In prehistoric times hoof-prints found on Dartmoor during an archaeological excavation in the 1970s show that domesticated ponies were to be found here around 3,500 years ago.
The first written record of ponies on Dartmoor occurs in AD 1012, with a reference to the ‘wild horses’ of Ashburton, owned by the Bishop of Crediton. Early manorial records indicate that, as today, many ponies were not broken in, but all were branded and usually ear-marked. Many of these ear-markings are still in use today.
In the mid 1800s Dartmoor was the main source of granite in Britain. At Haytor the remains of a granite railway, that was used to transport granite down to the quayside at Teigngrace, can still be seen. Ponies were used to haul the trucks up and down the tramway. Until coal mines in England and Wales were fully mechanised, ponies were used to pull wagons from the coal face. Some of the ponies were stabled underground and never saw the light of day after their arrival at the pit.
The pure-bred Dartmoor can claim a Royal connection. Prince Edward (later Edward VIII) visited Dartmoor frequently in the 1920s. He kept and bred Dartmoor ponies near Princetown, where he crossed them with Arab ponies to try and produce a finer polo pony.
The first half of the 20th century
Before widespread use of machinery and modern transport, ponies and horses were used extensively to enable goods and services to be delivered, and farm work to be carried out. They also provided, as they do today, recreational opportunities for both locals and visitors alike.
Find out more about human history on Dartmoor
Visit Dartmoor Archive for early images of Dartmoor