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.