There's exciting news from Newfoundland and Labrador for those who are familiar with the hardy breed known as the Newfoundland Pony: a census has been announced to record the number of these hard-working little horses that can be found in the province today. The Newfoundland Pony Society has been gathering information for the past several months; it's believed that only about 400 Newfoundland ponies in North America today, with only about 250 available for breeding.
In the early 1970s, there were an estimated 12,000 members of this breed on the island; by the late 1980s the population had declined drastically to only about 100 animals. There were several factors at play: machinery was rapidly taking the place of draft animals for farm work, many municipalities had enacted laws that made it more difficult to keep livestock, especially using traditional "open range" grazing, and unwanted ponies were often sold, knowingly or unknowingly, to be used for meat, oftentimes for pet food.
The ponies are distinctive, small in stature, and sturdily built -- "all-purpose" animals that can be used for farming, riding, and hauling wood. Their characteristics, according to the Newfoundland Pony Society (a registered charity), include the following:
• good winter animal, all-around hardy
• structure can vary from fine-boned types to larger stocky types
• height can vary from 11.0 to 14.2 hands
• coat colour can be black, brown, chestnut, bay, dun, grey, roan and white (pink skin)
• coat is heavy and sometimes changes colour and character seasonally
• has a thick mane and tail – usually black
• has a low-set mane and tail
• has a short, broad head with small ears
• has flint hard hooves.
One development of the census appears to be that while the breed is still considered critically endangered, there are more ponies present in Newfoundland than had been previously thought; that's good news for those of us who are hoping for a comeback for this living, breathing part of Newfoundland and Labrador's cultural heritage!