Great Britain's Mountain and Moorland Ponies
The Eriskay Pony
The Eriskay pony (sometimes known as the Western Isles pony) is now regarded as one of Great Britain’s mountain and moorland ponies. It is part of the group of 'small' (as in size) native ponies. Other small breeds are the Shetland, Exmoor, Dartmoor, Welsh Mountain Section A and Welsh Section B, and the Kerry Bog pony.
The Eriskay has come close to extinction but concerted efforts are now being made to ensure its survival. In 2004, DNA tests confirmed that the Eriskay pony was a distinct primitive breed. Like theSuffolk Punch draught horse, there are less of them in the world than there are giant pandas.
The Eriskay pony is endemic to the Hebridean islands off the coast of western Scotland. The Eriskay is related to the Icelandic and Faroe pony breeds. The climate was harsh and grazing sparse so ponies needed to be hardy and tough to survive.
It was valued as a crofter’s pony, carrying peat and seaweed in creels slung over the back, hauling carts, harrowing and taking children to school. As the menfolk were at sea most of the time, the ponies needed to be amenable and willing to work under the guidance of women and children. Thus any with suspect temperaments were promptly culled resulting in a lifetime’s development of versatile, people friendly ponies. They have a sensible, confident temperament and an affinity with humans.
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islands of Scotland. The wild regions of the
hills and glens provide the ultimate escape.
However, increased crossbreeding to produce larger ponies for draught work, saw the number of pure Eriskays and other native breeds decline dramatically. A small number of the breed remained pure for a very long time thanks to the remoteness of the islands. By the early 1970s, it is estimated that only 20 pure Eriskays remained. By dint of huge efforts by devoted breeders the number had risen to some 420 ponies worldwide by 2009.
It is considered a rare breed with the Rare Breeds Survival Trust classifying the breed’s status as ‘critical’. The Trust aims to collect and store semen to try to secure genetic diversity.
The Eriskay is generally grey in colour. A few are bay or black. Dark coloured animals should have a light coloured muzzle and a light ring around the eye, somewhat similar to the Exmoor. The body type is quite similar to the Exmoor too. The breed standard states that the ponies should not have an ‘eel stripe’ (a dark coloured stripe down the spine). Chestnut, piebald and skewbald ponies are frowned upon and white markings are discouraged. The foals are often born dark but turn grey on maturity.
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