The Dales Pony is a hardy Yorkshire breed, which is not only hugely strong for its size but also hugely versatile. Like many of the native breeds its existence was called into question for a time with many ponies being lost to war and mechanization. Fortunately it has held on and is now being recognised as an excellent leisure and competition pony for children and adults.
While its hard to date the exact origins of the breed, by Roman times references were being made to ponies in the area being ridden for war and used in the local lead mines. It was this last which had the strongest influence on the development of the breed. Scottish Galloway ponies and Norfolk Cobs were bred with the local hill ponies. One of the noted Norfolk Cobs traced his lineage back to the Darley Arabian, one of the three founding fathers of the Thoroughbred breed. Other breeds such as Clydesdale and Norfolk Trotter were introduced later to improve the trotting ability of the ponies. The Dales ponies were very successful in the trotting races which were popular in the 18th Century and in the 19th Century and this was enhanced when the famous Welsh Cob stallion Comet was bred with the local stock. Even today the Welsh Cob influence is noticeable on the Dales breed. As was so often the case with the native breeds, the dawn of the 20th century saw their numbers decimated firstly by war and then by mechanizations. The Dales ponies were simply too useful to the war effort for them to escape it. Their compact size, strength and hardiness saw them requisitioned as pack ponies. Those which did survive the war were often simply abandoned and used for food. By the end of World War two there were only a handful of these ponies left. To save the breed, fans searched the Yorkshire countryside for unregistered ponies which matched the right breed type. An active Grading-Up Register was developed essentially to allow these “unofficial” Dales ponies to be used to refresh the breed. This programme was hugely successful and although Dales' numbers are still relatively low, they are a vast improvement on the post-war numbers. It has helped that the Dales is both a trustworthy riding pony and a talented competition pony for both children and adults. Trekking centres in the Yorkshire countryside use them (and the smaller Fell pony) to carry adults and larger children safely on hacks across difficult terrain, even on longer-distance rides. They are also popular in jumping competitions for children and driving competitions for adults.
The Dales pony is larger than its Fell counterpart standing around 14 to 14.2 hands. Although black is by far the most common colour, any whole colour is permitted. Markings however are largely discouraged. A small star and/or snip is permitted on the face and the hind legs may have white up to the fetlocks only. Physically the Dale is a tidy pony. It has a neat face with slightly turned-in ears. The rest of its body is muscular all over with its body being particularly broad. Its legs are likewise sturdy and muscular with relatively large hooves. Like the other native breeds, the Dales pony has a long, thick mane and tail and also has feathers for added protection from weather and injury. Dales ponies have particularly good paces, possibly due to the infusion of trotting blood. They lift their hooves clear off the ground and move with freedom and energy.
While Yorkshire is beautiful it is also a challenging environment for any animal, especially in winter. Dales ponies are therefore notes as being intelligent and resourceful with good instincts in terms of picking their way through challenging terrain. They are alert and energetic animals, but their friendly and docile temperament makes them good choices for children or for less experienced adults. Generally speaking they are easy going but like all native breeds can become difficult to handle if over-fed. As Dales ponies are good doers, they can overfeed on rich pasture without any additional food being given. If they therefore start to show unwanted fizziness, there is a good chance that excess food may be the reason, particularly in summer. Dales ponies are only likely to need hard feed if they are working particularly hard or if the weather is exceptionally cold. You can buy non-heating mixes, which provide nourishment without the sorts of ingredients which can heat up ponies (e.g. oats).
Like the other native breeds, the stout Dales pony has an equally stout constitution. The breed is believed to be free from genetic disorders and generally speaking any vets bills are likely to be the result of bad management or bad luck, in that order. It is crucial to keep Dales' weight at a reasonable level. Obesity is just as bad for ponies as it is for humans. It can also act as a contributory factor to laminitis, which is common in overfed animals, particularly ponies. Although the early stages of this illness often look like generally lameness or discomfort, if left untreated it can have serious consequences. Prevention is better than cure but cure is more likely if the vet is called promptly at any sign of discomfort when walking, no matter how slight.
Caring for a Dales
Dales ponies require minimum maintenance. In principle they can live out all year. In practice if they are being kept on rich pasture they are likely to need stabled for part of the time in summer (unless there is a starvation paddock). Having a stable will also mean that the animal can be clipped for work in winter, which vastly increases what it can do in comfort. Dales ponies need regular grooming all year round and particularly in winter, when they grow thick coats. They also need periodic foot care and worming. Daily turn-out time is a must and the ponies will appreciate regular ridden (or driven) exercise.
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