It could be said without exaggeration that we owe the NL Pony a solid this Christmas. They helped our ancestors conquer and claim the island of Newfoundland. They ploughed the fields that grew our vegetables, hauled the wood that built and heated our homes, and even dragged nets of fish from the sea.
Considering that, we should at least contemplate whether our Christmas wreaths this year will be oval, or, horse-head shaped. The Newfoundland Pony Society is selling NL Pony wreaths as a fundraiser to help this breed in need. For more details, visit: http://newfoundlandpony.com/the-newfoundland-pony-wreath.
Here’s some more history, to tug at your heartstrings: the Newfoundland pony is the lovechild of 7 different pony species that early settlers of our island brought here from the British Isles. One of which was the Galloway pony, now extinct. So, it’s cool their genes are still alive, to some degree, in our NL ponies.
These seven species – Exmoor, Dartmoor, New Forest, and to a lesser extent, Welsh Mountain, Galloway, Highland, and Connemara – were already well-adapted to the harsh climate of Atlantic coastal communities. They fit right in here.
Through a series of crossbreeding, over hundreds of years, in isolation from other populations of ponies (since we’re an island), the distinct Newfoundland Pony was born. They grew distinct as a breed of horse, much like we Newfoundlanders grew distinct as race of people. Like us, they’re “hard workers and easy keepers.” But where we still exist in plentiful numbers, the NL pony does not.
Known as a hardy-but-gentle, intelligent, and very loyal workhorse, there was a time they were so plentiful, many ran freely around the island; their services not needed. Today they’re an endangered species, with fewer than 400 individuals keeping their kind alive. 40 years ago, there were about 12,000.They are on the brink of being extinct.
What’d we use them for traditionally? Everything that had to be done for our ancestors to survive: ploughing gardens; hauling fishing nets, or kelp, or wood; gathering hay; providing their families with transportation around the Island. And hey, a pet, let’s be honest. A functional, equine companion. Rumour has it, a pony-and-carriage was often the centre piece of many weddings.
So what happened to these traditions? The 1970s and 80s saw tractors replacing horses. You don’t have to feed and breed a tractor, they don’t become elderly and unable to work, and tractors offered more power and multi-functionality.
It was around this time that we turned our backs on the breed that always had ours. Horse dealers started combing the island to gather up NL ponies … to ship them to slaughter plants where their meat was sent to restaurants in France and Belgium. IN 1980 alone, 700 ponies were slaughtered for this purpose.
Municipal by-laws were also put into place, which limited breeding and the availability of pastures to keep the ponies re-populating. Today, our province has recognized the Newfoundland Pony as a Heritage Animal, granting it protected status. common uses now include riding, therapy, and light work.