One of the best things to see while you’re driving or walking through Dartmoor is the Dartmoor ponies, which live on the moors.
If you’re interested in seeing Dartmoor ponies up close and observing them in their natural habitat while you are staying on Dartmoor, there are a few things to know to keep you and the ponies safe and to help you make the most of your experience.
Dartmoor ponies are an iconic breed of pony native to Dartmoor and have lived in the area for centuries. They are a hardy breed, used to the extremes of weather and landscape on the moors.
In the past, the Dartmoor ponies were used for various jobs, including shepherding, transport and as pit ponies.
There are a few different types of ponies you can see on the moors. The traditional Dartmoor pony is a single-colour, while others have been bred to have mixed colouring (e.g. brown and white or spotted). There are still herds of pedigree Dartmoor ponies living on the common, and they will have a solid dark colour.
There are also Shetlands and very small Dartmoor ponies that were bred with Shetlands, which were originally used for mining on the moors.
Dartmoor ponies can be found throughout Dartmoor National Park in Devon. They roam freely across the moor, so you may encounter them in unexpected places. Equally, there is no guarantee that you will spot a Dartmoor pony while exploring the moors.
Here are some specific areas within the park where you have a good chance of seeing Dartmoor ponies:
Haytor is one of the most popular locations for spotting Dartmoor ponies. It has a car park and is easily accessible, making it a common starting point for exploring the moor. From there, you can take walks in various directions and encounter ponies grazing on the open moorland.
The village of Widecombe-in-the-Moor is another excellent place to see Dartmoor ponies. It’s located in the heart of Dartmoor and surrounded by beautiful countryside. You can often find ponies grazing on the village green or in the surrounding fields.
Situated in the eastern part of Dartmoor, Bellever Forest offers a unique opportunity to see Dartmoor ponies in a wooded setting. There are several walking trails in the area, and you may encounter ponies as you explore the forest.
Postbridge is known for its picturesque stone clapper bridge, but it’s also a spot where you can sometimes find Dartmoor ponies. The nearby moorland areas, such as Bellever Tor and the East Dart River, are worth exploring for pony sightings.
Dartmeet is where the East Dart River and West Dart River converge, creating a beautiful natural setting. Dartmoor ponies are often seen in this area, especially on the grassy banks near the river.
Princetown, located in the centre of Dartmoor, is home to the famous Dartmoor Prison and offers opportunities for pony sightings. Explore the surrounding moorland or visit the nearby Dartmoor Prison Museum while keeping an eye out for the ponies.
Dartmoor ponies are considered semi-wild – they have a long history of living on Dartmoor and are believed to be descended from the ancient wild ponies that inhabited the area. These ponies roam freely across the open moorland and are not confined to specific areas. They graze on the vegetation and are adapted to survive in the harsh conditions of Dartmoor.
While most ponies will be familiar with human presence, not all will be used to be handled. It is important to remember that they are not tame, they are mostly wild animals, so it is crucial to respect their space, not approach or disturb them, and observe them from a safe distance for both your safety and the well-being of the ponies.
Dartmoor ponies on Dartmoor National Park are owned by individuals but are considered part of the common grazing rights system. The Dartmoor pony population is managed by the Dartmoor Commoners’ Council, made up of local farmers and residents, which oversees the welfare and conservation of the ponies.
Annual round-ups, known as drifts, are conducted to gather and check the health of the ponies. All the ponies are rounded up, and each individual farmer takes their ponies to their farmstead. New foals from the previous spring will be assessed – some will be sold at local markets in Chagford or Tavistock, while others will be branded and returned to the commons to maintain the population.
Dartmoor ponies are herbivores, and their diet consists mainly of vegetation found in the Dartmoor National Park. Here are some of the main food sources for Dartmoor ponies:
It’s important to note that Dartmoor ponies have evolved to adapt to the harsh conditions of Dartmoor and can survive on the sparse vegetation available. They are able to extract nutrients from the moorland plants and graze over large areas to meet their dietary needs.
While these ponies are hardy and can sustain themselves on the natural vegetation, in times of extreme weather conditions or during winter when food may be scarce, the Dartmoor Commoners’ Council and other organizations provide supplementary feeding to ensure the well-being of the pony population.
No, it is illegal to feed Dartmoor ponies, as stated in the Dartmoor National Park byelaws.
While it can be tempting to try and feed the ponies, there are many reasons why you should not feed them:
It is generally not recommended to stroke or touch Dartmoor ponies. While Dartmoor ponies may appear friendly and approachable, they are still untamed animals and should be treated with caution and respect.
Interacting with wild animals can disrupt their natural behaviour and potentially pose risks to both the animals and humans. Approaching or attempting to stroke them can cause stress or fear, leading to unpredictable reactions from the ponies. It’s important to remember that these ponies are not domesticated and may not be accustomed to human touch.
To ensure the safety and well-being of both you and the ponies, it’s best to observe them from a safe distance and avoid any attempts to touch or stroke them. Enjoy watching their natural behaviours and admire their beauty from afar.
It is estimated that there are around 1,500 Dartmoor ponies on Dartmoor National Park. The exact number of Dartmoor ponies in existence can vary over time due to factors such as breeding, population management efforts, and natural fluctuations.
It’s worth noting that there are also Dartmoor ponies living outside of Dartmoor National Park, as they can be adopted or purchased by individuals or organisations. These ponies may be found in private farms, equestrian centres, or other locations where they are cared for and managed. However, the majority of the Dartmoor pony population resides within Dartmoor National Park.
While there is no guarantee of seeing a Dartmoor pony, there are a few tips you can follow to better your chances!
Dartmoor ponies can be seen throughout the year, but the best time to spot them is during the spring and summer months (April to September). During this period, the ponies are more likely to be out grazing in the open areas of the moor.
Research the areas of Dartmoor where you’re most likely to find Dartmoor ponies. Some popular locations include Haytor, Widecombe-in-the-Moor, and Bellever Forest.
Dartmoor ponies are wild animals and should be observed from a distance to ensure their safety and well-being. It’s important to respect their space and not disturb them. Do not attempt to feed or touch them, as it can be harmful to both you and the ponies.
Dartmoor ponies are often seen grazing in the distance, so having a pair of binoculars will enhance your ability to observe them. Additionally, bring a camera or a smartphone to capture photographs while maintaining a respectful distance.
When visiting Dartmoor, be mindful of the environment and follow any safety guidelines provided by the Dartmoor National Park Authority. Remember that it is illegal to feed the ponies, as per the Dartmoor National Park Byelaws.
If you want a more structured experience, consider joining guided tours or walks led by knowledgeable local guides. They can provide valuable insights about the Dartmoor ponies, the landscape, and the history of the area.
Remember, Dartmoor ponies are wild animals, and their behaviour can be unpredictable. Observing them from a distance and respecting their natural habitat is crucial for their well-being. Enjoy your time on Dartmoor and take in the beauty of these magnificent ponies in their natural environment!