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The Dales pony is a British native breed that makes an ideal family pony, being kindly and tractable enough for a child to ride while their short, strong back and general stockiness make them suitable mounts for all but the tallest adults.
The Dales Pony takes its name from the area of North Yorkshire, Durham and Cumbria where it has been bred for centuries. However until the end of the 19th century it was not recognized as being a separate breed from its near relative, the Fells, which are bred on the western side of the Pennine range. Since then, the Dales have developed independently and their height limit has increased to 14.2 hands, whereas that of the Fells has remained at 14 hands.
The early history of the Dales Pony and the Fell Pony are identical, with such stallions as Lingcropper and Blooming Heather acknowledged as influential by both breeds. The Dale Pony breeders, however, regard the Welsh Cob Comet as having had the most lasting influence on their breed. A strong, heavy animal, Comet was foaled in 1851, and was taken from Wales to Westmorland to compete in trotting races, in which he put up some remarkable performances, once covering 10 miles (16km) in 33 minutes. His progeny were recognized as some of he finest in the Dales, with a son, Comet II, being the grandsire of Linnel Comet, who in turn was said to be the most lovely pony of the heavy Dales type.
Clydesdales outcrossing was practiced to the extent that in 1917 the Dales were regarded as being two thirds Clydesdales. The Dales Pony was also acknowledged as being for army purposes, second to none in the country because of the strength and quality of its hooves, legs and bones.
The modern Dales Pony retains that wonderful bone and limb as wells as its hard blue hooves. It is immensely strong although its relationship with the Clydesdale is no longer apparent.
Although the Dales Pony is now used primarily as a pleasure pony, they come from a long line of working animals. They were used as pack and harness ponies, carrying lead and coal from the mines to the coast, and on farm where their comparatively small size made them very useful on the steep hills, where larger animals would have been at a disadvantage. The Dales are capable of handling loads well out of proportion to their size; their packs weighted up to 224 pounds. They are still used to a small extent on farms, and some are used for shepherding on the moors.
A small number of the Dales are crossed with Thoroughbred to produce hunters and cobs of great substance an sensible temperament.
The Dales Pony possesses a typically alert expression, and uses the power of its strong legs, with movement coming from the knees and hocks, to travel across country. The head owes nothing to the Clydesdale infusion of the past being neat and small, and wide between bright eyes. The whole impression is one of intelligence, alertness and mobility coupled with docility. The jaw and throat are free from coarseness. The ears are small, well placed and erect. The mane and tail are very thick.
Alone among the British native breeds, the Dales predominant coloring is black. Occasionally bays and browns, and less usually, the odd gray is found (a possible legacy of the liaison with the Clydesdale).
Shoulders are deep, sloping and well laid back. The body is short, with a strong back and loins, deep through the girth with great heart room and well-sprung ribs. The hindquarters are well developed and compact. Limbs are strong with flat boned forearms, short, straight cannons, broad, strong and clean cut hocks. The joints are good and clean with fine silky feathering at the heels.
The Dales Pony can carry weight and has a true, powerful action, especially at the trot, a pace at which the breed still excels. From the rear, the overall impression is that of great strength concentrated within a compact form. The pony is enormously active in movement, going straight and true with much propulsive power from strong hocks and quarters. For centuries, the breed has been famous for the excellence of its hard hooves.
The make and shape of the Dales pony does impose some limitations regarding speed, but they are excellent jumpers, can go across country very adequately and are excellent harness ponies. They are also used very successfully in the popular holiday pastime of pony trekking, where their placid temperaments and sure footedness make them idea mounts for the many beginner riders who enjoy this type of holiday.
The hardy constitution of the Dale Pony makes them economical to keep and they can live out in the very worst weather that the north of England can offer.
A brilliant and courageous performer in harness, the Dales pony is also used increasingly as a riding pony. This pony combines courage and stamina with a calm temperament