Ponies on the moor

Ponies on the moor

The ponies on Dartmoor are not truly wild animals. They are all owned by farmers, who let them out on to the commons to graze for most of the year. This is where most visitors to Dartmoor come across them.

Ponies will spend most of the time in small herds of mares with one adult stallion and young ponies. Most foals are born between May and August.

Pony drifts

Every year in the autumn, local farmers who keep ponies get together to clear them off their particular common. These round ups are called ‘drifts’.

People on horseback, four wheeled bikes, and running on foot, herd the ponies towards a convenient small field or yard. The ponies are then separated into groups according to ownership. The health of all the animals is checked, and treatment is given where appropriate. They then decide which ponies to keep on the moor and which to sell. The foals are usually weaned from their mothers at this time.

The market for ponies has declined in recent times and new markets as conservation grazers and riding ponies are being actively promoted.

Conservation

The ponies are very hardy and actually thrive on Dartmoor despite the harsh weather and poor vegetation. In fact, by grazing the moorland they play a vital role in maintaining a variety of habitats and supporting wildlife.

Why are ponies important for the moor?

  • Forward facing teeth means their style of grazing differs from cows and sheep, and a prehensile upper lip enables them to carefully select plants. Grazing livestock together creates a more biodiverse habitat.
  • Exceptional memory allows ponies to follow set routes across the moor, which together with having small hooves, means ponies have minimal impact on the surface of the moor.
  • Short, strong legs cover difficult terrain with ease. The ability to travel to find diverse food sources helps maintain Dartmoor’s landscape.
  • Nutrient-rich dung provides food for many insects.
  • Mane and tail collect and disperse seeds and pollens. Birds also use mane and tail hair to build durable nests for young.

Find out more about how to help look after Dartmoor’s ponies.

You can also see more about the history of the different types of ponies found on Dartmoor.