The Dales Pony Society of America,  Inc.

"To preserve, promote and protect the Dales Pony"

History of the Breed

Comet II - Sire of Teasdale Comet and Daddy's Lad


The Dales Pony is a native of the upper dales of the eastern  slopes of the Pennine Range, from the High Peak in Derbyshire to the Cheviot Hills near the Scottish Border, where a lead mining industry flourished from Roman times, until the mid-nineteenth century. The favoured breeding grounds have always been the upper dales of Tyne, Wear, Allen, Tees and Swale.

The lead mining industry was subject to the geography and environment of the area. The rakes of lead were always situated on the high moors; the washing places had to be near a stream; the smelting boles were always on a hill to catch the wind and needed to be near a wood for fuel. The pigs of lead produced were transported over the moors to the ports on the north-east coast and, if wood had run out, coal was taken back.  The ore, fuel and lead were carried by strong, active pack ponies, working in gangs of 9 to 20, loose-headed, and in the charge of one mounted man.

Dales ponies became renowned for their great strength, iron constitution, endurance and the ability to get over rough country fast. A pack load was 240 pounds, or two pigs of lead per pony (two hundredweight); and the ponies traveled up to hundred miles a week over some of the most difficult terrain in England.

The Dales Pony was a comfortable riding animal, strong enough for draught work, and able to thrive on the bleak uplands of the dales. These abilities were not lost on farmers who found in them all that was required to work the small farm as the seasons came round. They could pull a ton in a cart or coup; were sturdy shepherds’ ponies, capable of covering great distances on the fells and were able to carry burdens of hay up to 12 stones, often plus a rider and when necessary, in deep snow; a pair could step out in the plough or reaper binder; having a fast trot, they could take the farmer to market in style and also give him an occasional day hunting, being willing and clever jumpers. Thus, when the railways appeared, and the pack trains disappeared, the Dales pony found a niche on the farms of the dales, and as the mines were enlarged, and drifts used, many ponies were also taken for work in the lead and coal mines of the north-east.                                           

    In the late eighteenth century there was a great improvement in roads, which brought a demand for faster animals to horse the Mail and Stage coaches. At this time the fastest and stoutest roadsters were the Norfolk Cobs, the most notable family being the Shales. The foundation sire was Shales the Original, foaled in 1755, sired by Blaze, son of the thoroughbred, Flying Childers by the Darley Arabian. This stallion was also the foundation sire of most of the world’s finest trotting breeds, and at least one line back to him can be found in the pedigrees of most registered Dales ponies alive today. The best of the Norfolk breed were imported by Yorkshiremen to improve the Yorkshire trotters, resulting in the splendid Yorkshire Roadsters of the mid-nineteenth century. Stylish trotters became the rage, and as Dalesmen enjoyed trotting races but found it uneconomical to keep an extra pony solely for this purpose, they used the best of the Norfolk and the Yorkshire blood to breed the brilliant little mares which added an extra sparkle to the fast Dales trot. This resulted in the spectacular action of the good Dales ponies, without spoiling their abilities as farm workers and riding ponies

Early in this century, there was a tremendous demand for active “vanners” for town work and “gunners” for the Army. At this time, many fine Clydesdale stallions were traveling the districts, and using these on Dales mares to breed “vanners” gave the farmer a good return but was a threat to the pure breed. The Dales Pony Improvement Society was formed in 1916, and the Dales Pony Stud Book opened which ensured the preservation of the ponies. The Board of Agriculture offered Stallion Premiums after an inspection of the breed by Captain A. Campbell, who reported in a subsequent letter “Your breed has one superb asset, possessed of every specimen I saw, i.e. the most perfect foot in the British Isles”. The War Office also awarded Premiums and in 1923 and 1924 the Army took over 200 Dales ponies.  

Daddy's Lad - sire of Linnel Comet

The Army Buyer, General Bate, would not look at anything which showed the slightest sign of carthorse blood; every pony was over 14 hands, but under 14.2; not under 5 years; weighing half a ton, with a 68” girth, and able to carry 21 stones on a mountain. Dales ponies served overseas in both World Wars.

The Second World War nearly saw the end of the breed. Ponies were taken by the Army and mares were used for breeding “vanners”, and even the young mares were taken for work in the towns and cities. Few came back, and after the war the fate of the Dales breed lay in the hands of a few dedicated breeders who refused to believe the day of the heavy pony was over. In 1964, the Dales Pony Society was reorganized, and “Improvement” was dropped from the title. Ponies were sought and registered and a Grading-up Register was introduced for inspected ponies. This far-sighted action has been successful. When the Grading-up Register was closed in 1971, the number of registered ponies had risen steadily, and the quality of ponies was excellent, as it remains today.

                         Linnel Comet - foaled 1913

Dales Ponies were bred for a specific job in a harsh environment. When the job changed, they were successfully adapted for other uses, and today the ponies can demonstrate all the qualities and abilities which brought their forebears such renown. The combination of strength, agility, thrift, hardiness and high courage, with good conformation and a calm, intelligent nature, makes the Dales pony a first-class riding and driving pony with all the abilities of a true all-rounder.

Winning group of mares - London Show 1929  

White Heather II-foaled 1903-sire-Teasdale Comet  

(Photos courtesy of  England's Dales Pony Society Archives)

History of the DPSA

The Dales Pony Society of America (DPSA) is a sanctioned and authorized daughter Registry of the DPS (Dales Pony Society in the UK) for the United States of America.  It was founded  by Fredericka and George Wagner in 1999 after they imported 10 top quality Dales Ponies from the UK.  The registry has recently been turned into a non-profit corporation owned by the members.  Our thanks  go out to the Wagners for establishing this registry.

Teasdale Comet foaled in 1898