The Newfoundland Pony is one of the rarest equine breeds currently in the world today. From 2008 population numbers, there were a total of just 361 of these ponies in the world. Of that number, about 200-250 of them are of breeding age. This census involves registered ponies through the breed society, however, so the count could be higher.
Not only is the breed rare, but it is also quite unique. The Newfoundland Pony is one of the few breeds where a true white coat, without albino characteristics or lethal white syndrome, is possible. Although many ponies tend to be gray and have their coats fade to white, even in this breed, gray ponies have darker skin, while white ponies have pink skin.
The breed registry for the Newfoundland Pony was created in 1980 and it was declared a heritage breed of the province in 1997, but these ponies are not recognized under the Animal Pedigree Act in Canada. They live in a widely dispersed population base and are a breed that is thought to be at a great risk of future extinction unless further preservation actions are taken.
What Is the History of the Newfoundland Pony?
The Newfoundland Pony developed from a mix of Scottish, Irish, and British ponies that came from Europe during the Colonial Era in the 15th and 16th centuries. These first ponies were often used for drafting and agricultural work, but turned out on their own when they were not needed. The ponies would then gather into different herds and the crossbreeding that occurred helped to form the modern breed that is seen today.
The first ponies that were brought to Canada from Europe were believed to have arrived around the year 1611. The first import shipment was authorized by the Governor of Newfoundland at the time, John Guy, and they were Dartmoor ponies.
Lord Falkland is also credited with bringing European ponies to Canada, including the Galloway pony. Additional bloodlines that helped to form the Newfoundland Pony include the Fell, Highland, Exmoor, New Forest, and Connemara.
Imports of ponies from Europe continued until the mid-1900s, which allowed the Newfoundland pony to begin forming into its own breed. By 1935, there were an estimated 9,000 ponies living on the island of Newfoundland.
After the second world war, a combination of food shortages, upkeep cost, and mechanization virtually wiped out the population of Newfoundland ponies. Exports of horse meat, especially to France, encouraged the slaughter of these ponies because of the price that could be fetched for it.
When the breed society formed in 1980, the remaining herds were brought in from the wild, counted, and domesticated. In that year, more than 700 ponies were slaughtered and exported to Europe, shipping the horsemeat out of Quebec. In the years after the breed society formed, the total population dropped to fewer than 100 ponies.
About 300 ponies made the initial transition from a semi-feral existence. After dropping to critical levels, the population level has been restored to the levels seen in the early 1980s. Newfoundland ponies can be found in 8 total Canadian provinces and in scattered locations throughout the United States.
What Are the Characteristics of the Newfoundland Pony?
Most Newfoundland ponies will stand at least 11 hands high, with a maximum height of 14.2 hands allowed for the breed. Some may weigh as little as 400 pounds, while the larger stallions may weigh up to 800 pounds.
Virtually all coat colors can be found within the breed. Bay, black, and brown are the most common colors that are seen, but dun, gray, roan, and chestnut are not uncommon. The white coat color that is seen in the breed persists throughout the life of the horse, with the foal being born with the coat color and it persists throughout adulthood.
Because this breed grows in a new coat for the colder months and sheds it in the warmer months, there can be dramatic coat color changes experienced for some horses.
Newfoundland ponies that are born with a pinto pattern to their coat are not allowed to register. Most have dark limb points, but white or a lighter coloring on the limbs is listed as acceptable by the breed registry if the remainder of the coat doesn’t have the pinto patterning to it.
The head of the Newfoundland Pony is smaller than average, topped with ears that have a thick amount of fur on them. The ears are also smaller than average and have a noticeable point at the tip of their shape. Moving down through the body of the pony, there should be a visual aesthetic that speaks of being muscular and stocky.
Fine-boned types can be found within this breed as well and they are listed as being acceptable.
The chest of the pony should be deep, while staying narrow, with a short back, a croup that slopes, and a tail that is set low. Both the coat and the mane are noticeably thick, especially during the cold season. It is a sure-footed breed, thanks to its history of roaming the rugged coastal landscapes in Canada and should have feathered fetlocks that extend below the points.
The hooves of the Newfoundland Pony are noticeably hard, with a slightly narrow profile, adapted over the generations to handle the local landscapes.
As part of the conformation evaluation, there is a requirement for each pony in the breed to have a gentle, quiet temperament. Ponies which are highly spirited may be excluded from the registry to avoid having the temperament passed to future generations. The pony should also be free of defects that could endanger the animal from living a normal and healthy life.
This makes the Newfoundland Pony an excellent family pony. They are used quite often for driving or recreational riding, with a few seen on occasion at various horse shows.
How to Help the Newfoundland Pony
The Newfoundland Pony Society is a registered charity and encourages anyone who is interested in the preservation efforts of this breed to submit a donation. There are corporate sponsorship levels available to interested brands that offers logo placement and newsletter inclusion with the breed society.
Volunteering at upcoming events or planning an event can help the breed as well. You can also join the breed society as a member, even if you do not currently own any Newfoundland ponies.
In the coming years, there will be many challenges that this heritage breed will continue to face. Although it is offered numerous provincial protections, the census remains critical and it would not take much to have this beautiful breed disappear forever. By taking the time to act now, we can together make a big difference and have this ponies continuing living with us for generations to come.