wild horse breeds

Wild Horse Breeds Of The UK: 6 Primitive Ponies

Hold on tight as we head on an exciting journey through the untamed lands of the United Kingdom, where you can see wild horses galloping freely across the landscapes. In this wild ride, we’ll show you six extraordinary primitive ponies, each with its history and own story to tell.

Get ready to uncover the majestic world of these magnificent beasts (although I like to think of them as ‘beauties’).

So saddle up and let’s ride through some of these untamed horses, where their hoofbeats have echoed for centuries!

What Is A Wild Horse?

To begin with, and to avoid confusion, wild horses in the UK are often referred to as ‘ponies’ due to their smaller size when compared to the usual domesticated horse. These horses are not domesticated horses and are quite literally, well, wild.

These feral horses typically live in natural habitats such as open plains, forests, or mountains. They have certain traits and behaviours that are specific to their untamed (and unruly) natures. While over the years, these four-legged fellas have become somewhat tame, they still can have a wild streak.


The history of true wild horses in the UK goes back thousands of years, across cultural, historical, and ecological landscapes. Archaeological evidence tells us their presence has been traced back to the Paleolithic Era (that’s roughly 2.6 million to 10,000 years ago!). These ancient roaming horses were part of the diverse fauna of what is known as the UK today.

While the evidence is scarce, Ancient Britons, the early human inhabitants of the area, likely interacted with these wild breeds. They would’ve used them for transport and to travel across long and rugged terrains. The strength of these resilient horses would have been perfect for steering the harsh environment that they were used to.

The feral horses’ untamed spirit likely resonated with early humans. This later laid the foundation, through selective breeding, for these wild four-legged “friends” to become (modern) domesticated horses.


  • Strong and muscular builds
  • Agile and swift runners
  • Excellent endurance
  • Adaptable to different terrains and climates
  • Natural herd instincts and social structures
  • Alertness – a survival tactic!
  • Natural self-defence mechanisms (think of the “fight or flight” mode)

Types Of Wild Horse Breeds In The UK

The Exmoor Pony

  • Origin: Exmoor
Exmoor pony

The Exmoor Pony is a stocky, compact breed only found in Exmoor, an area in southwest England. It is believed to be one of the oldest horses in the world.

They were first used by Ancient Britons for transport and farming. Their dense double coat allows these feral horses to withstand harsh weather and are able to navigate rough terrains with ease. One of their most distinctive features is their “mealy” (lighter coat colour) markings, seen on the muzzle, around the eyes, and the inside of their ears.

Over the years, Exmoors have faced a couple of problems such as; habitat loss, human intervention, and changes in land management practices, resulting in fewer ponies. But conservation organisations, such as The Exmoor Pony Society have really come to the party helping to keep the breed in their natural environment.

Welsh Mountain Pony

  • Origin: Wales
Wesh x clydesdale

The Welsh Mountain Pony, also known as the Welsh Pony or Welsh Section A, holds a special place in every Welshman’s heart. These feral horses have played an important part in Welsh culture and heritage for centuries.

Welsh ponies have been used for; working in mines, carrying loads, farming, and transport. But don’t let their small build and short legs fool you, these ponies are incredibly hardworking and adaptable.

Welsh ponies are also known for their natural jumping ability (can you believe it?) and are often successful in show jumping and competitive driving.

This breed also has conservation groups that are on their side; such as The Welsh Pony and Cob Society who work to maintain breeding standards and organise shows and competitions.

New Forest Pony

  • Origin: New Forest, Hampshire
New forest pony

The New Forest Pony is a breed of horse that holds a special place in New Forest history, an area in Hampshire England. It’s believed to be one of the oldest and purest breeds of native ponies in the UK.

These ponies are known for their distinctive appearances; typically around 12 – 14 hands tall with coat colours varying from bay, chestnut, grey and roan.

One amazing aspect about these ponies is their semi-feral nature. Some ponies are owned by local farmers who have grazing rights in New Forest, allowing them to roam free throughout the year.

New Forests have an incredible knack for speed; regularly used for racing events despite their bulky and strong builds.

Highland Pony

  • Origin: Scotland
Highland ponies

Highland Ponies are strong and versatile breeds native to the Scottish Highlands, known for their strength and endurance. They are the biggest of the mountain and native Moorland ponies. They have a compact yet muscular build, with a deep chest, broad back and strong legs.

Their dense double coat provides excellent protection against harsh weather conditions; typical to the Highland area.

Historically, this feral horse was a workhorse; pulling carts, ploughing fields and transporting goods. But in recent years, they have gained recognition in various equestrian sports such as; driving, dressage, jumping and endurance riding.

Their intelligent and friendly nature makes them suitable for a range of equestrian activities.

Dartmoor Pony

  • Origin: Devon, England
Dartmoor pony

Dartmoor ponies are known for their ability to survive in tough conditions of the Moorland, with their sturdy build, strong frame and muscular body. Their dense coats helped protect these feral horses from the harsh environments that they so were so used to back in the day.

Known for their strength and endurance, Dartmoor ponies were first used for farmwork, herding livestock on Dartmoor’s unforgiving terrain. Nowadays the Dartmoor ponies are well-respected domesticated horses; used in riding, driving, and even showing! Their gentle nature and intelligence make them the suitable riding type, for riders of all skill levels.

Shetland Pony

  • Origin: Scotland
Shetland pony

While these little ponies do look quite comical with their short legs and wavy fringe blowing in the wind, do not let their appearance fool you. Even though this four-legged feral horse, native to Scotland, is one of the smallest pony breeds in the world, they sure do make up for it in personality!

These miniature ponies were first used to work on local Scottish farms but have since captured the hearts of many horse enthusiasts around the world. Their gentle and friendly nature makes them ideal for both children and adults.

Despite their small and compact size, Shetlands are incredibly strong and have often been used for driving sports, where they easily showcase their strength and agility.

Uses of Wild Horses

Today, we’ve tamed the previously untamable and used these domesticated animals in various industries.

Shaping natural habitats

Feral horses play an important role in their natural habitats, contributing to the overall ecosystem. Grazing, trampling, wallowing, and scenting benefit a wide range of species.

These wild equines much prefer to eat coarser grasses and herbs; breaking up thick grasslands into shorter ‘lawns’. Being bulk grazers, they eat loads of food every day, which is where the popular saying “eat like a horse” comes from!

While horses are non-ruminant mammals (meaning they have one stomach chamber as opposed to cows who have four!), their grazing habits help manage woody vegetation. They do this by debarking certain trees and shrubs, stopping the woody vegetation from stretching into open grassland areas.

Another habitat-shaping skill is their wallowing behaviour in dry and sandy soil. This plays an important role for different insect species that thrive in warm conditions. Insects such as pollinating bees and wasps rely on these sandy ‘ditches’ made by wild horses for nesting, basking and burrowing.


Wild horse herds that have been domesticated have been used for centuries as a means of transport. Their strength, endurance, and agility make them well-suited for travelling long distances, especially in tough terrains where carts are impractical.

Ancient Britons likely harnessed these wild horses back in the day for carrying goods and people across long distances.

Agriculture and fieldwork

Wild horses (once tamed) have also been known for their strong capabilities in a variety of agricultural and “hard labour” jobs. Their natural strength makes pulling heavy loads and ploughing fields look easy!


We’ve seen pictures of horses in history books for as long as we can remember. Feral horse breeds have always played an important role in military and warfare, proudly carrying soldiers onto the battlefield.


Another use of these tamed horses is for hunting, helping in chasing and capturing game animals. Their speed, endurance and quick moveability allowed hunters to keep up and successfully capture prey.

Also, these horses were particularly useful when having to carry heavy loads of captured animals back to early human settlements.


While at first thought you wouldn’t picture horses in a mining shaft, you would find them in regions rich in mineral resources such as Wales. Wild horse breeds were often used to carry heavy loads of ore, minerals, and other materials thanks to their naturally strong builds.


What is the Mongolian Wild Horse?

The Mongolian Wild Horse, also known as the Przewalski’s Horse, is a unique and endangered feral horse, native to the steppes of Central Asia, particularly Mongolia and China. The Przewalski’s horse was named after the Russian explorer, Nikolai Przewalski who first discovered these feral horses in the late 19th century.

These horses have a stocky build, upright mane, and a dun-coloured coat and it’s the only (true) wild horse breed in the world that has never been domesticated!

Where would you find a Namib Desert Horse?

The Namib Desert Horse is the only feral horse breed found in Africa, in the Namib Desert in Nambia. Its ancestors were likely a mix of riding and cavalry horses, including those from German breeding programs during World War I.

Where do Arabian Horses come from?

The Arabian Horse, or Arab horse, originated on the Arabian Peninsula in the Middle East and is one of the oldest horse breeds in the world, dating back 4500 years!

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