Highland Pony

Courtnee Morton, DVM
By Courtnee Morton, DVM on Nov. 29, 2023
Black highland pony

An ancient breed, the Highland pony is thought to have inhabited Scotland before the Ice Age, or been brought over by prehistoric nomads. Though small, the pony is used for pack duty and draft work, as well as for riding and jumping.

Physical Characteristics

Highland ponies are unique in their own right. With a well-balanced facial profile, stunning eyes, and proportionately set muzzle, the Highland pony is considered an attractive horse by most. Their winter coat is quite thick, but it slicks off well in the spring. Colors include shades of dun, grey, black, bay, and liver chestnut; some Highland horses even have tiger stripes on their limbs and dorsal stripes along the back. They have strong and nimble feet, which makes them ideal for packing through rough or steep terrain.

The Highland measures between 12.1 to 14.2 hands high (48-57 inches, 122-144 centimeters). Although short, they are typically hefty and can weigh up to 1300 pounds. Surprisingly, though, the Highland pony is capable of carrying heavy loads due to their sturdy build.

Personality and Temperament

The primary reason why Highland ponies were employed in pony trekking is for their calm and docile nature, which have now become inherent characteristics. They can be somewhat stubborn or pushy if untrained, as they are intelligent creatures that do best with a job.

History and Background

According to records, the Highland is one of the oldest horse breeds in existence; in fact, the ponies date back as far as the Ice Age. According to experts, there were originally two types of the Highland breed: the Scottish Mainland and Western Island. The distinction between the two lies in the size; the Scottish Mainland is generally larger than the Western Island.

The Highland horse has been used extensively throughout the course of history. Originally used by royalty as a symbol of status, both politically and economically, the Highland became even more popular in Scotland when pony trekking was introduced in 1955. This trend began in Newtonmore, where Scotland horses were the preferred breed for riding by tourists and travelers.

Today, the Highland horse breed is no less important. They can be found in almost all farms in Scotland. Highland horses are also consistent front-runners in the National Driving Trail Points Championship. In fact, a commission on this specific horse breed was created in 1986: the Highland Pony Society. This commission is in charge of exporting the famous horse breed to different countries. There are very few Highland ponies remaining in, with the estimate below 6000 worldwide.

Health and Care

Its ease of care has made the Highland one of the most common horse breeds in Scotland. Highland horses are also capable of adapting to harsh weather conditions, even cold winters that other horse breeds cannot. Because they are such easy keepers and on the smaller side, it is important to monitor food intake, especially if not in work as they are prone to obesity and other metabolic conditions which can also lead to laminitis. Otherwise, they typically have healthy hooves and often are maintained barefoot without shoes.

Featured Image: Sonya Kate Wilson/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Courtnee Morton, DVM


Courtnee Morton, DVM


Dr. Courtnee Morton is a 2017 Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine graduate. Since graduation, she completed an equine internship...

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