breed is muscular and with tremendous definition. The tendons are clearly defined, the skeletal structure is dense, and there is good length to create a good strength-to-size ratio.

They are a breed that is good-natured, incredibly intelligent, but still easy to work. They can handle a rugged environment with relative ease.

Most Dales ponies have a coat that is black. Solid color coats of gray, bay, or brown are also accepted. Roan coats are also possible and acceptable for registration. White markings are not permitted in the general registration, but purebred ponies with excessive white markings are allowed in the appendix of the stud book.

Horses that do not move with the energy and power expected of the breed may also qualify for an appendix registry only. Temperaments that are outside of being calm and collected, issues with the gait of the pony, and other physical standard issues may disqualify a purebred pony from the primary stud book.

Cross-bred ponies, even though they may come from a Dales Pony mare, are not allowed to be registered. The goal of the breeding association is to maintain current population levels while keeping the conformation standards as consistent as possible.

Health Concerns with the Dales Pony

The Dales Pony is only one of three equine breeds that is known to carry a fatal genetic disease. It is called Foal Immunodeficiency Syndrome, or FIS for short. It is a recessive disease and a foal is born with it when they inherit the gene from both parents.

A foal born with FIS will appear normal at birth, but will develop infections that are untreatable within the first 90 days. Their compromised immune system, combined with anemia, then leads to death.

Genetic testing in 2010 found that about 1 in 10 Dales ponies are carriers for FIS.

Because FIS can be avoided by not mating two carriers together, genetic testing before breeding can help to avoid having foals born with this condition.

Interesting Facts About the Dales Pony

  • The Dales Pony is a popular riding horse because if its ability to trot. This ability comes from a single stallion, named Comet, that was brought into the breed nearly a century ago.
  • Although the first breed registry was created during the first world war, it wouldn’t be until 1963 when the Dales Pony Society would be formed to help preserve this breed because of its threatened status.
  • Appendix ponies for the Dales Pony are referred to as “Section B ponies.” Ponies that meet conformation standards are referred to as “Section A ponies.” Although the terminology is different than other breeds, the purpose is the same. Section A ponies receive first breeding rights.
  • Two additional sections, C and D, are also possible within the breed registry, but are rarely used. There are now Section C or Section D mares currently in North America.
  • Blooming Dales Pony Farm is thought to be the first home for this breed in the United States. They are in Sheridan, Oregon and still in operation since they received their first foals from England in November 1994.
  • The first Dales Pony that qualified for Section A status was called Red Prairie Knight and was born in 1998 and lives in Louisiana.
  • A part-breed registration is available for Dales ponies that is separate from the main registry. To qualify as a part-breed, there must be at least 25% Dales Pony breeding for the individual horse. 
  • Out of all the pony-type breeds that have come out of England, the Dales Pony is classified as the largest of them.
  • There are still Dales Pony mares that are living in the semi-feral herds that are allowed to roam the Pennines that have been their home for centuries. On the last census count, about 30 mares of breeding age were believed to be part of the herd structures.

The Dales Pony can adapt to many challenging situations and that has served them well over the years. Those challenges are not going to go away any time soon. Although the breed has been brought back from the brink of extinction, continuing conservation efforts are required to continue the upward population push for this breed.

Because they work well with children and are a very loyal and friendly pony, it is easy to fall in love with this breed. Get to know it a little better and you’ll get to enjoy their uniqueness as well.