Iceland Exmoor and Dartmoor Pony Breeds | Detailed Comparison and Characteristics

This article will comprise some of the core characteristics and differences between the Iceland pony, Exmoor pony breed, and Dartmoor Equine pony type.

Below you’ll find tables summarizing some core features of each breed for easier understanding like the origin of the pony, the average height of the pony, the color, the character, that is, how well it interacts with humans and others, the physique, physical looks and strengths, and features like muscle and bone structure and also how much weight it can carry.

Table of Contents (Horspedia)

The Iceland Pony Breed | Complete Overview

Below you’ll find a table of some of the most common characteristics ad traits of the Iceland Breed.

Height12-13hh; occasionally bigger. 
ColorUsually gray or dun. Also dark brown, chestnut, cream, palomino, and occasionally black, piebald, skewbald. 
CharacterDocile, friendly, though, like all pony breeds, it is very independent.

It has a remarkable homing instinct and can be ridden for great distances by a borrower in the sure knowledge that when it is turned loose it will directly find its way home.

It responds better to the voice than to the usual aids of horsemanship and is mostly controlled by the voice alone. 
PhysiqueOne of the toughest of all breeds, extremely hardy and rugged. Large head, intelligent eye. The short, thick neck on a short, stocky body: strong, clean legs, hard feet. Abundant mane and tail.

It possesses exceptionally good eyesight. Riding ponies are taught an ambling gait, popular in medieval times but now a rarity except in the Americas.
Iceland Breed Characteristics.

History of Iceland Pony Breed

Iceland was first settled in 871 AD by Norwegians who were at odds with Harold Fairhair, who had proclaimed himself king of all Norway the year before and was not unanimously popular.

Until that time no larger animal than the Arctic Fox was to be found in Iceland, but the Norwegian immigrants brought ponies and other domestic livestock with them, and subsequently, ponies from Norse colonies in Scotland, its islands, Ireland, and the Isle of Man were introduced with new settlers.

Iceland Pony Breed
Iceland Pony Breed

These hardy, homogenous Northern pony types interbred to become the Iceland pony, though four separate types are still just about recognizable to the connoisseur. One of these, the Faxafloi, bred in the southwest of Iceland, looks quite like the Exmoor pony.

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Common Uses of the Iceland Pony Breed

An Icelandic specialty, possibly connected with the Norwegian cult of Frey but much more probably arising out of a need for excitement and the lack of game animals to satisfy a basic bloodthirstiness, was horse fighting.

The sagas are full of it “Starkad had a good horse of chestnut hue and it was thought that no horse was his match in a fight” starts off the story of the battle of that horse and Gunnar’s brown described in the Saga of Burnt Njal, which began as a blood feud and ended in a massacre.

Owners were expected to go into the ring to assist their stallions during these fights and were not allowed to touch their opponent’s horse (though they were just as likely to be savaged as their horse was).

Since Iceland until recently had no roads and very few tracks smooth enough for the passage of wheels, the value of the Iceland pony for pack and communications purposes was inestimable.

This was heightened on one-way journeys by the pony’s ability to go home by itself.

Up until this century, the ponies were also exported to the British Isles to work in the coalmines and as pack and draught animals, and, in the teeth of strong competition from the good native British breeds, were much in demand for their strength, endurance, and good nature.

Common Uses of the Iceland Pony Breed Today

Today’s Iceland pony divides loosely into pack, riding, and draught types, with an emphasis on the first two, though all are fit to ride if the occasion warrants it.

Since beef cattle cannot endure the hard Icelandic winters, ponies are also used for food, separate herds being kept for meat and work.

Breeding Iceland Ponies

Modern attempts to refine the Iceland pony with Thoroughbred blood have failed since the offspring appear to inherit the good qualities of neither parent.

The Exmoor Breed Of Ponies | Overview and Specifics

Below you’ll find a table of some of the most common characteristics ad traits of the Exmoor breed of ponies.

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OriginEngland – Devon, and Somerset.
ColorBay, brown, mouse dun. All have a “mealy” (cream-colored) muzzle and a tendency to the mealy underbelly and inside thighs. No white markings of any kind.
CharacterIntelligent and naturally wild. Once broken they are alert, kindly, and excellent companions. They make splendid children’s ponies provided they are properly handled early on. 
PhysiqueElegant head with wide nostrils, broad forehead, and prominent eyes (known locally as “frog” or “toad” eyes). Ears short, thick, and pointed. Neck short and thick, set on a deep, broad chest with shoulder well back.

Medium-length back with powerful loins, strong quarters, clean, hard legs, and small, hard feet. It has free, straight action, and has great powers of endurance.

The coat is of a peculiar texture, being hard and springy: in summer it lies close and shines like brass; in winter it carries no bloom.
Exmoor Breed Characteristics.

More About the Exmoors Breeds | Origin of the Exmoor Pony Breed

Exmoors are the oldest of the British native breeds, and since ponies are not indigenous to Britain it must be assumed that they walked there before the country became an island.

It was known in prehistoric times and may have been the “Celtic” pony used to pull the war chariots of the Celts (if not, it was a very close relation).

Exmoor pony breed
Exmoor Pony Breed Type

It inhabits the wild expanse of open moorland called Exmoor which lies partly in Devon and partly in Somerset, both counties in the southwest of England, and is hardy enough to survive winters which sometimes bring several feet of snow without shelter and extra food from man.

Common Uses of the Exmoor Ponies

These little animals are tough and have exceptional guts and spring. Writing in 1820, one William Youatt says, “The Exmoor ponies, although generally ugly enough [his opinion only], are hardy and useful.

A well-known sportsman says that he rode one of them half-a-dozen miles, and never felt such power and action in such a small compass before.

To show his accomplishments, he was turned over a gate at least eight inches higher than his back; and his owner, who rides fourteen stone [196 lbs), traveled on him from Bristol to South Moulton, eighty-six miles, beating the coach which runs the same road.” 

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Breeding Exmoor Ponies

The Reverend John Russell, of roughly the same period, believed that no hunter was of any use without a strain of Exmoor blood. He preferred his horses to be three-part Thoroughbred to one part Exmoor.

In general, outcrosses with Exmoors to produce a bigger local type did not endure, being at the least unable to survive the rough natural conditions of their pony ancestors.

Today the maximum permitted height for stallions is 12.3hh; that for mares is 12.2.

The Dartmoor Pony Breed | Characteristics and Specifics

Below you’ll find a table of some of the most common characteristics ad traits of the Dartmoor Pony Breed.

OriginEngland – Devon.
HeightUp to 12.2hh. 
ColorBay, black and brown are preferred. Odd colors such as piebald and skewbald exist, but they are not recognized by the breed society. Excessive white is discouraged. 
CharacterKind and sensible. Ideal first ponies.
PhysiqueSmall, aristocratic head with very small, pricked ears. Strong, sloping shoulders; strong, well-muscled back, loins, and quarters.

Slim, hard legs, and tough, well-shaped feet. Tail high-set and plentiful; abundant mane. Good action, low and free as befits a riding pony. Surefooted and given to longevity.
Dartmoor Pony Breed Characteristics.

More About the Dartmoor Pony Breed | History and Origin of the Dartmoor Breed

The Dartmoor is a near relation of the Exmoor, being bred on the neighboring Devon moor and subject to the same exposed climatic conditions.

William Youatt (see Exmoor) also had his opinions on this breed: “There is on Dartmoor a breed of ponies much in demand in that vicinity, being sure-footed and hardy, and admirably calculated to scramble over the rough roads and dreary wilds of that mountainous district.

Appearance of the Dartmoor Pony Breed | Physical Characteristics

The Dartmoor pony is larger than the Exmoor [maybe it was], and, if possible, uglier. He exists there almost in a state of nature.

The late Captain Colgrave, governor of the prison, had a great desire to possess one of them of a somewhat superior figure to its fellows; and having several men to assist him, they separated it from the herd.

Dartmoor pony breed
Dartmoor Pony Breed

They drove it on some rocks by the side of a tor. A man followed on horseback, while the captain stood below watching the chase. The little animal, being driven into a corner, leaped completely over man and horse and escaped.”

From long beyond the memory of man ponies of a small, hardy riding type have lived on Dartmoor, but until the end of the last century they were not registered and they varied much in type.

A Dartmoor section of the Polo Pony Society’s (now the National Pony Society) studbook was begun in 1899, and the standard has remained without much alteration ever since.

Common Uses for the Dartmoor Breed

The breed was hard-hit in World War II because Dartmoor was used as a training center for the army, and when the war was finished only ponies passed by inspection or placed at chosen shows were allowed into the studbook.

In 1957 the studbook was closed to all except the offspring of registered ponies, and in 1961 a stringent up-grading register was begun. SR1, the first grade, was closed in 1966 with 280 entries; but SR2, the second grade, is open indefinitely.

SR1 ponies are branded with the Dartmoor Pony Society’s triangle on the neck.

Breeding Dartmoor Ponies | Quick History

If all this may sound over-particular, it is the result of a particular problem that has confronted breeders of the Dartmoor pony in its natural habitat.

Less than a hundred years ago, when the demand for very small ponies to work in coal mines was at its peak, Shetland stallions were introduced to Dartmoor to run wild and breed with the native ponies

It is a credit to the Dartmoor Pony Society and to the few individual breeders outside Dartmoor that this perfect child’s first pony survives in its purebred form.