Visitors to the Orono Fair will get a chance to see specimens of a rare breed of pony as two local breeders bring their ponies to participate in classes at the fair’s horse show. John and Jan Scanlon of Bowmanville, and Barb King and Rick Hurvid of Kendal, have all said they plan to enter some of their Newfoundland Ponies in a number of the pony classes.
The Newfoundland Pony is a unique Canadian breed, recognized by the Newfoundland government under its provincial Heritage Animals Act. According to the Newfoundland Pony Society (NPS), a registered charity responsible for getting the breed recognized in that province, the pony’s ancestors arrived in Newfoundland with early settlers from the British Isles.
Over the centuries with little outside influence, the hardiest of these early pony immigrants to the province interbred and eventually evolved into the Newfoundland Pony. Over that same time, they became an integral part of daily life for Newfoundlanders, who relied on the ponies to plough gardens; haul fishing nets, kelp and wood; gather hay; and provide their families with transportation about the Island.
Then, from an estimated population of 12,000 prior to the 1970s, pony numbers dropped to fewer than 100 in the 1980s, according to the NPS. The rapid population decline was due to a number of factors: machinery took over the jobs once performed by the ponies; municipal by-laws were enacted that affected breeding by limiting the availability of pastures; owners were encouraged to geld their stallions; and thousands of Newfoundland Ponies were sold to meat processing plants in Quebec, which then sold the meat to Belgium and France for human consumption.
The Heritage Act, passed in 1997, made it illegal to transport Newfoundland Ponies off the Island without export permits. This ensured that ponies leaving the island headed only to breeders and pony lovers – not meat packing plants, according to the NPS.
John Scanlon, a board member of the Newfoundland Pony Breed Association (NPBA), said the pony is still not officially recognized as a breed. The breeders association has been working to get the pony recognized by the Canadian government under the Animal Pedigree Act.
“If the Newfoundland Pony achieved breed status, it would be recognized federally and this would help the breed survive,” said Scanlon. In the meanwhile, the Newfoundland Pony continues to be identified as a critically endangered species by Rare Breeds Canada, he said.
With fewer than 300 breedable mares, these ponies need federal recognition now as a breed before it is too late, he said. As the slogan on the NPS website put it, “Extinction is forever.”
Scanlon, and his wife Jan, own Highland Creek Farm on the 8th Concession and Bethesda Rd., just outside of Tyrone, in north Bowmanville. They have ten Newfoundland Ponies at their farm, including two stallions and five breedable mares. Scanlon said that all of the ponies they have bought have come directly from Newfoundland.
“When I bought one of our ponies, I bought him and his sleigh. He was actually being used to haul wood out of the forest,” he said. “But most of these ponies are no longer used for pulling. They are mostly used to ride and to show. They can go in every class at shows: hunter, jumper, carting, and regular classes.”
The Scanlons have been busy promoting the breed, including showing their ponies at the Royal Winter Fair and the Lindsay Fair. This year, they are hosting the “Spirit of the Horse” booth for their breed to inform the public about the attributes and history of the Newfoundland Pony.
Ranging in height from 11 to 14 hands high, and weighing between 400 and 800 pounds, the Newfoundland Pony can come in a range of colours from black, to brown, to roan, to grey. “All are compact in build and move with very neat steps. Except for the common low-set tail and the close forelegs, some strong resemblance exists to various modern British breeds of mountain and moorland ponies,” noted the NPBA website.
“They are very hardy, they have a wonderful gait, and they have a naturally intelligent nature. They are so willing and obedient,” said Scanlon.
If you’ve never seen a Newfoundland Pony and yet it sounds familiar to you, it may be because it was recently featured on a stamp issued by Canada Post to recognize the contribution of the pony to the early settlement of Newfoundland.
Harry Hutchings, President of the NPS, said in a statement from Canada Post, that the stamp ensures the breed will have a permanent place in Canadian history. “I am particularly pleased to see the Newfoundland Pony shown on the stamp against the rough cliffs of Newfoundland” he said. “It reflects the harsh climate where these Ponies survived and worked for the benefit of our ancestors.”
Now it is the breeders who are working hard for the benefit of the ponies. Besides the Scanlons, Barb King and Rick Hurvid at the Homestead Hills Equestrian Centre on Jewel Rd. in Kendal are also trying to save the rare ponies.
With 12 to 15 ponies on their farm, King and Hurvid are breeding the ponies too. Hurvid, like Scanlon, is a board member of the NPBA. “We’re the only two farms in this area that have Newfoundland Ponies,” said Jan Scanlon, as both farms were preparing to show at the Orono Fair. They hope that as they spread the word about the breed, those numbers – along with the numbers of Newfoundland Ponies – will go up.