Scotland is a beautiful but rugged and often bleak landscape. It is hilly, mountainous, and windswept and poses several challenges for all who attempt to conquer it. Over the years, the people of Scotland have relied heavily on the horse as a means of transport, as well as for moving goods around the country.
Although large draught horses have been preferred for pulling carts, the prevalent horse breeds in the region tend to be rugged pony types. They are easy to maneuver, deceptively strong, and hardy enough to withstand the conditions that the country poses.
Below are six Scottish horse breeds, most of which are still available and bred to this day and one of which is mentioned by Shakespeare in his play Henry IV.
The 6 Scottish Horse Breeds:
1. Barra Pony
The first horse on the list is the extinct breed, the Barra Pony, one of several formerly distinct breeds. These include the Galloway Pony, the Islay, Rhum, and Mull breeds that have become the Highland Pony of today. The breed was used for a variety of pack purposes, but the ponies were popular for packing game for hunters and farmers. Unfortunately, the individual breed of Barra Pony became extinct in the 20th century.
Also known by the name Hebridean Pony, the Barra Pony was tough, stout, and hardy. They averaged around 14.5 hands high. With a small head, medium neck, and good chest and withers, they were built for powering around the local mountains.
2. Clydesdale Horse
The breed was created by John Paterson of Lochyloch and the 6th Duke of Hamilton. The pair imported Flemish stallions and bred them with native mares. It is believed that at one point, there were around 100,000 Clydesdale horses in Scotland.
The breed society was formed in 1877, and thousands of the Clydesdale were exported to countries across the world. The automation of agriculture and a substantial loss of the horse during World War I meant that their numbers seriously dwindled in the 20th Century. In 1977, the horse was listed with a vulnerable status, and although numbers have been built up a little, the horse retains that status today.
Commonly, the Clydesdale is bay in color with a white flash. They may have white splashes on the belly and legs. Although bay is the most common color, especially made famous by the Budweiser company and their breeding program, the Clydesdale is also available in sabino, black, gray, and chestnut colors.
The horse stands between 16 and 19 hands high and can weigh as much as a ton. They are muscular, have arched necks, and are strong and powerful beasts.
The Clydesdale is a large horse breed that is used primarily as a draught horse and for the transportation of goods. In particular, the breed has been used to pull coal around the county of Lanarkshire and for agriculture purposes. Although rare, they are still used today for agriculture and logging purposes. Their size and strength make them the ideal choice for lugging heavy items.
3. Eriskay Pony
The Eriskay Pony comes from the islands of the Outer Hebrides, along the west coast of Scotland. They are native to the lands and are believed to have originated from Celtic and Norse ponies. They were used to carry peat and seaweed, carrying their load in paneers placed over the back. They also found use in light plowing and other purposes on local farms.
As agriculture turned to machines for greater returns and the natives of the Hebridean Islands moved to mainland Scotland, numbers of the breed dwindled. The breed society was formed in 1968, and by the early 1970s, it was believed that there were as few as 20 mares and a single stallion left. Thanks to Eric, the last remaining stallion, and a sympathetic breeding program, there are believed to be more than 400 of these horses today.
The Eriskay Pony is a friendly breed, with the typical look of a Scottish pony. They are strong and robust and ideally suited to the difficult conditions of the Scottish Isles. Although usually gray, the Eriskay may also be bay or black. They stand at approximately 13 hands high.
The diminished numbers of the breed mean that they are primarily used for breeding. They are a friendly horse, so they are also used for riding and even therapeutic use, working with disabled children and those with special needs. They are rarely used for their original purpose of packing and transporting goods.
4. Galloway Pony
Now extinct, the Galloway Pony was native to north Scotland and parts of northern England. They were used as draught horses, primarily to move lead ore, and were mentioned in Henry IV, Part 2, by William Shakespeare. A survey in 1814 listed the ancient race as having just a few horses in mountainous areas. Today, the breed is considered extinct, having been cross-bred to extinction.
The Galloway was a small pony, measuring between 12 and 14 hands high. They had a small head and neck for their size, and although they were primarily found in a light bay or brown color, other color points may have existed.
5. Highland Pony
The Highland Pony is a primitive breed of pony that has been indigenous to the region since the Ice Age. Many modern examples of the pony still retain the ancient markings. The breed initially had two distinct varieties in the Scottish Mainland, often called the garron, and the Western Island Highland Pony. The Western Island phenotype is still found in the Eriskay. The Western Island breed was lighter and smaller, but the two varieties have been combined into a single breed.
Records of the breed have been maintained since the end of the 19th century, and a breeder’s club was established in 1923.
Although the breed has increased in popularity in recent years, only around 5,500 Highland Ponies remain today, and this has led the Rare Breeds Survival Trust to categorize the breed as being “at-risk.”
The Highland Pony measures between 13 and 14.2 hands high, which makes them a short breed. They have a strong and protective coat, a kind eye, and a deep chest. Despite being relatively small, the breed looks and is quite strong. The Highland Pony comes in a range of dun colors, but they may also be gray, seal brown, black, and even bay in color.
The hardiness of the Highland Pony means they have long been used for transporting people and goods across the challenging Scottish Highlands. They are capable of trekking across challenging terrain with ease, making them popular with farmers. Their strength and apparent indestructibility made them popular for use during war. Today, their friendly and positive demeanor and other qualities mean that they can be used for trekking, riding, and jobs including logging.
6. Shetland Pony
The Shetland Pony originated on the Shetland Islands. The tiny pony adapted to the harsh conditions of the island, including the lack of considerable food sources. In 1850, the breed was taken to England, where it was used to work the coal mines. Their tiny size, friendly manner, and surprising strength meant that they could easily shift loads of coal in confined and cramped spaces. The pony also made their way to the U.S., where they were refined into a pony that was considered suitable for riding by young children.
A breed society was formed in 1890, and a Stallion Scheme was formed in 1957 to introduce high-quality breeding stallions to existing stock. The size of the Shetland means that they were bred with other horses and ponies when breeders wanted to bring the overall height of the resulting animal down.
Unlike other horses and ponies, the Shetland is not measured in hands, and the diminutive breed will measure between 28 and 46 inches high.
The look of the Shetland is determined by the conditions in which the pony has had to live. They are short and stocky, and their low center of gravity enables the pony to take on rough and challenging terrain. They have a small head and widely spaced eyes, enabling them to easily survey their surroundings and potentially avoid drops and other hazards. A thick tail and dense double coat have enabled the breed to survive the cold and challenging Scottish winters. They can be of any color except spotted, and the Shetland has a long lifespan of 30 years or more.
Historically, the breed was used as a pack animal and draught horse to move peat, coal, and other items. Today, they are more of a show breed, and their size lends itself perfectly to use as a mount for young and small children. In some parts of the world, Junior Harness Racing utilizes this small and strong breed.
Most Scottish breeds are small and stocky, which helps them deal with difficult terrain. Almost all breeds have historically been used as draught ponies to help move products and materials like peat and coal around the country. They also find use as riding and even show ponies, especially the popular Shetland.
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Featured Image Credit: AinslieGillesPatel, Pixabay