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The Highland Pony
For the Breed Standard of the Highland pony go to
The Highland Pony Society web site here. Please be aware that the opinions below are mine and mine alone!
What is a Highland pony?
Archaelogical evidence points to there being ponies in Scotland around 12HH - 14HH from early times. Before metalled roads, the demand would have been for a pack pony for carrying goods and a lighter longer legged type for transporting personnel from place to place. Wheeled carts require good roads or they quickly become bogged. Native ponies, across the country, were tough economical work horses which could carry a load on their backs across rough country.
Wikipedia comes up with some interesting snippets of information: "1,000 pack horses a day passed through Clitheroe before 1750" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Packhorse#Historic_use_in_England). Would it have been much different where heavy goods had to be transported off road? A popular pack pony was the Galloway, from Scotand, probably a type of Highland pony since crossed out of existence. Each pony would carry approximately 250lbs or 2 hundred weight and there might be 20 to 30 ponies in a string. The maximum height for a pony is 14.2 hands, so perhaps that would be accepted as the tallest horse a man could comfortably lift one half of a 240lb load onto? Standard measurements are not chosen by accident but by utility. Everyone has hands, not many carry a tape measure, so "hands" (approximately 4 inches or 100mm) are a convenient measure for a horse. Those in transport today do not use their lorries or white vans for social occasions, they take the car. I like to think my Highlands, a lighter taller sportier type than the chunky east of Scotland garron, are the saloon cars of the Highland pony world!
Left: An excellent example of the heavier weight carrying type of Highland or garron, previously associated with the east of Scotland.
I do not believe these ponies were bred for ploughing and farm work, as some maintain, until later in their history. It would be more economical to use oxen which can be eaten when their working days are over. And why keep a castrated male animal idle around the farm when it could be earning it's keep and producing meat at the same time? There has always been a tabu against eating horses in Britain because they were just too useful. Like the sacred cows of India. But the ox is a slow animal not suited to travelling quickly over open country. On the other hand, if you have ponies and no need for them for war or raiding your neighbour for cattle, why not use them for farm work? So farm work, for a Highland, in my opinion, would have been from necessity, not by design.
Types of Highland Pony
There are at least three distinct recognised types of Highland pony. The smaller lighter island types (for example, the Eriskay, now considered as a separate breed), the heavy east of Scotland type (garron), and a third riding type. Some would argue that there is a fourth type, the show Highland pony. At Morrich Highland Ponies we have the ridin/performance type, though because of interbreeding in the past and a lack of selection, there are intermediate types. To confuse matters further, various crosses have been tried over the centuries. They are all good and most have those excellent qualities that make the Highland pony what it is. Just make sure you get the type that suits your choice of use and location!
The characteristics of the Highland pony
Let's assume we can turn the clock back four hundred years. You need the means of transporting goods from one part of Scotland to another. So you need ponies that will carry heavy loads, are easy to train and manage, live off poor grazing, never be sick or sorry, have a good thick winter coat, are not too tall for your men to lift heavy loads onto, are 'hill wise' so they don't walk into a bog or get stuck in soft ground, have kind temperaments so are easy to handle, will walk or trot long distances without breaking down, and so forth. The modern Highland pony has inherited all of these characteristics and more.
The Riding type
The ponies below are all Highland ponies photographed around 1900. They are all the lighter riding type we have here at Morrich Highland Ponies. The heavier 'leg at each corner' built like a table type of Highland is perfect for older or heavier people who do not want a more active type of pony. It is your choice.
Highland stallion -- Beinn Odhar
4 year old Western Isles stallion -- Skerrimore
Western Isles Highland gelding -- Talisker
Highland mare -- Lady Kilcoy
Why a Highland pony?
These days we all have to watch the pennies. So a Highland pony makes perfect sense!
Because they are weight carriers,
Highland ponies are the ideal family pony. Small kids
regularly ride mine and, as most could
Highland ponies are tough. Here they live out 24/7 and we've had foals born and reared outside in January during the hardest winter for years without problems. The foals could not have cared less. They grew thick woolly coats and loved the snow! But they do need shelter, either natural or man made, in stormy weather when there is driving sleet and rain. Even in summer, ponies will choose a sheltered spot to rest.
Above: Morrich Fearna, a few weeks old in early spring after a hard winter, sporting a thick woolly fur coat.
Highland ponies are generally healthy and long lived. Bred to be the economical workhorse for the small farmer or for carrying
Highlands thrive on poor grazing, don't need supplements, or hard feed. In fact, grazing has to be managed in the summer so they don't get too fat. Fortunately, the more lighter type seems less prone to weight problems than their heavier counterparts. Obesity is horses can lead to a numer of illnesses, Laminitis being just one of them. Be careful about acquiring a Highland pony if you intend to keep it on rich fertilised grass grown for cattle. Your kindness really will kill it!
Highlands have a great temperament and are generally easy to break and handle.
As one of the biggest of the pony breeds (up to 14.2HH or 1450mm), tall adults don't look out of place on a Highland.
Because stallions were traditionally "travelled" (i.e. walked in hand) from farm to farm to serve mares, these ponies are
Highland ponies have done well in endurance.
Highlands also makes a great cross with other breeds, passing on temperament, stamina, and hardiness.
The Highland Pony on the Hill
Grouse shooting party in the Highlands at lunch. The pointers lie
curled up and asleep after a hard morning's work. The pony panniers carry
the lunch for an
Left: The lunch disposed of, the panniers can now be used to take the shot birds home.
The Deer Pony
Pictures: Morrich Finn (n the fore ground) brings home the venison -- but still has tme for a quick snack!
There is no transport that compares with the traditional Highland deer pony. They are kind to the environment and don't tear up the heather as motorised transport can. Visitors usually prefer to see traditional methods used on Scottish hills.