HistoryThe ancestors of all our native pony breeds came overland from Alaska approximately 130,000 years ago and became widely distributed throughout what is now the British Isles. Dramatic climate changes about 9,600 years ago began to restrict the amount of open grazing, mainly to mountain and moorland areas of Britain, thus herds became isolated on the uplands and the British Hill Pony developed as a result.
First domesticated by the Celts, these herds of ponies can trace their history largely through their first contact with Man. From the Doomsday Book onwards there is little written evidence of the Exmoor Pony but records from the 1500's onwards reveal that the equine population of the moor varied in numbers rising to as many as a thousand at times. The moors, as part of the Royal Forest were controlled by wardens who ran native stallions there but it is known that non-Exmoor mares were sometimes allowed to roam with these herds.
In 1818 the Crown sold the Royal Forest to John Knight but the outgoing warden, Sir Thomas Acland, fortunately took 30 of the ponies and founded the Acland Herd (now known as the Anchor Herd).
The Exmoor Pony Society was founded in 1921 at The Lion Inn in Dulverton by breeders concerned that Exmoor ponies should not risk being sacrificed to fashion or improvements and to protect the foundation herds. Several years were spent with highly experienced breeders inspecting ponies for acceptance into the Stud Book as foundation stock.
The 1930's were something of a boom time for the ponies. They became very popular children's ponies, due in no small part to the success of the Moorland Mousie book which tells the story of the life of an Exmoor pony.
The pony herds had a very rough time during war years due to absent owners, moorland gates being left open, trigger happy troops and butchers using them for a meat source during rationing. As if all this were not enough, the war years were followed, in 1947, with one of the most severe winters ever recorded.
Thanks largely to the post-war efforts of Mary Etherington, a keen supporter of the breed, cattle grids gradually replaced the gates and the boundaries to the commons were secured. In 1946 only about 50 ponies remained and only 6 pure-bred filly foals were registered for the whole of Exmoor. However, again thanks to the efforts of Mary and a few other dedicated breeders, the numbers gradually grew and have continued to increase steadily. Figures now stand at around 3,000 ponies worldwide.