As time has gone by, the increased popularity of tractors and mechanical equipment has all but ‘seen off’ the old tradition of using a Highland Pony for carting and ploughing work on Scottish farm land.

For decades Highland Ponies have been bred, trained and utilised to carry Deer and Grouse in the Scottish Highlands. Known for their great strength and steady posture,  these Ponies have both a wonderful temperament and great work ethos.

Originally bred on the Western Isles and on part of the Scottish mainland, these ponies were used to carry Stag, often weighing up to 16 stone, during stalking season, and to carry guns, gear and cartridges during the Grouse and Game Shooting season.  Even when sporting specifically designed Deer carrier saddles and wicker panniers, this pony has no problem manoeuvre on treacherous, boggy grounds.

highland pony

Source: “Melrose” by Amanda Slater

No matter how high-tech or well designed tractors or quad bikes are, they still can’t travel easily over very boggy ground or steep inclines. Neither can they find their way home in thick fog or mist! This is where Highland Ponies have a very clear advantage, using their extreme strength, stamina and ‘know-how’ to achieve what modern day implements  just cannot!

Although tractors are now used to plough fields, the Highland Pony is still sometimes used for light-carting, row-crop work or sometimes for working with cattlemen and shepherds on the  Scottish hills. These ponies are also often used for bringing home peat across treacherous ground or for carrying bundles of small trees  from forests or woodland.

Years ago, of course, the Highland pony was used almost daily for field work, such as ploughing or for transporting crops to market. It has also been reported that these animals were once used by desperate smugglers to transport whisky across the Scottish Isles in an effort to escape capture!

Today, the Highland Pony remains very popular, particularly with children.  Indeed, these ponies being of  very docile and gentle temperament are just great for gymkhanas and related events.

Characteristics of a Highland Pony

These ponies are stunning to look at, with their beautiful flowing manes and tails.  They are generally very peaceful and it is easy to understand why the Queen currently has up to 35 Highland Ponies at Balmoral on Royal Deeside.

Some of the characteristics of these beautiful animals, as reported by the Highland Pony Society include:

  • Traditional colours of Black, Grey or Brown
  • Can be available in Yellow, Mouse-colour, gold, cream or fox-colour
  • Many carry a distinctive dorsal-eel stripe, along their backs
  • Some may have zebra stripes on the inside of their forelegs and shoulders
  • They are broad and sturdy
  • Their height can be between 13hh to 14.2hh (132cm – 148cm)
  • They have ‘kind’ eyes

In the winter months, the Highland Pony develops badger-style hair over their soft dense undercoat, helping them to live and work outdoors in all weathers. In the spring, this coat is shed, in order to develop a lighter, smooth summer coat.

So, although tractors and quad bikes have become more and more popular, the old tradition of using the Highland Pony will probably never be a thing of the past.  Their  strength, stamina and skill, along with their ability to venture across rough terrain, will ensure that their popularity will remain intact.

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