History & Origins.
Modern Eriskay ponies are
the last surviving remnants of the original native ponies of the Western
Isles of Scotland. They have ancient Celtic and Norse connections and
Eriskays have been proven by measurement to be of similar proportions to
those found on ancient Pictish stones throughout the North and West of
the middle of the 19th Century ponies of the “Western Isles type” were
found throughout the islands and used as crofters ponies, undertaking
everyday tasks such as bringing home peat and seaweed in basket work
creels slung over their backs, pulling carts, harrowing and even taking
the children to school.
In some ways the ponies
were subject to “human” in addition to “natural” selection. The ponies had
evolved to survive on meagre food supplies, with coats, ears and tails
well adapted to coping with a harsh, wet and windy climate. Eriskays were
then subject to the forces of living in a society where women and children
did most of the work while the men were at sea. Poor temperaments could
not be tolerated. Only those ponies happy to live in close proximity with
their handlers, those willing to be trained and work hard, were retained.
Unsuitable specimens were culled. Over the centuries, the Eriskay ponies
evolved into the hardy, versatile, people friendly characters we recognise
On many of the islands
increasing mobility and farming pressures led to larger ponies becoming
fashionable. Norwegian Fjords, Arabs, Clydesdales and others were
introduced to “improve” the native stocks and produce larger, stronger
animals. On the remote island of Eriskay in the Western Isles, however,
due to difficulties with access, other breeds were not introduced, leaving
a stock of pure bred ponies which, due to mechnisation, had declined
to around 20 animals by the early 1970s.
It was at this time that
a dedicated group of people comprising a local priest, doctor, vet,
scientist and crofters, got together and decided to save the ponies whose
numbers were dangerously low. Through their hard work and the
establishment of breeding groups throughout the British Isles, numbers
have risen steadily and now there are around 420 Eriskays in the world.
The Eriskay Pony is
classed as critical by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust with whom the
Eriskay Pony Society works closely to ensure the long term survival of the
You can learn more about this breed from the
Eriskay Pony Society.