Dartmoor would not be Dartmoor without its herds of semi-wild ponies, a potent symbol of its wilderness.
All the ponies, however are owned by the Dartmoor Commoners, (the farmers and residents of the Moor who have grazing rights on the open moor), and these rights come with the responsibility of seeing that the herds of ponies are kept viable.
To this end they are gathered (“drifted”) every Autumn, and the foals are then weaned. Filly foals that are to be kept as replacement mares are branded and left with their mothers, all other foals are removed. Some colt foals are retained to be gelded and kept until they can be turned out again the following Spring, growing on into riding ponies.
The vast majority of foals are then sold at the pony sales, held at Tavistock, Chagford, and Hatherleigh in the Autumn. However over the last few years the price of foals has dropped drastically, and it seemed at one point that the ponies on the moor could disappear, especially in view of the fact that under ill thought out European laws, ponies could not be sold without a passport coating a minimum of £20.00, when foals were being sold for as little as 50 pence. The Auctioneers the decreed minimum bid of £10.00, but that only left many foals with no bids at all and unsold.
The pony keepers on the Commons then formed the DARTMOOR HILL PONY ASSOCIATION, under the Auspices of the Dartmoor Commoners Council, to oversee the general welfare of all the ponies on the commons, and provided a definition of the DARTMOOR HILL PONY, as the distinct from the REGISTERED Dartmoor Pony, who is a pony in the Stud Book of the Dartmoor Pony Society.
A DARTMOOR HILL PONY IS ONE BRED ON THE COMMONS OF DARTMOOR BY A REGISTERED COMMONER, WHOSE SIRE AND DAM RUN ON THE SAID COMMONS. THIS ENSURES THAT THE SIRE HAS BEEN INSPECTED AND APPROVED BY THE DARTMOOR COMMONERS COUNCIL AS A SUITABLE STALLION TO RUN ON THE COMMONS.