the exmoor pony

The original European species of wild horses are extinct. As a worthy replacement, we prefer the Exmoor pony. This small but sturdy pony has remained virtually unchanged since prehistoric times and can be seen on petroglyphs in Lascaux caves, among others, as a companion to the also extinct Boer cattle. For that reason alone, we felt a special bond with these ponies.


Besides the primeval cattle and wisent (and other ‘megaherbivores’), large herds of wild horses also grazed in the European countryside. They were probably different sub-populations. The original European species of wild horses would have become extinct. This is probably true, but the Exmoor pony comes very close to being that animal. The animal ended up in the UK after the last ice age and has led an existence as a wild horse on the Exmoors in south-west England for millennia. Some attempts were made to ‘improve’ the animal but with little result, the harsh conditions on the Exmoors meant that only the best-adapted animals survived. With this, we dare say that the Exmoor – unlike the Konek – is the true heir to the extinct wild European horses.

External characteristics

Exmoor ponies have a robust and compact build. They have a straight, short back, a strong neck and a powerful rear end. Their legs are muscular and have hard hooves, making them well able to withstand rough terrain. A notable feature is their dense, weather-resistant coat with a double layer. This fur makes them resistant to all weather conditions. They have a skeleton almost identical to skeletons of prehistoric horses. In addition, they have a remnant of a formerly common seventh molar and their coat colour is constant and identical to drawings of prehistoric horses in various caves in Europe.

Grazing behaviour

Having lived in natural conditions for centuries, the Exmoor is well suited to natural grazing. Living for centuries in the rugged landscape of Exmoor National Park, they have adapted to eating tough, fibrous grasses. They have developed strong jaws and teeth, enabling them to graze through even the toughest vegetation.

They are completely self-reliant and can survive in the wild. By the way the ponies graze and digest food, they disperse seeds of plants and by eating saplings and other low growth, they keep forest and heathland areas open. This encourages the proliferation of certain rare plants, insects and birds. Also, the paths they follow every day provide a natural barrier during forest fires. Another advantage is that Exmoors are naturally shy. When approached by humans, they show a natural retreating behaviour. In the Netherlands, with its crowded nature reserves, this is a huge plus. The Exmoor cares little for people, even if they are on a horse. We have figured out how to allow natural herds with stallions included to graze in areas with riders. We share our knowledge about Exmoors in the Exmoor Pony Partnership.

Social herding behaviour

Horse and pony herds are matriarchal. The lead mare leads the way and decides where the ponies go. The ponies follow in order of rank at the time. When a stallion is walking by the herd, he drives the herd forward with a kind of snake-like movement of his neck. In English, this is called ‘snaking’.

View the habitat of the Exmoor pony

view other grazers