About The Newfoundland Pony

History of the Pony

The Newfoundland Pony is known for its strength, courage, intelligence, obedience, and common sense. Newfoundland Ponies are hard workers and easy keepers and are a breed unique to this province. 

The ancestors of the Newfoundland Pony arrived with the Island’s early settlers from the British Isles. They were primarily, Exmoor, Dartmoor and New Forest ponies and to a lesser extent, Welsh Mountain, Galloway (now extinct), Highland and Connemara ponies. They were hardy creatures who were already well adapted to the harsh climate of the islands of the North Atlantic. 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 our own.

In the past, 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. In the 1970s and ‘80s, the ponies were replaced by tractor power, cars and ATVs. It cost money to feed and keep a pony and many Newfoundlanders could not afford to keep them. When the Province brought in anti-roaming animal by-laws, it meant that fences had to be built to keep ponies in. This added even more expense to keeping a pony with the loss of the common ground for grazing. 

The darkest part of the Newfoundland Pony’s history was during this period when horse dealers combed the island looking for ponies to ship 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. To protect this special and historic pony, the Newfoundland Government has recognized it as a Heritage Animal. It is estimated that the current Newfoundland Pony population is between 500-600 animals in Canada and the U.S. Many are gelded or aged mares, so not suitable for breeding purposes. An ongoing effort on the part of concerned individuals from across Canada has stabilized the population. However, the Newfoundland Pony continues to be identified as a critically endangered species.

Today, the Newfoundland Pony is used for riding, driving and light work. They have an excellent temperament for young people to ride and excel under saddle, and in harness. 

Near Extinction

The later part of the twentieth century has not been kind to the Newfoundland Pony. While once a necessity for rural and outport families, increased modernization has made the traditional role of the Newfoundland pony obsolete.

From an estimated population of 12,000 in the 1970s, pony numbers dropped to fewer than 100 in the 1980s. The population declined rapidly due to a number of factors:

  • machinery took over the jobs once performed by the ponies;
  • municipal by-laws were enacted limiting breeding and the eliminating open pasturing through no-roaming animal laws;
  • owners were encouraged to have stallions gelded; 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.

This exceptional animal, that for over 400 years had helped Newfoundlanders secure a place in the New World, almost disappeared. Had it not been for a number of dedicated individual breeders and pony protection groups, the Newfoundland Pony would have become extinct.

In 1997, the provincial government of Newfoundland, in recognition of the potential extinction of Newfoundland’s unique pony, passed the Heritage Animals Act of Newfoundland and Labrador. This Act provided legal protections to the Newfoundland Pony by making it illegal to transport Newfoundland Ponies off the Island without export permits. This ensured that ponies leaving the island were headed only to breeders and pony lovers – not meat packing plants. The Act also designated the Newfoundland Pony Society as the public group responsible for registering, promoting and protecting the Newfoundland Pony.

Of the Newfoundland Ponies that remain, many are geldings and aged mares. The number of ponies able to carry on the breed is relatively small – approximately 250. The population is spread across Canada, with the majority of the ponies located in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Ontario. An ongoing effort on the part of concerned individuals has stabilized the Newfoundland Pony population. However, the Newfoundland Pony continues to be classified as critically endangered.


Applicant ponies must conform to the following standards in order to be registered as a Newfoundland Pony by the Newfoundland Pony Society:

  • Demonstrates and/or documents ancestry to the Newfoundland Pony, acceptable to the Society;
  • Has a good temperament, is docile and easy to work with;
  • Is a good winter animal, being all around hardy;
  • Is sure-footed;
  • Has a structure that can vary from fine-boned types to larger stocky types;
  • Has a height that can vary from 11.0 to 14.2 hands;
  • Has a coat colour of bay, black, brown, chestnut, dun, grey, roan and white . Piebalds and skewbalds (pintos) are not acceptable;
  • Has a heavy coat which sometimes changes colour and character seasonally;
  • Has a thick mane and tail;
  • Has a low set of tail;
  • Has feathered fetlocks with hair extending below fetlock points;
  • Has flint hard hooves;
  • Typically have dark limb points. White or light colour on limbs is acceptable;
  • Is free of defects which might endanger the ability to live a normal, healthy life.

These standards may vary in the event that a more detailed survey of the breed carried out at a later date shows evidence of any discrepancy.

Pony Facts

Did you know?

1. They evolved from ponies that settlers brought with them from the British Isles sometime in the 1600’s including 8 breeds including Connemara, Dartmoor, Exmoor, Fell, Galloway, Highland, New Forest, and Welsh pony.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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 pones 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.

5. They were listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ by Rare Breeds Canada in 2015 which is now called Heritage Livestock Canada.

6. In 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 as many were shipped off the island to auction and consequently meat buyers along with horses.

7. 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. 8. There is a need for community grazing land in Newfoundland for the ponies. There are a few community pastures on the island, which are maintained annually by a team of pony volunteers to ensure that repairs are addressed prior to opening each year.