The Highland Pony is one of the nine native pony breeds of Great Britain and one of only two native to the Scottish mainland and islands. While ponies are not indigenous to the British Isles, it is thought that they arrived before the islands split away from the continent, which is still well before recorded history. Throughout its history, the Highland Pony no doubt had to adapt itself to this harsh environment and the demands that humans have placed on it over the centuries. Here we'll take a look at how the Highland Pony was forced to change in order to survive to become one of the most sought after British native ponies today.
The strongest evidence that the Highland Pony can trace its lineage back to the primitive ponies is the tendency to be born with primitive markings. In fact, the Highland is more likely to exhibit these markings than any other native breed. Some of these primitive markings include zebra stripes on the lower inside legs or an eel stripe along the back. These markings often fade in adulthood, especially if the coat is gray. The earliest evidence of the ponies in the highlands is carvings made by the Picts, who lived in eastern and northern Scotland during the sixth and ninth centuries.
But as invaders landed on what we call today the British Isles, they undoubtedly brought their own mounts with them, and this infusion of horse blood certainly made its mark on the Highland Pony. This may have helped the Highland become the largest of the native pony breeds, but thanks to the harsh environment and lack of food, the breed definitely remained in the pony parameters. This difficult environment is certainly why the Highland developed such an interesting coat, which thickens in the winter to create a badger-like, thick overcoat and with a softer undercoat, which protects the pony during the coldest and snowiest winters, and is shed in the summer.
While the ponies have always lived wild, they have equally always been used for a wide variety of uses, but mostly for utility work. Traditional work for the Highland Pony included pack animals, plowing fields, or carrying their owners to market. The Scottish Highlands also saw quite a lot of fighting between the clans over the centuries, so it is not unreasonable to believe that they would have been used as war mounts. While mechanization did away with the need for these traditional uses, the Highland stayed relevant by working in forestry in places that vehicles cannot go.
The only danger to the Highland Pony is its frightening fast ability to gain weight. Over the centuries, the breed adapted to the fact that food was scarce in the Scottish Highlands, particularly in the winter, so it was able to survive on very little. The problem is that now that feed is much more accessible, the ponies have a tendency to put on weight very quickly, so owners need to control the amount of food their Highlands receive and make sure they get plenty of exercise to help keep them healthy.