More on Galloways and "local" horses and ponies


"Not only does there exist the diversity of what may be termed natural breeds, but those further differences produced by the greater or less degree of breeding communicated to individuals. Many remain with little or no admixture of the blood of the Race-Horse, and so may be regarded as native breeds or families..." (Low, 1846)

Low mentions first the Shetland (which he calls the Zetland), Orkney, and Hebridean (mainly Mull, Barra, and Islay). He then mentions that:

"The same kind of horses extends to the neighbouring parts of Argyleshire, and, with some change of characters, dependent on the greater elevation and productiveness of the heathy pastures, through all the central and northern Highlands. The prevailing colour is a dull brownish-black. They have abundant hair, stout limbs, and short pasterns. They have good feet, and are sure-footed and hardy in the highest degree. They are well suited for climbing mountains, and manifest great sagacity in making their way through swamps and bogs; but they are lazy and slow, and altogether destitute of the fire and mettle distinctive of the Arabs, the Barbs, and other horses of warmer climates. They are carried in considerable numbers to the low country, where they are valued for their power of subsisting on scanty food, and enduring careless treatment."

He praises the Welsh mountain ponies, though not so much the heavier horses of the lower land; passes rapidly over the Dartmoor - "a race of ponies, of coarse inelegant figures, but hardy, sure-footed, and capable of undergoing extreme drudgery" and Exmoor - "a similar race, but of somewhat smaller size" while the New Forest ponies are "ugly, large-headed, and short necked, but hardy, sure-footed, and capable of bearing careless usage".

"...over all the ancient wastes and forests of England, formerly covering the larger part of the surface of the country, were reared varieties of horses, the size and strength of which bore a relation to the quality and abundance of the natural herbage. Sometimes they were of the pony size, falling short of twelve hands high ; sometimes they reached fourteen hands, and in rarer cases fifteen. They were of coarse form, with short hairy limbs, and were capable of much drudgery, but were destitute of elegance, and unsuited for speed. From this class were derived the older Pack-horses, which were used throughout the country before roads were formed, and which, until late in the last century, were the most numerous class of horses employed for draught or riding. They were good drudges, hardy and sure-footed, but wanted action and lightness for the saddle; while, for the purposes of labour, they were inferior to the larger horses now employed. Numbers of this very ordinary kind of horses are yet to be seen in Cornwall and other hilly parts of England. In the high parts of Devonshire they are still employed in carrying loads. They are numerous likewise in Ireland, and in parts of Scotland; and wherever they exist, exhibit that form which the greater part of the horses of these Islands possessed.

"A variety of horses, differing from the ordinary pack-horses in their greater lightness and elegance of figure, were termed Galloways. They exceeded the pony size, and were greatly valued for their activity and bottom. They were derived from the countries near the Solway Firth ; and an opinion frequently expressed is, that they had been early improved by horses saved from the wreck of the Armada. There is nothing beyond tradition to support this opinion, and it is known that the Horses of Galloway were distinguished long before the age of the Armada.

"The nature of the country, mountainous, but not heathy and barren, may account for the production of a larger race of ponies, without our resorting to the supposition of foreign descent, just as the same country at the present time produces a peculiar breed of cattle, larger than those of the higher mountains, but smaller than those of the richer plains. Besides, this part of Scotland was a country of forays during the rude border wars of the times, when a more agile race than the ordinary pack-horse was naturally sought for; and all along the borders of the two kingdoms, a class of similar properties existed.

"Many of the true Galloways of the western counties were handsome, and their general characteristic was activity, and the power of enduring fatigue. In former times this breed was in great demand in England, and the people of the country where they were produced, up to a period not very distant, were noted as horse-dealers.

"In England the term Galloway came at length to be applied to horses of a particular size, without reference to their origin, and this application of the word is still in use. The term Pony is applied to Horses of twelve hands or less, the term Galloway, to those of about fourteen hands. The finer kinds of Galloways have long disappeared in the district which formerly produced them, the farmers having cultivated a race of larger size for the purposes of labour." (Low, 1846)

Importantly, Low's description makes it clear that there is a distinction between the Galloway and the Connemara ponies of Galway, Ireland, of which he says that "all their characters are essentially Spanish. They are from twelve to fourteen hands high, generally of the prevailing chestnut colour of the Andalusian horses, delicate in their limbs, and possessed of the form of head characteristic of the Spanish race."

He adds that the ponies of Connemara are "hardy, active, sure-footed in a remarkable degree, and retain the peculiar amble of the Spanish Jennet." Since he notes this peculiarity in the Irish ponies but not the Galloways it is fair to assume that not only did he not consider them the same type, but also that the Galloways and other British horse breeds he knew in the mid 19th century all moved "square".