Many of us began our riding journey on a pony. Ponies, as we know, can teach young riders many things, including how to fall off. Adorable, sturdy, tough, and sometimes opinionated, there is no question that ponies are loved throughout the world.

But did you know about Canada’s own breed of pony, the Newfoundland Pony? If the Newfoundland Pony Society (NPS) has anything to do with it, every Canadian will know and grow to love and cherish our native pony.

However, the Newfoundland Pony is considered a critically endangered species. The NPS is hoping to change that. The group was created in the fall of 1979, when a group of concerned pony owners held a public meeting in St. John’s to discuss the plight of the ponies. The group’s first victory in preserving the breed came when it convinced the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador that the Newfoundland Pony was a living part of the province’s cultural history and as such, required legal protection before there were too few ponies to maintain a healthy population. This initiative resulted in the Heritage Animals Act being passed on December 19, 1996. The Newfoundland Pony and the Newfoundland Pony Society received their official designation under this Act on September 15, 1997.

Known for its strength, courage, intelligence, obedience, and common sense, Newfoundland Ponies are also hard workers and easy keepers and are a breed unique to the province. But where did they come from originally?

According to the NPS, the ancestors of the Newfoundland Pony arrived with the island’s earliest settlers from the British Isles and were primarily Exmoor, Dartmoor and New Forest ponies and to a lesser extent, Welsh Mountain, Galloway (now extinct), Highland and Connemara ponies. Isolated from the rest of the world, the ponies intermingled for hundreds of years, breeding in the seclusion of Newfoundland’s coves to produce a sturdy pony uniquely its own.

Throughout its history, the Newfoundland Pony ploughed gardens, hauled fishing nets, kelp and wood, gathered hay and provided their families with transportation around the island. “The centre piece of many weddings in fact, was often a pony and a carriage that proudly carried the bride to the church on her wedding day,” says Korrine Affleck, councilor-at-large for the NPS.

Korrine Affleck, councilor-at-large for the NPS with Captain Sweetapple. “He is 16 years old and has sired six ponies that I am aware of. He is my heart horse.” (photo courtesy Korrine Affleck)

Affleck explains that during the 1960s, there were an estimated 12,000 Ponies on the island of Newfoundland. Throughout the next few years community bylaws changed which mandated that ponies could no longer roam free and had to be kept in fenced gardens. This led to hundreds of stallions being gelded and natural breeding came to an abrupt halt. Around the same time, three- and four-wheel ATVs took the place of what was once pony work for several decades before. By the 1980’s there were fewer than 100 ponies remaining following horse dealers shipping ponies to mainland slaughter plants. There, they were destined for the dinner tables of France and Belgium. According to records, in 1980 alone approximately 700 ponies were shipped out of the province to Quebec.

Fast-forward to today and thanks to the work of the NPS, it is estimated that the current Newfoundland Pony population is between 500-600 animals in Canada and the U.S. But, says Affleck, “Many are gelded or aged mares, so not suitable for breeding purposes.” However, she explains, an ongoing effort on the part of concerned individuals from across Canada has stabilized the population.

Affleck says that with so few breeding animals, great efforts are put into the program. “Often ponies travel between provinces in effort to diversify bloodlines and breed underused lines,” she says, adding. “It is estimated that there are somewhere between 400 and 500 ponies, approximately 250 of breeding age. The past few years before Covid there were about 20 foals born each year but that had dropped in the past two years.”

Korrine and her partner own nine Newfoundland Ponies that they keep on their farm. “We do ride them, as the bigger ponies are well-suited for adult riders,” she explains. “We have shown our ponies is the past, but our focus is on breed preservation.” As part of this goal, Korrine promotes the heritage breed by participating in events to showcase the ponies. “[We show the ponies] doing traditional work such as hauling wood, but they are also involved in equine therapy programs, riding and shows.”

If the NPS had to isolate the main issue with breed preservation it would be a lack of community grazing. “We need provincial government policies around crown land and agricultural land that will preserve the Pony’s habitat,” explains Libby Carew, who handles media for the NPS. “It is called the “Rock” for a reason, and we need grazing land for the pony so people can afford to keep them.”

To that end, a large-scale effort was announced by the Newfoundland Pony Society to create a permanent home and showcase area for the pony called the Newfoundland Pony Heritage Park near Hopeall, Trinity Bay. The plans call for the park to be located near Hopeall, Trinity Bay on 25 acres of land acquired from the Provincial Government on a 50-year agricultural lease. The project will provide grazing pasture, breeding space, and an opportunity for visitors to see and experience this special pony, which has been vital to the survival of Newfoundlanders over the centuries. Plans also include a visitor centre with storyboards and an outreach program for schools. NPS also envisions having the ponies display traditional activities such as hauling rocks or logs in a demonstration area.

“We are approaching corporate partners as we build out the public programming for the Park, which will include opportunities for outdoor learning for children,” says Carew. “We haven’t ruled out speaking to Parks Canada as well. This could be like the Dartmoor National Park in the U.K.”

The campaign kicked off in late 2020 with a fundraising goal of $250,000 over two years. The group have raised $49,000 to date and fencing was completed on part of the 25 acres of pasture. Carew adds that with life returning to a sense of normalcy with vaccinations, the group plans to host public fundraising events. “We want to do farm days at the Park and themed dinners,” she says.

If you’d like to help the NPS and Newfoundland Ponies, you can reach out directly via their website and plan a fundraiser event of your own, or make a donation.

Newfoundland Pony Fun Facts:

  • They have unique physical survival traits: their hooded eyes keep snow, rain and pests out; their tails are low set to allow rain and snow to fall off easily and their ears are small and furry to help prevent frostbite and keep bugs out.
  • Some Newfoundland Ponies change colors – and quite dramatically with the seasons! Gray “Radical Changers” change to white in spring and gray roan in summer and winter months. White “Radical Changers” stay white in spring months and change to bay roan in summer and winter months.
  • Newfoundland ponies have hard hooves, thick hairy winter coats and long hairy manes and tails. Their height ranges between 11 to 14 hands high and their weight range is between 400 to 800 lbs. Many of the ponies are short and stocky with hairy legs but some are a finer boned.
  • Newfoundland Ponies are smart, friendly, hardy, easy keepers and easy to train in multiple disciplines.
  • They were listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ by Rare Breeds Canada in 2015 which is now called Heritage Livestock Canada.
  • The Newfoundland Pony Society maintains an official Registry of known Newfoundland Ponies. Registering each pony helps protect the pony and keep track of ownership changes.