The Eriskay Pony
History of the Eriskay Pony
Article – General Interest for students
Eriskay Ponies – formerly known as the Western Isles ponies – have a history stretching way back in time. They are closely connected to the ponies of Celtic and Norse origin and indeed have been proven by measurement to be of similar proportions to those found on ancient Pictish stones throughout the North and West of Scotland.
These hardy little ponies, so beautifully camouflaged in their native Hebridean habitat, so perfectly adapted to the harsh winter conditions of the Atlantic Seaboard, so amenable and keen to be a part of the working community, were – and arguably still area – an essential part of the lives of the Hebridean crofters.
As the back door friend and working pony of the people of the Western Isles, Eriskay ponies would commonly be used to carry seaweed from the shore and peat from the moors in basketwork creels slung in pairs across the ponies backs, as well as undertaking everyday tasks such as pulling carts, harrowing and even taking the children to school.
Due to farming pressures and increased mechanisation, stocks of pure bred Western Isles ponies gradually dwindled over time. Eriskay was the only island to have held on to its pony heritage in its purest form. Other Islands, perhaps due to the pressures of farming, perhaps due to popular demand at the time, had begun to cross breed the island ponies in order to produce larger animals. The crofters on the island of Eriskay did not introduce any ‘foreign’ breeds to their ponies, so their stock of Western Isles Ponies remained pure. Because Eriskay was the only island to protected the Western Isle Ponies in their purest form, the name Eriskay Pony was adopted to describe the breed.
General Appearance of the Eriskay Pony
The Eriskay Pony stands 124-138cm (12.0-13.2 hands) high. Their legs are fine with only a small tuft of hair at the fetlock. Eriskay ponies are strong and powerful for their size and carry small adults as well as children with ease.
The predominant colour is grey, with the occasional black or bay. Foals who are born bay often lighten through shades of strawberry roan before maturing to a light grey colour. Youngsters may show classic snowy, silvery steel-grey markings on their faces. No other colours occur. In winter a dense waterproof coat enables them to live out in the harshest conditions.
Their nasal cavities are long and the low set nostrils allow icy air to be warmed before reaching the lungs. The forelock and mane are typically dense and woolly. The tail is low set and discreet.
Eriskay ponies were the ‘friend and working pony’ of the Hebridean Crofters. They are generally curious, friendly sensible animals who enjoy human company, but individuals, as with all native mountain and moorland breeds have their own personalities and traits.
Uses for the Eriskay Pony
Today, Eriskay Ponies can be seen competing in all spheres of equestrianism. Members of the Eriskay Pony Society regularly take part in activities such as hunting, dressage, show jumping, driving, cross country, pony club eventing, team games and western riding. Although they stand between 12.0 and 13.2hh they are strong for their size, have terrific stamina and can carry a light adult with ease. They make excellent all round family ponies and are also used as RDA ponies.