One time when I was little we learnt about the native pony breeds of Britain at Pony Club. The trainee instructors who were running the session asked us what native ponies we had heard of before. Most people gave the expected answers: Shetland, Connemara, Welsh Mountain Pony…
Trying to come up with an answer nobody else would have, when it was my turn I said “Eriskay!”
There was a moment of silence before the trainee instructor replied. “Aren’t they from Iceland?”
I remember my surprise, because when I was little I thought the yard staff knew everything there was to know about horses! Even though I was certain Eriskay ponies were from Britain, I didn’t say anything. Eriskay ponies didn’t get added to our list.
It’s only since then that I’ve realised how few people have actually heard of Eriskay ponies!! They’re a very rare breed – the only reason I know of them is probably because the Eriskay Pony Society brought some to a country show near me every year.
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Eriskay ponies before, but I thought I’d tell you a bit about them!!
Without the people of Eriskay there would be no pony but without the pony there would be no people on Eriskay.
– Father Calum MacLellan, island priest of Eriskay
Eriskay ponies come from Eriskay Island in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Most definitely not Iceland!!! (Iceland’s only horse or pony breed is the Icelandic.)
They’re about 12hh-13.2hh and usually grey, although black and bay Eriskays are found. Like all the native ponies, they have a thick waterproof coat and can live out all year round.
Traditionally crofters’ ponies, Eriskays are friendly and have a reputation as “back door” ponies! The nature of their work meant they were mostly handled by women and children, so only ponies with the best temperaments were bred from. Their work included carrying peat and seaweed, pulling carts, working in the fields, and taking children to school!
Although they’re very fond of human company, quick to learn, and versatile, Eriskays are listed as “Critical” by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. This means there are less than 300 breeding mares in the world, and they are at risk of extinction. In the early 1970s there were only 20 purebred Eriskays left!!!
Since then Eriskay pony enthusiasts have brought them back from the brink, promoting the breed, but they still remain at risk. Apparently Eriskays are the rarest horse or pony breed in Europe, and even closer to extinction than the giant panda! (If you don’t believe me read this.)
The Eriskay Pony is the last survivor of the native ponies of the Western Isles of Scotland. It’s origins are ancient, certainly with Celtic and Norse connections. Carvings of ponies of similar proportions are depicted on Pictish stones throughout the north and west of Scotland.
– extract from a leaflet by the Eriskay Pony Society
These friendly, fun, and quite frankly adorable ponies are now very successful in all sorts of roles! Family ponies, children’s ponies, riding, driving, show jumping, dressage, Pony Club activities, showing, endurance, with disabled riders/drivers… even western!!! You name it; Eriskays can do it!
I hope you’re enjoying my blog!! Thank you for reading!!!
Horse Daydreamer xxx