The hard-working and tragically bleak lives of pit ponies are getting some much-deserved attention at the National Coal Mining Museum in Yorkshire, England. The new Pony Discovery Centre is designed to tell the story of the thousands of ponies, horses and donkeys that toiled in awful underground conditions in the mines and provided transport above-ground.
The exhibit features a timeline following the history of the of pit ponies, who were first known to be working underground in the 1700s. According to the museum’s website, “By 1870, an estimated 200,000 horses were working in mines, but this number declined as technology improved.”
But aside from facts and figures about the coal mining industry and the ponies and horses who worked in it, the museum is also home to Eric and Ernie, two Welsh mountain ponies who arrived in 2007 after the RSPCA rescued them from an abandoned coalfield area, and a grey cob named Bud who arrived in 2017 as a four-year-old from another mining area.
Fortunately, neither Eric, Ernie or Bud had to endure working in a coalmine, but they are all of the size and breed who did over a century ago. The work itself was hard on them, the ponies were taken deep underground to pull heavy tubs of coal and move supplies, among other duties. The pit pony lived its entire life underground, coming to the surface only for a yearly holiday or if there was a miner’s strike.
“Our three ponies would likely have worked underground 100 years ago,” said the museum’s horsekeeper supervisor, Neil Beaumont. “Today they are ambassadors for the horses that did live and work in mines across the UK, helping us to illustrate the story of the thousands of horses who were vital to the coal mining industry.”
The museum also looks after a Clydesdale named Finn, who is typical of the type of horse that would have worked above-ground pulling the wagons that transported workers and coal.
To help offset the cost of the care of the ponies and Finn, the museum has created a pony adoption page on its website as well as an Amazon Wish List where you can purchase items like hoof ointment and treats to give to the ponies and Finn.