What to Know About the Dales Pony

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on January 08, 2023
5 min read

The Dales pony is a rare breed that originates in the upper dales — or valleys — of Northern Yorkshire in England. Historically, miners and farmers used this hardy breed as a working pony. Today, the Dales pony excels in driving and riding sports.  

The Livestock Conservancy classifies the Dales pony as critically endangered, with only a few hundred ponies remaining today. Read on to learn Dales pony facts and explore the history of this fascinating breed.

According to the Dales Pony Society breed standard, the ideal Dales pony is lively and strong. The pony has a deep chest with round ribs, sloping shoulders, and a short body. The forearms, hindquarters, and thighs are very muscular. 

The Dales pony has a neat head with no coarseness. A flowing mane grows from the pony’s strong neck, and the heels have silky feathers. The pony’s hooves are blue and tough. 

The breed is known for its clean, flashy, and straight movements. The pony moves forward energetically and lifts its knee and hock high with each step, giving the animal immense drive.

The Dales pony has a courageous and strong personality. It has a great work ethic and often remains playful into its 20s. The breed is also known for its athleticism, robustness, strength, and stamina. 

This breed also has a gentle and level headed temperament. The Dales pony typically remains calm in traffic and other stressful situations. These characteristics make this animal popular with endurance riders, drivers, and other equestrians. In Britain, many people with disabilities also ride Dales ponies because of their docile and eager-to-please temperament.

Like all ponies, the Dales pony is a relatively small equine. According to the breed standard, the ideal Dales pony height is 14 hands (142.2 cm) to 14.2 hands (146.2 cm). 

At maturity, the average Dales pony weighs 800 to 1,000 pounds.

Black is the most common color for this breed. Other possible Dales pony colors include:

  • Bay
  • Brown
  • Gray
  • Roan (rarely)

The pony can have a white star or snip on its forehead. The Dales Pony Society also allows white markings on the hind legs, but they should only appear below the fetlocks. A foal born with incorrect markings must register with the Dales Pony Society as section B status, a downgraded classification.

The Dales pony originates from the upper dales in the eastern slopes of the Pennine range. This area covers the High Peak in Derbyshire to the Cheviot Hills near the Scottish border. The lead mining industry thrived in this region until the mid-19th century. Miners selectively bred strong ponies like the Dales horse to transport heavy supplies of fuel, lead, and ore from the mines to the coast. 

Many breeds contributed to the development of the Dales pony, including the Pennine pony, the Galloway, the Norfolk Trotter, and the Wilson pony. The Dales pony was originally used as a pack animal to carry heavy loads over rough terrain. Each pony carried a pack load weighing 240 pounds and traveled up to 100 miles a week. 

The breed’s hardiness and strength attracted the attention of farmers in the English dales. Small farms used the Dales pony as an all-around work animal that could carry heavy burdens over vast distances, pull a cart or plow, and keep up on hunts. 

The improvement of roads in the late 18th century led to a growing demand for swift horses capable of transporting mail and stagecoaches. Breeders crossed Dales ponies with Norfolk Cobs and Yorkshire Roadsters, giving the breed more energy and flashier movement. 

During World War I and II, the army used many Dales ponies to transport artillery, munitions, and supplies. The animals also played an important role on farms during wartime petrol rationing. 

At the end of World War II, most surviving Dales ponies were abandoned in Europe and eaten by hungry Europeans. Other ponies were sent to the slaughterhouse as mechanization eliminated the need for workhorses. In 1955, the Dales Pony Society registered only four fillies as the breed neared extinction .

In the 1960s, breed enthusiasts used three Fell pony stallions to preserve the Dale pony. The breed’s numbers grew steadily in the 1970s. During the 1990s, several Dales ponies were imported to Canada and the U.S. Today, the Dales pony remains very rare, with only around 600 members of this breed existing worldwide.

Like all ponies, the Dales requires a healthy diet that contains at least 1% of their body weight in hay, grass, or other forms of roughage. Avoid feeding your pony more than 1% of their body weight in grain to prevent colic and other digestive disorders. 

It’s also crucial to ensure that your Dales pony has a consistent supply of fresh, clean water.

Ponies frequently live into their mid-20s and 30s. Proper preventative care can help extend the lifespan of the Dales pony. Experts recommend that ponies receive twice-yearly veterinary checkups and annual bloodwork once they reach their mid-teen years. Caregivers should also monitor their ponies for disease symptoms, like frequent urination, lethargy, and weight loss. 

The Dales pony can inherit an autosomal recessive disease called foal immunodeficiency syndrome (FIS). Foals born with FIS may seem normal at first, but they typically develop symptoms around 2 to 8 weeks old. Signs of FIS include:

  • Anemia
  • Coughing
  • Decreased appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Dull coat 
  • Lethargy
  • Nasal discharge
  • Pale gums
  • Poor growth
  • Weakness

Symptoms of FIS worsen over time, and the disease can cause secondary infections. Veterinarians can provide antibiotics for secondary infections and supportive care, but there is no known treatment for this condition. Foals born with FIS typically die or are humanely euthanized within four months. 

Both parents must carry the faulty gene that causes FIS to pass on the disease. A foal born from this mating has a 25% chance of being born with FIS. A DNA test can help breeders determine if a Dales pony is an FIS carrier.

The Dales pony is a critically endangered breed with a rich heritage. Once prized by farmers and miners, the Dales is now a versatile pet and competition horse. 

Only a tiny number of Dales ponies exist today, so this breed can be hard to find. But if you have the patience to search for an available pony and are interested in contributing to rare breed conservation, a Dales pony could be a great fit.