Can ‘The Prince of Dales’ save his ponies?

The Dales pony was on the brink of extinction after the Second World War and is now back on the critical list
of rare breeds.

For native breeds, being placed on the critical list is usually a cause for panic, but the Dales Pony Society hopes that an upturn in the economy and a new patron could turn things around for the breed. In January, the Dales pony was categorised as critical (fewer than 300 breeding mares) for the first time in 10 years by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, with only 87 foals born in the UK in 2014 and a population of about 1,500 worldwide.

‘We have peaks and troughs, but don’t want to push people to put mares in foal when the market is struggling,’ explains Jo Ashby, secretary of the society. ‘We’re walking a tightrope.’

Dales ponies emerged in the 16th century in the Pennines and were used to transport lead and Teesdale hill farmers also employed them for shepherding, ploughing and pulling carts, but the strong black ponies are now mainly used for riding and driving.

With a programme of events planned to celebrate the studbook’s centenary next summer, Mrs Ashby is optimistic that it will raise the breed’s profile: ‘We gained The Prince of Wales as a patron last year and are hoping that he’ll join in the celebration.’ Prince Charles is a long-standing supporter of the Teesdale area and has been dubbed ‘The Prince of Dales’.

‘These ponies made the landscape and they ought to be known better in the region so that children learn to look after them in the future,’ says Mrs Ashby.

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