"Companion Horse" in the "Moments of kinship" issue 2000.
Article by Laverne Harris
Exmoor ponies are designed for survival by centuries of evolution. It has to be so. Their natural environment is in an inhospitable part of Great Britain in a district of England, called Exmoor. The area is partly in Somerset County and partly in Devonshire. The terrain is a high wind-swept plateau or moor with an elevation of 1500 feet and it is covered with heather.
Although summers can be pleasant in Exmoor with expanses of purple heather, the pony who carries that land’s name needs to be ready to face the worst that the Exmoor climate can produce. In the winter of 1962/63 the temperature rarely got above freezing. Snow fell over half the days. Most horses and ponies, foraging for their own food with nothing but the shelter nature provided, would have died. Not so the Exmoor Pony. They are ideally suited to such climate conditions, even if that weather is not common in Exmoor.
In summer, the Exmoor pony sports a sleek coat, always in some shade of bay or brown with black points. An Exmoor Pony never has splashes of white. In fact, the coloring of an Exmoor pony is identical to that of the North American Elk. In winter, though, the pony becomes a fuzzy wonder, with not one coat, but two. The top coat is remarkable. It sheds water
like the best-manufactured raincoat. One can plunge an ungloved hand through the inches long top hair to discover a dry lower layer of fur with heat radiating from the plump pony body. This double layer also provides insulation from snow. The exceptional fur runs off any extra moisture, and seems resistant to mud or tangle. The manes and tails of the ponies stay in remarkable order even when the wind blows at gale strength. Exmoor ponies are almost always warm and tidy.
Exmoor eyes are wonderful works of beauty, huge and luminous. To gaze into them is to fall in love. However, these wonders are also constructed for survival. The eyes have a fleshy rim around the orb itself that helps the Exmoor’s vision and sheds extra moisture. This construction is called a "toad eye", but no toad ever exhibited such beauty.
All Exmoors have broad heads allowing space for extraordinary intelligence. Their short,
expressive ears are set wide apart. Their broad muzzles are comparable to a full size horse with wide
nostrils. Their teeth are extremely efficient tools for eating.
Exmoor Pony feet and legs are a miracle of conformation, always perfect. In fact, the bulk of the farrier population would have to look for a new occupation if all horses had Exmoor Pony feet. One horseshoer was quoted as saying, "Look at that! God got it right all alone."
Under most conditions the Exmoor Pony requires no help in maintaining an ideal hard, black foot. Nature does the trimming. No shoes required.
At an average height of 12 hands, the Exmoor is still one of the most powerful, sturdy equines.
The Exmoor diet would be very much less than ideal for most horses, but the ponies thrive on
grasses, heather, rushes and gorse with any other digestible plant in their environment that
might tempt them. Although usually they are grazers, the Exmoors on occasion have been
described as browsers, similar to deer. In an extremely bad winter, the ponies will dig until they uncover the bracken rhizomes. More so than other horses the Exmoor Pony has a highly efficient digestive system and their bodies utilize everything it can from the food. As a result, some folks have noted that Exmoor Pony waste has a different odor from that of any other equine.
Fortunately, water is not a problem in any of the natural environments of the Exmoor Pony.