The Dales Pony is a large working pony breed that originated in the Dales of Yorkshire in North England. Dale ponies are the largest native pony breed from England and are closely related to the smaller Fell Pony.

Dales descend from ancient breeds that lived in this region during Roman times. The breed’s development coincided with the growth of the lead mining industry, with these animals serving as pack ponies for most of their history.

Crossbreeding and World War I and II in the 20th century led to a significant decline in the breed’s population. A unique genetic disease also threatens endangered Dales Pony today, but DNA testing and growing popularity as riding ponies could help the breed rebound.

This breed profile will discuss the history, characteristics, health problems, and nutritional needs of the Dales Pony. Keep reading to learn more about feeding and caring for ponies from this breed.

Dales Pony History

Dales Ponies might look like some other horse breeds, but they have a unique history and are a distinct breed.

Their origins in Yorkshire played a major role in shaping the characteristics of the Dale pony, but various external bloodlines have fine-tuned the breed to its present form.

Origin

The first ponies to arrive in the British Isles likely migrated from Northern Europe before the land bridge to the continent flooded around 6500 BC. Archeological evidence suggests ancient ponies inhabited Yorkshire before the Roman occupation of England starting in the 1st century AD. [1]

Ancient Roman records describe horse-riding warriors living on the eastern slopes of the Pennines, where the Dales Pony breed originated. The upper dales of this mountainous region later became the center of Britain’s lead mining industry.

Yorkshire miners began cross-breeding black Scottish Galloways with native Pennine ponies in the late 17th century to produce hardy horses with good strength and endurance. Norfolk Cob, Norfolk Trotter, and Yorkshire Roadster blood improved the trotting ability of the local horses.

In the late 19th century, the Welsh Stallion Comet crossed with Dales mares to increase the breed’s athleticism. Outcrossing to Clydesdales in the early 20th century increased the size of Dales Ponies and differentiated them from the Fell Ponies of the western Pennines. [2]

Historic Use

The original Dales Ponies transported iron ore and lead across Britain in pack pony trains. The ponies had to be strong and reliable to carry heavy loads over hundreds of miles of rough terrain while following behind a mounted train leader.

During the growing season, Yorkshire farmers also used the Dales Ponies for draft work. Other Dales Ponies carried shepherds over the fells to tend to their herds.

Road improvements in the late eighteenth century shifted breeding directions to produce faster trotting horses for pulling carriages. Today, Dales Ponies continue to show the lively and energetic movement inherited from their carriage horse ancestors. [3]

In the early twentieth century, there was rising demand for larger horses capable of pulling heavy vans and equipment. Breeding programs used draft horses to produce bigger ponies. The Dales Pony Improvement Society was formed in 1916 to improve the quality of the breed.

World War I and II significantly reduced the Dales Pony population in the UK. However, a small group of breeders preserved the ponies, and the breed was rejuvenated in the 1960s with the addition of Fell blood. [1]

Breed Registry

The Dales Pony Improvement Society was renamed the Dales Pony Society (DPS) in 1964. The DPS maintains and publishes the official Dales Pony Stud Book.

The Dales Pony Society of America was formed in 1999 to preserve and promote this breed in the United States and Canada. The organization registered approximately 60 ponies in its first year, and the population continues to grow.

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Breed Characteristics

The Dales Pony Society developed breed standards based on the characteristic traits of original ponies from the dales of Yorkshire. These traits distinguish the breed from other native British equines and contribute to their versatility as riding ponies.

Conformation

The preferred height range for Dales Ponies is between 14 to 14.2 hands. The breed’s conformation gives the general impression of a robust and spirited pony. The head is neat with pony characteristics. Broad foreheads, alert eyes, and slightly curved ears add character.

Dales Ponies generally have long, thick forelocks and manes. Their necks are strong with adequate length and clean-cut throat latches. Stallions have a well-arched crest.

The breed has a short-coupled body with a deep chest and well-sprung ribs. Shoulders are long and sloping, while hindquarters are deep and powerful. Tails are well set but not high, with long, straight hair.

The Dale Pony is well known for exceptional hoof quality. They also have correct legs with ample feathering on their heels.

Colours

Dales Ponies can be any of the following colors:

  • Black
  • Bay
  • Grey
  • Brown
  • Roan

Black is the most common coat colour in the breed.

White stars and snips are permissible, but white leg markings are only allowed on the hind fetlocks. Excessive white is not desirable.

Temperament

The ideal Dales Pony is brave, intelligent, alert, and kind. They have quiet but bold personalities and kind-natured temperaments, making them reliable ponies for riders of all levels.

Although they have an attentive presence, they are not considered spooky. Dales that display cheeky pony behaviours are often bored.

These ponies thrive with regular training and enjoy spending time with their owners.

Disciplines

The Dale Pony’s history produced an all-around pony breed suitable for many disciplines. These strong ponies can easily carry adult and child riders, making them ideal for families.

Their striking appearance and bold personalities stand out in the show ring, while their sure-footedness and bravery help them navigate remote hacking trails. They are also frequently used for pony trekking in the UK.

Other popular disciplines for Dales Ponies include:

Dales Pony Health

Dales Ponies generally have good health, but they share a predisposition to metabolic disorders with other native British ponies.

Dales and Fell Ponies are also susceptible to a unique fatal genetic disease.

Genetic Diseases

Previously known as Fell Pony syndrome, foal immunodeficiency syndrome (FIS) is a lethal inherited disease characterized by progressive anemia and immune deficiency. There is no treatment for FIS. Most affected foals die or are euthanized before four months of age. [4]

Maternal antibodies acquired through colostrum make foals appear normal at birth, but initial clinical signs become apparent between 2 and 8 weeks of age. Common signs of FIS include:

  • Weakness
  • Poor growth
  • Diarrhea
  • Pale gums
  • Dull coat

Foals often succumb to secondary infections shortly after birth. [4]

Genomic studies have identified a gene mutation responsible for the disorder that is carried by Fells, Dales, and related pony breeds. Breed authorities recommend breeders screen ponies for the mutation with an available DNA test to make informed breeding decisions. [5]

Preliminary testing has found that 18% of Dales ponies carry the mutation responsible for FIS. However, the incidence of foals born with FIS has dropped considerably after the introduction of genetic testing. [6]

Health Problems

Dales ponies are also affected by other health problems that are widespread in native British ponies. The most significant health concern is metabolic dysfunction. [7]

Studies indicate that Dales Ponies have a genetic tendency towards equine metabolic syndrome (EMS). This condition is associated with insulin resistance and can lead to laminitis, a painful condition in which the laminae within the horse’s hoof become inflamed. [8]

However, even though Dales Ponies are more prone to EMS, research shows that certain care practices, such as regular exercise and a low-starch diet, can help reduce the chances of them developing this condition. [7]

Care and Management

Dales Ponies are resilient and charming, but like all breeds, they need quality basic care. By ensuring a routine care regimen and providing them with an appropriate environment, your Dales pony can thrive and showcase their unique characteristics.

All equines should have regular veterinary check-ups to maintain good health and practice preventative medicine. Your annual veterinary wellness program should include vaccinations, deworming, and dental exams, including teeth floating.

Although Dales ponies generally have strong hooves, they still need regular farrier care and trimming from a qualified professional to maintain hoof balance.

Grooming

Owning a Dales Pony means spending plenty of time in the grooming stall caring for their impressive manes, tails, and feathers. These ponies need daily grooming to free their hair from tangles and debris.

Their leg feathering can trap bacteria and moisture against their skin, which increases the risk of pastern dermatitis and other forms of skin irritation. Dry footing and clean bedding help reduce these risks. If you live in a wet climate, follow good mud management strategies to control the build-up of mud in horse paddocks. [9]

If your Dales Pony has a dull coat or lacks the characteristic thick hair of the breed, it could be a sign that something is missing in their feeding program. Healthy hair growth and coat shine are impacted by vitamin, mineral and protein levels in the diet.

Shelter & Turnout

Outdoor living areas with safe shelters and dry footing are ideal for housing hardy Dales Ponies. If your Dales lives in a stall, follow a generous turnout schedule that allows daily free exercise.

Unrestricted grazing on fresh pasture may not be suitable for Dales Ponies with metabolic health concerns or those that are obese. High-starch pasture grasses can contribute to laminitis risk.

In these cases, provide daily turnout in a dry lot with low-starch hay. [10] Using a grazing muzzle can also help to control grass intake and prevent excess weight gain.

Dales Pony Nutrition

The ideal diet for your pony depends on his lifestyle and health status. Generally, Dales Ponies do best on a low-starch, forage-based diet.

Nutritional support from a vitamin and mineral supplement can help balance your pony’s diet and ensure there are no nutrient deficiencies that may impair his health.

Weight Maintenance

The Dales Ponies adapted over centuries to endure the challenging conditions and harsh winters of Northern England. Their ability to thrive on minimal, low-quality forage shows their evolutionary resilience, making them incredibly efficient in utilizing available nutrients.

However, this adaptation is what makes them easy keepers in modern settings, requiring careful dietary management to prevent overfeeding and associated health issues. Due to their efficient metabolism, they require less feed to maintain their weight and are prone to excess weight gain.

Some Dales Ponies have a light draft type, while others have a heavier body type, inherited from their traditional draft horse ancestors used for heavy pulling in agricultural settings.

For owners, distinguishing between obesity and the heavy build of some Dales Ponies can be challenging, making it difficult to assess dietary needs. Body condition scoring can be used to distinguish obese Dales Ponies from healthy ponies with a heavier type.

A body condition score of 5 on the Henneke 9-point scale is considered ideal.

Sample Diet

The following sample diet is intended for a mature 450 kg (1000 lb) Dales Pony with normal body condition at maintenance (not exercising).

Feed Amount per day
Mature Grass Hay (8% crude protein) Free choice
Salt 30 g (2 tbsps)
Omneity Pellets 200 g (2 scoops)
w-3 oil 30 ml (1 oz)
Diet Analysis*
Digestible Energy (% of Req) 106%
Protein (% of Req) 126%
NSC (ESC + starch % Diet) 6.9%

 

*These values are estimated based on NRC requirements and average forage values. For a more precise assessment, analyze your forage and submit your pony’s diet for evaluation.

In this sample feeding plan, Mad Barn’s Omneity is added to provide essential vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that are commonly deficient in the equine diet. Feeding Omneity ensures your pony receives all the key nutrients required to support coat quality, metabolic function, hoof health and more.

Omneity is very concentrated formula and does not contain any grains or added sugars, unlike commercial feeds or ration balancers. This low-calorie formula makes it an ideal choice for easy keeper breeds, such as Dales ponies.

Omneity – Premix

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  • Complete B-vitamin fortification
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Forage

Equines evolved to graze constantly on low-calorie roughage in their environment. A forage-based diet replicates natural grazing behaviours to promote optimal digestive health in domestic horses and ponies.

When fresh pasture isn’t available or appropriate, most equines rely on hay as the foundation of their diet. If consuming hay as the sole forage source, most horses and ponies need about 2% of their body weight in hay daily.

Ponies eating hay also need a source of omega-3 fatty acids as those are lower in cured forages. [14] In the sample diet, Mad Barn’s w-3 oil is added as a source of the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA.

Dales ponies are relatively heavy for their height and need similar amounts of forage to taller light breeds. For example, an average 450 kg (1,000 lb) Dales Pony needs 18 kg (20 pounds) of hay daily.

Proper hay selection ensures that ponies receive the right nutrients in the right quantities to match their activity levels. Average-quality, low-starch grass hay is a safe forage option for most easy keepers.

Some Dales Ponies in heavy work may need higher quality hay to meet their energy demands. [10] However, for most ponies, feeding lower calorie hay enable owners to provide adequate forage volume without inadvertently causing weight gain.

Additional Nutrients

Forage-only diets generally supply enough energy and protein to meet the requirements of most Dales Ponies. However, these diets need fortification with vitamin and mineral supplements to provide balanced nutrition and avoid common nutrient deficiencies.

Dales Ponies also need freely available fresh water and plain loose salt. Salt is important because it encourages thirst and promotes hydration, while also helping equines meet their sodium requirement. Add 1 – 2 ounces of plain salt to your pony’s daily ration to ensure he gets enough sodium.

Commercial concentrates and high-starch grains can contribute to digestive upset and metabolic dysfunction in Dales Ponies. Replace grains with soaked beet pulp or hay pellets if your pony needs an alternative forage-based supplement carrier. [11]

Talk to your veterinarian and equine nutritionist for recommendations when formulating a new diet for your Dales Pony.

Feeding Recommendations

Using hay nets and slow feeders can be an effective strategy to regulate a pony’s forage intake. These tools ensure that your pony has continuous access to forage, mimicking natural grazing patterns, while still managing the amount they consume.

This helps in preventing overeating, promotes better digestion, and extends feeding time, keeping the pony engaged and satisfied. Free-choice access to forage is also associated with reduced risk of stereotypic behaviors, such as cribbing and stall walking.

If your Dales Pony goes out on pasture, a grazing muzzle can help restrict grass intake to limit excess calories. Grazing muzzles are safe and effective for overweight horses, allowing them to graze naturally in a social grouping and enjoy the benefits of outdoor turnout. Ponies prone to laminitis on pasture will need a muzzle that can be completely sealed.

Dales ponies in heavy work may need extra energy from forage pellets, concentrates rich in fiber and fat or oil supplements. Fat sources with omega-3 fatty acids also support coat health and might help metabolic function. [12]

Nutritional Supplements

The first priority for any equine feeding program is to provide a balanced diet with appropriate levels of energy, protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. Once the diet is well-balanced, additional supplements can be considered to optimize performance and target individual health concerns.

For Dales ponies with skin concerns, consider Mad Barn’s w-3 Oil. This enriched oil contains the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, along with high levels of natural Vitamin E.

W-3 Oil is also beneficial for supporting joint health, respiratory function and metabolic health, as well as giving your pony a shiny coat [13]

w-3 Oil

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  • Promotes joint comfort
  • Helps to fight inflammation
  • Skin & coat condition
  • Palatable source of Omega-3's

Ponies with a stockier build face an increased risk of joint issues, as their heavy body weight exerts greater stress on their joints. You can support your pony’s joint health by supplementing with MSM – a natural source of sulfur that supports homeostatic balancing of inflammatory mechanisms.

MSM

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7%
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1%
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  • Supports joint health
  • Cartilage & connective tissue
  • Skin, coat & hoof quality
  • Natural antioxidant

If your Dales pony struggles with coat fading in the summer, it may be a sign of a trace mineral imbalance in the diet. Feeding a zinc/copper supplement can help to maintain dark coat colour, especially in Dales ponies that have high iron intake.

Submit your pony’s diet online for a free evaluation to get help from our equine nutritionists with formulating a balanced diet.

Is Your Horse's Diet Missing Anything?

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References

  1. Winton, C. et al. Genetic diversity within and between British and Irish breeds: The maternal and paternal history of native ponies. Ecol Evol. 2020.View Summary
  2. Yarwood, R. et al. The Changing Geography of Rare Livestock Breeds in Britain. J Geograph Assoc. 1999.
  3. Wadham, H. Agency as Interspecies, Collective and Embedded Endeavour: Ponies and People in Northern England 1916–1950. J Hist Sociol. 2021.
  4. Fox-Clipsham, L. et al. Identification of a Mutation Associated with Fatal Foal Immunodeficiency Syndrome in the Fell and Dales Pony. PLoS Genetics. 2011. View Summary
  5. Fox-Clipsham, L. et al. Population screening of endangered horse breeds for the foal immunodeficiency syndrome mutation. Vet Rec. 2011. View Summary
  6. Carter, S. et al. Foal immunodeficiency syndrome: carrier testing has markedly reduced disease incidence. Vet Rec. 2014.
  7.  Carslake, H. et al. Equine metabolic syndrome in UK native ponies and cobs is highly prevalent with modifiable risk factors. Equine Vet J. 2020. View Summary
  8. Durham, A. ECEIM consensus statement on equine metabolic syndrome. J Vet Intern Med. 2019. View Summary
  9. Gerber, V. Equine pastern dermatitis: a narrative review on clinical presentation, diagnosis, risk factors, prevention, and therapeutic approaches. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2023.View Summary
  10. Watts, K. Forage and pasture management for laminitic horses. Clin Techniq Equine Pract. 2004.
  11. Cipriano-Salazar, M. et al. The Dietary Components and Feeding Management as Options to Offset Digestive Disturbances in Horses. J Equine Vet Sci. 2019.
  12. Elzinga, S. et al. Effects of Docosahexaenoic Acid-Rich Microalgae Supplementation on Metabolic and Inflammatory Parameters in Horses With Equine Metabolic Syndrome. J Equine Vet Sci. 2019. View Summary
  13. Goh, Y. et al. Plasma n-3 and n-6 fatty acid profiles and their correlations to hair coat scores in horses kept under Malaysian conditions. J Vet Malaysia. 2004.
  14. Glasser, F. et al. Fat and fatty acid content and composition of forages: A meta-analysis. An Feed Sci Tech. 2013.