Traditionally called ponies, Dales are big enough and strong enough to really be small horses. They usually are below the traditional pony upper limit of 14.3 hands high at the withers, but occasionally there is a bigger individual, even up to 15.3 hands. (A hand equals four inches.) But no matter how tall Dales ponies actually is, their presence makes them seem enormous.
Dales are optimists and many individuals tend to have a streak of mischief. When riding one on the trails, if the rider isn’t paying attention, the Dales may zero in on a tree trunk or a blackberry bramble just to give the rider’s leg a teasing rap or poke. But if the rider fell off, the Dales would stop and calmly graze until the rider got back on. It’s this kind of spirit that makes Dales not only a great animal to work with, but also makes the Dales a better riding instructor than most people.
As their name suggests, Dales ponies were bred in the “dales” or the Pennine and very hilly regions of England. According to International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds (University of Oklahoma Press, 1995), their ancestors included many now extinct breeds such as the local Pennine pony, the Scotch Galloway, the Wilson Pony and the Norfolk Trotter. One of the Dales’ early ancestors is still around – the Friesian.
Later on in the 1700’s and 1800’s, some other breeds would be added, including Clydesdales, small Thoroughbreds and Welsh Cobs. It wasn’t until 1916 that a registry was formed. The Dales became popular for crossing with other breeds that made great all-purpose animals. By 1916, with World War I raging, there were not many Dales ponies left and an effort had to be made in order to save the few that were left.
And then came World War II, which nearly wiped out many European horse breeds, including the Dales. By 1955, only four Dales were left. Breeding just with those four would soon prove disastrous, so ponies of other breeds were allowed in the register as long they passed conformation requirements. The breed has recovered spectacularly without sacrificing any good qualities.
Dales are usually described as small Friesians in different colors, but their legs and necks do contain the pony proportions. Their manes and tails, although very thick, are usually not as thick and wild and as a Friesian’s. They do have an incredible, high-stepping, lively trot and were originally more in demand as a harness pony than a riding pony.
Dales tend to always look curious or as if they were plotting something. This may be due to their very active small ears, wide eyes with long lashes and inquisitively twitching upper lips. The profiles of their heads tend to be straight, but occasionally a convex profile appears. Their forelocks usually grow down past their eyes unless trimmed.
“Storey’s Illustrated Guide to 96 Horse Breeds of North America;” Judith Dutson; 2005.
“The International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds;” Bonnie Hendricks; 1995
“The Ultimate Horse Book;” Elwyn Hartley-Edwards; 1991.
The British Horse. “Dale Pony Breed.”
Dales Pony Association of North America