The Highland Pony is a native Scottish pony, and is one of the largest of the mountain and moorland pony breeds of the British Isles. Its pedigree dates back to the 1880s. It was once a workhorse in the Scottish mainland and islands, but today is used for driving, trekking and general riding. They are very hardy and tough, they rarely require shoeing, and are very economical to keep. They usually don't need rugs, and are generally free from many equine diseases.
The Highland Pony is one of the three native breeds of the Scottish Highlands and Islands, the others are the Shetland pony and the Eriskay pony. Over many centuries the breed has adapted to the variable and often severe climatic and environmental conditions of Scotland. The winter coat consists of a layer of strong badger-like hair over a soft dense undercoat, which enables this breed of pony to live out in all types of weather. This coat is shed in the spring to reveal a smooth summer coat. This essential hardiness is combined with a kindly nature and even temperament.
The height of a Highland pony is between 13 to 14.2 hands (52 to 58 inches, 132 to 147 cm). The head is well-carried and alert with a kindly eye, broad muzzle and deep jowl. Reasonable length of neck going from the withers with a good sloping shoulder and well-placed forearm is desired. Ponies are to have a well-balanced and compact body with deep chest, well-sprung ribs, powerful quarters with a well-developed thigh, strong gaskin and clean flat hocks. Desired traits also include: flat hard bone, broad knees, short cannon bones, oblique pasterns and well-shaped broad dark hooves.
Feather hair behind the fetlocks is soft and silky. When Highland ponies are shown, the mane and tail are kept natural, flowing and untrimmed.
Highland ponies are seen in a range of dun shades. The Highland Pony Society recognizes shade variations referred to as "mouse," (known in other breeds as grullo) "yellow," (bay dun) "grey," (dun with gray gene that lightens with age) and "cream" ( a dun apparently also possessing a dilution factor). Other, nonstandard, terms such as "fox dun", (describing a red dun) "oatmeal dun" and "biscuit dun" (describing a cream dun) are sometimes also used. They also may be grey, seal brown, black, and occasionally bay or a shade of liver chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail.
Dun-coloured ponies have primitive markings which include a dorsal stripe and some show zebra markings on legs. A transverse shoulder stripe is also often present. Foal coat often changes and many ponies change colour gradually as they grow older. Others show a slight seasonal change in colour between winter and summer coats. "Broken" colours such as pinto are not allowed.
The Highland Pony Society actively discourages white markings of any description other than a small white star. Stallions with white markings other than a small star are not eligible for licensing by the Highland Pony Society. No white markings (other than a small star) nor white legs or white hooves are acceptable in the show ring.
Tracing the history of the breed presents difficulties. In the earliest period of development of the domesticated breed, there were two types: the small and light pony of the Western Isles, and the larger and heavier mainland-bred type. The larger animals were commonly called garrons, though the term is considered incorrect. Both types have integrated now, and thus there is generally less distinction between the types within the Highland pony breed. However the phenotype of the smaller type survives in the rare Eriskay pony.
In the 16th century, French and Spanish horses, including the Percheron, were taken to the Scottish highlands. In the 19th century, a Hackney type and the Fell Pony and Dales Pony were added.
The breed was originally bred to work on the small farms of Scotland, hauling timber and game as well as ploughing. They are still used for such work, but are usually enjoyed as all-round ponies, good for jumping and trekking, due to their quietness, stamina, and ability to carry weight.
There are an estimated 5,500 Highlands in the world today, with most in Europe. Although some are still bred for their substance and stamina, the trend is to breed for a pony more suited for riding and driving. The breed is also commonly crossed with Thoroughbreds to produce good eventing horses. Despite increasing popularity, the breed is still categorised as Category 4, "At Risk" by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.Deer Ponies: Highland Ponies are still used to extract deer carcases from the hill using saddles especially designed for the purpose. Several Breeders still supply Highland Ponies to carry deer.
Horse Riding and Pony Trekking: The popular outdoor sport of Pony Trekking was credited with being started in Badenoch at nearby Newtonmore in 1952 by Ewan Ormiston, it is still possible to ride in Newtonmore with his grandson Ruaridh at the Newtonmore Riding Centre. Ormiston Highlands
Croft Work: Highlands were used extensively on these small Highland agricultural units but are seldom used today.
Logging: There is limited use of Highland Ponies for timber extraction.