Newfoundland Pony Near Extinction
 By Saferaphus   •   16th Jun 2018   •   269 views   •   0 comments

When one pictures the rugged scenery of Newfoundland and Labrador, ponies rarely make it into the picture. Salt cod, dense fogs, deep snows, rough water perhaps. But, in that beautiful but often times harsh environment, a hardy breed of pony has developed that were as indispensable to the inhabitants as their fishing boats and nets.

The British issued the first crown patents on the island of Newfoundland, off the east coast of Canada, in the late 1500's. Within a few decades, thanks to the abundant fishing, colonies sprang up along the coast. The colonists brought with them native ponies from England. The first of these were probably Dartmoor ponies brought by John Guy, the first Proprietary Governor of Newfoundland who was starting a permanent colony on the island. So, the ponies arrived at the same time as those first settlers.

As more colonists arrived, they brought more ponies, probably from the areas from which they themselves were from. The ancestors of today’s ponies were likely, in addition to the Dartmoor, the now-extinct Galloway pony, Connemaras, Exmoor, Fell, Highland and New Forest. Unlike Quebec, New Brunswick and other parts of eastern Canada and the United States, other nationalities such as the French or Spanish did not have much influence. So these ponies remained a mix of British native breeds.

To withstand the climate of Newfoundland, the ponies had to be tough.

The island is hit by hard winters and even the summer months can be cool and damp. Much of the terrain is rocky. So ponies with hard feet, the ability to withstand the cold extremes, and work hard make up the Newfoundland ponies of today. These ponies can be anywhere from about 11 hands to 14.1 hand high and can weigh up to 800 lbs (363 kg). They can be any color although pinto markings are not allowed in the registry. They have small tidy heads, stock bodies and truly embody ‘a leg at each corner’. They must have very calm temperaments.

The ponies were used as predominantly as draft animals. They were used for logging and agriculture, and they hauled the catch that the fisherman brought to shore. They were known for their endurance and docile temperament. In the seasons when they did not work, they were turned out to pasture to fend for themselves. Traditionally, ponies were allowed to run free. And that was pretty much the extent of the breed program.

Like so many working horses, they became less useful as tractors, trucks and eventually ATVs and snowmobiles took over their work. Their numbers dwindled. In the 1930s, when they began to be replaced by machinery, there were about 9000 ponies. By the 1970s, mechanization, along with a demand for horsemeat and the slaughterhouses of Quebec just a truck ride away, they almost became extinct. No longer did the law the ponies to run free as they once did. So, now it became much more expensive to keep the ponies on an island where hay is scarce.

In 1980, concerned horse lovers began to looked for ways to preserve the breed. In 2006 a setback took about 5% of the remaining population when a barn fire in Ontario killed 14 ponies.

Today the breed is still on Critically Endangered by Rare Breeds Canada list and recognized as endangered by The Livestock Conservancy, and Equus Survival Trust. Today, the TLC estimates there are about 200 to 250 ponies throughout North America.

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