The Fell Pony Museum: 17th century
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The Galloway - 1800s onward

Culley's Observations on Live Stock

Culley, from Northumberland, remarked in 1807:

The SCOTCH HORSES like the Welch are exceedingly hardy but too small for the draught, except the Clydesdale horses &c taken notice of before. Those properly called galloways are now rarely to be met with, from an inexcuseable inattention to the breed, which is nearly lost. From their name we may suppose they originated in the county of Galloway, and it is generally said was owing to crossing with the Spanish horses... there is much probability in the account, but whether true or not, is not so material, as the loss of so valuable a breed of little horses is to be lamented.

Agriculture in Galloway 1810

A notable book on the early agriculture of Galloway, is the Rev. Sam. Smith's "General View of the Agriculture of Galloway" published in 1810.

Galloway formerly possessed a breed of horses peculiar to itself, and in high estimation for the saddle; being, though small, exceedingly hardy and active. Accustomed to a rugged and mountainous country, and never employed in the draught, they were sure-footed and travelled with spirit in very bad roads. They were of a larger size than the ponies of Wales, or the shelties of the north, being from twelve to fourteen hands high. It is reported that this breed originated from Spanish horses, which escaped from a vessel of the Armada, that had been wrecked on the shores of Galloway : but it appears probable from some passages in Shakespeare, that the Galloway horses were in repute at an earlier period. And as no sufficient evidences are on record, that such a breed ever did exist, it is more natural to account for their peculiar excellence from qualities in the soil and climate, or from the state of the country in former times. The soils of Galloway, in their unimproved state, are evidently adapted for rearing such a breed of horses as has been described; and in the moor and mountainous part of the country, a few are still to be found. But in former times, when the inhabitants were engaged in constant predatory warfare, greater value would be attached to animals so very light and active, peculiarly adapted to climb over high and rugged mountains, and to endure fatigue, cold and hunger in a very great degree. From the hardships they had to undergo, none but such as were thriving and hardy would survive till they reached maturity. And the breed being thus constantly purged of all those of less hardy constitutions, would attain to that excellence for which it has been justly praised. It cannot be denied, however, that such of the true Galloways as still remain, resemble the Spanish horses in some very characteristic features, particularly in their faces. This similarity makes it very probable, that although the breed of Galloways be not indebted for its origin, yet it has received material improvement from such a circumstance as has been mentioned.

It is much to be regretted that this ancient breed is now almost lost. This has been occasioned chiefly by the desire of farmers to breed horses of greater weight, and better adapted for the draught; and from the little value attached, in times of tranquillity, to horses well calculated for predatory excursions.

Those which have a considerable portion of the old blood are easily distinguished by smallness of head and neck, and cleanness of bone, not usual in draught horses. They are generally of a light bay or brown, and their legs black.

The higher districts of Galloway are well adapted for rearing ponies of the medium size above mentioned; and where attention is given to the breed, which however, is too seldom the case, they are commonly excellent. But when tillage came to be an object of importance, and particularly after the introduction of wheel carriages, farmers perceived the advantage of a larger breed, and accordingly turned their attention more to enlarge the size, than to improve the shape, or spirit and activity of the animal.

The horses reared in the lower districts, and employed chiefly for draught, do not appear to be a distinct breed from the ponies of the moors; but rather a variety occasioned by breeding from those of the largest size, and gradually improving from being kept on superior pastures. Many of them accordingly, when used chiefly for the saddle, become excellent riding horses; not indeed of a very showy figure, but spirited, hardy, and capable of long persevering exertion. Though the breed has seldom been preserved pure, yet it is not difficult for connoisseurs to distinguish those which have much of the Galloway blood; and they are deservedly held in estimation as being peculiarly calculated for the different purposes of husbandry. They are round in the body, short in the back, broad and deep in the chest, broad over the loins, but without projecting knobs, well turned behind, level along the back to the shoulder, not long in the legs, nor very fine in the head and neck: their whole appearance indicates vigour and durability, and their eye commonly a sufficient degree of spirit. Though inferior in size to the dray-horses of many other districts, they are capable of performing as much labour, and enduring still more fatigue; are more easily-kept, and less liable to diseases.

The breed, it is said, has been improved by the introduction of well-boned stallions from England and Ayrshire. By this means, no doubt, the size has, in many instances, been increased; but it is very probable this has been done at the expence of more valuable qualities. The farmers are still partial to such strong-boned stallions, because they find that colts bred from them suit the taste of dealers from the west country, and the Lothians; but some of the best judges are of opinion, that the breed would acquire superior excellence by a proper selection of such as are peculiar to the district. If great bulk, and large bones are really desirable qualities, they ought to be obtained rather by the choice of females than males possessed of these endowments; and by keeping them properly till they arrive at maturity, which is found to improve the true Galloway breed in size as far as is useful for the purposes of husbandry.

... A considerable number are bought up annually by dealers from the neighbouring counties, and from the north of England: Irish horses, and a few English are, however, frequently imported into Galloway. (Smith)

General View of the Agriculture of Shropshire: By Joseph Plymley; 1813

There was at Walcot, a few years ago, two or three stallions of Arabian blood, a cart-horse of the Dishley breed, a Scotch galloway, and a Welsh poney horse, all which were for the improvement of the breed of that district.

Scottish Surveys 1814

A further Scottish survey in 1814 drew the following remarks on Galloways:

The province of Galloway formerly possessed a breed of horses peculiar to itself, which were in high estimation for the saddle, being, though of a small size, exceedingly hardy and active. They were larger than the ponies of Wales, and the north of Scotland, and rose from twelve to fourteen hands in height. The soils of Galloway, in their unimproved state, are evidently adapted for rearing such a breed of horses; and in the moors and mountainous part of the country, a few of the native breed are still to be found. The true Galloways resemble the Spanish horses in some very characteristic features, particularly in their faces. This similarity makes it probable, that the breed has been indebted for its improvement, to the Spanish horses that are supposed to have escaped from one of the vessels of the Armada, that had been wrecked on the coast of Galloway. This ancient race is almost lost, since farmers found it necessary to breed horses of greater weight, and better adapted to the draught. But such as have a considerable portion of the old blood, are easily distinguished, by their smallness of head and neck, and cleanness of bone. They are generally of a light bay or brown colour, and their legs black. The name of Galloway is sometimes given to horses of an intermediate size between the poney and the full-sized horse, whatever may be the breed. (Sinclair)

John Bird Sumner uses as part of his argument a comparison of horse types -

Among horses there is no less variety; as, between the tall and bony draught-horses of Lincolnshire, the Scotch galloway, the Welsh or Shetland poney, and the breed of racers. A treatise on the records of the creation: 1818. Volume 1 - Page 36.

Sir Walter Scott, 1820s

In "The Abbot" (1820):

Adam Woodcock, the falconer.... came after the party as fast as his active little galloway-nag could trot...

I cannot tell what makes me love you so much, unless it be for the reason that I loved the vicious devil of a brown galloway nag whom my master the Knight called Satan... I loved that nag over every other horse in the stable --- there was no sleeping on his back --- he was for ever fidgeting, bolting, rearing, biting, kicking, and giving you work to do, and maybe the measure of your back on the heather to the boot of it ... Satan was a good nag.  !!!

In "The Fair Maid of Perth" (1828) Scott describes a smith, riding:

a strong black horse of the old Galloway breed, of an under size, and not exceeding fourteen hands, but high-shouldered, strong-limbed, well-coupled, and round-barrelled - A judge of the animal might see in his eye that vicious temper which is frequently the accompaniment of the form that is most vigorous and enduring, but the weight, the hand, and the seat of the rider, added to the late regular exercise of a long journey, had subdued his stubbornness for the present.

Scott contrasts it satirically with another's "great trampling Flemish mare ... with a huge piece of hair on each foot and every hoof full as large in circumference as a frying pan".

Scott also gives an entertaining view of a galloway in "Guy Mannering": Chapter 22: Brown meets Dandy Dinmont:

' ... How d' ye travel?'

'On foot, sir; and if that handsome pony be yours, I should find it impossible to keep up with you.'

'No, unless ye can walk up to fourteen mile an hour. But (...) gudewife, could ye lend this gentleman the gudeman's galloway ...?'

The galloway was turned out upon the fell, and was swear [easy? difficult?] to catch ...

Chapter 23: Brown rescues Dandy Dinmont from attack by thieves:

The galloway was, by good fortune, easily caught, and Brown made some apology for overloading the animal.

'Deil a fear, man,' answered the proprietor; 'Dumple could carry six folk, if his back was lang eneugh; but God's sake, haste ye, get on ...'

Brown ... therefore mounted Dumple en croupe, and the little spirited nag cantered away with two men of great size and strength as if they had been children of six years old. The rider, to whom the paths of these wilds seemed intimately known, pushed on at a rapid pace, managing with much dexterity to choose the safest route, in which he was aided by the sagacity of the galloway, who never failed to take the difficult passes exactly at the particular spot, and in the special manner, by which they could be most safely crossed.

They soon came to the place he named, a narrow channel, through which soaked, rather than flowed, a small stagnant stream, mantled over with bright green mosses. Dinmont directed his steed towards a pass where the water appeared to flow with more freedom over a harder bottom; but Dumple backed from the proposed crossing-place, put his head down as if to reconnoitre the swamp more nearly, stretching forward his fore-feet, and stood as fast as if he had been cut out of stone.

'Had we not better,' said Brown, 'dismount, and leave him to his fate; or can you not urge him through the swamp?'

'Na, na,' said his pilot, 'we maun cross Dumple at no rate, he has mair sense than mony a Christian.' So saying, he relaxed the reins, and shook them loosely. 'Come now, lad, take your ain way o't, let's see where ye'll take us through.'

Dumple, left to the freedom of his own will, trotted briskly to another part of the latch, less promising, as Brown thought, in appearance, but which the animal's sagacity or experience recommended as the safer of the two, and where, plunging in, he attained the other side with little difficulty.

Henry Alken, The National Sports of Great Britain, 1825

"The Shooting Horse, then, --- merits particular consideration: in the first place, for convenience sake, he should be of the galloway size, at any rate not above fourteen hands in height..."

Height or Type? Pony vs Galloway

As for the "ponies" of 13 hands, the earliest we know of the term "pony" is recorded in the mid-17th C (1659, powny, from Scottish, apparently from Fr. poulenet "little foal"). Nathan Bailey's Dictionarium Brittanicum: or A More Compleat Universal Etymological English Dictionary (1730s) defines the word pony as "a little Scotch horse". Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice described Mrs Gardiner hoping to drive round Pemberley: "A low phaeton, with a nice little pair of ponies, would be the very thing" - whether this was in the original First Impressions of 1797 or inserted into the later revision that became P&P in 1813 is not clear.

Lawrence asserted in 1829:

A horse below thirteen hands in height is styled a poney; above that height, and below fourteen hands, a galloway. Fashion, however, rules the roast in all things, and of late it has become the ton to nickname galloways, and almost sized horses, ponies, quasi pets; and I have lately heard Tattersall [horse auctioneer in London] himself announce, from the pulpit, a poney for sale, which bordered very nearly on fourteen hands. The word or term has also been, of late years, curtailed, as I humbly conceive, of its fair orthographical proportion. It is now spelled pony, a literal abridgement, according to my observation, by that celebrated journal The Times, by way of the laudable economy of a single letter in an advertisement.

Military Mounts, 1813

Before making any judgements on usefulness or commonness by height it is helpful to have some data about the heights of horses in, for instance, military use: the British Army's 2nd Dragoons in 1813 (Morgan) employed animals of the following heights:

16 hands, 57 horses

15.2 hands, 256 horses

14.2 hands, 340 horses

14 hands, 55 horses

More than half the Dragoons were mounted on horses of 'galloway' size.

The Galloway in comparison to other countries' horses

"The Sportsman" (1830s?) remarked:

"The Swedish horses are very like the Scotch Galloway - rough, tight, hardy little animals, better adapted for the road than for draught, for which they are under-sized."

Biographical Sketches and Authentic Anecdotes of Horses" - Brown, 1830

These 1830 anecdotes overlap with the ones reported by Youatt in "The Horse" (First edition 1831, so hard on the heels of Brown's book) and in many cases both use exactly the same wording. Who copied whom, I wonder?

In Scotland, from the earliest ages, a race of horses existed, which have been highly valued on account of their fine symmetry: and a breed called Galloways, from their being first known in the county of that name. These were so much esteemed in former times, that it became necessary to restrict their exportation. These horses are of a low stature, but greatly celebrated, on account of their fine shape and action. This breed is getting extremely scarce, owing to the wild mania for crossing, which has thus deprived us of the best roadsters, that any country ever produced. Tradition says, that they sprung from some Spanish stallions, that swam to the shores of Galloway from some of the ships of the Spanish Armada, which were wrecked on the western coast. These, coupling with the mares of the country, produced the fine animals so universally and justly esteemed. They were strong, active, nervous, and hardy.


The Galloway is a stout compact horse, about fourteen hands in height, and takes his name from the district of Galloway in Scotland, where he was originally bred. These horses are now nearly extinct; they were much celebrated as excellent, speedy, and steady roadsters; very sure footed, and, on that account, invaluable in travelling over rugged and mountainous districts. The beauty and spirit of the galloway was supposed to have arisen from the breed having been the produce of the Spanish jennets, that escaped from the wreck of the Invincible Armada; and these, crossed with our Scottish horses, gave rise to this esteemed breed. But we apprehend, they were famous at a date long prior to that event, as this district is known to have supplied Edward the First with great numbers of horses.

This breed seldom exceeded fourteen hands in height; their colour was generally bright bay, or brown, with small head and neck, legs black, and peculiarly flat and clean in the bone. Dr Anderson gives the following description of this variety: — "There was once a breed of small elegant horses in Scotland, similar to that of Ireland and Sweden, and which were known by the name of Galloways, the best of which sometimes reached the height of fourteen hands and a half. One of this description I possessed, it having been bought for my use when a boy. In point of elegance of shape, it was a perfect picture; and, in disposition, it was gentle and compliant. It moved almost with a wish, and never tired. I rode this little creature for twenty-five years, and, twice in that time, I rode one hundred and fifty miles at a stretch, without stopping, except to bait, and that not for above an hour at a time. It came in at the last stage with as much ease and alacrity as it travelled the first. I could have undertaken to have performed on this beast, when it was in its prime, sixty miles a-day for a twelvemonth running, without any extraordinary exertion."


1701. In the year 1701, Mr Sinclair, a gentleman of Kirby Lonsdale, in Cumberland, for a wager of five hundred guineas, rode a galloway of his, the Swift, at Carlisle, a thousand miles in a thousand successive hours.

1753. Sir Charles Turner, Bart., of Berkleathem, made a match with the Earl of March, (afterwards Duke of Queensberry,) for four thousand guineas a-side, to be performed on the Fell, near Richmond, in Yorkshire. The conditions of the match were, that Sir Charles Turner should ride ten miles within the hour, in which he was to take thirty leaps, each leap to be one yard, one quarter and seven inches high. Sir Charles performed it upon a galloway, to the astonishment of every person present, in forty-six minutes and fifty-nine seconds.

1754. In this year, Mr Croker's galloway went one hundred miles a-day for three successive days, over the course at Newmarket, by which he was not at all distressed.

1802. A chestnut galloway, belonging to W. Porter, Esq. of Shepperton, started at four a. m., on April 8th, 1802, from Staines, in Middlesex, to go a hundred miles in twelve successive hours, which it performed in eleven hours and thirty-six minutes, with great ease. The ground chosen on this occasion was Sunbury Common.

In 1814, a galloway performed a much greater feat than anything mentioned by Dr Anderson. He started from London along with the Exeter mail, and, notwithstanding the numerous changes of horses, and the very rapid driving, he reached Exeter a quarter of an hour before it ; thus performing the astonishing distance of one hundred and seventy-two miles, at an average of about nine miles an hour. The experiment was a brutal one, and fatal to the future energy of this hardy creature, which, with good treatment, might have been long an invaluable servant. Twelve months after this astonishing feat, he was seen sprained, wind-galled, and ring-boned, exhibiting a picture of the utmost wretchedness, brought on by the barbarous inhumanity of man.

1822. A match over a two-mile piece of turf, in Ashford Park, near Romford, in August, 1822, on which at least five hundred sovereigns were pending, caused much sport. A Mr Goodchild undertook to ride first a galloway on the trot, thirteen miles, in one hour, and next a horse in another hour; and to complete the twenty-six miles, within two hours from the time of starting. The galloway performed the distance well in three minutes within the given time, and Mr Goodchild mounted the horse, and won the match, with forty-nine seconds to spare.

1822. In November, a match was made to do eight miles in half an hour, over a two-mile circle, in Ashton Park, for three hundred sovereigns, with a galloway, under fourteen hands, belonging to Mr Furzeman. This was won easily, with more than two minutes to spare. Betting was five to two against his winning.

Endurance: The Horse, Youatt, 1831

Youatt in 1831 reported the same stories as Brown (above):

A galloway in point of size, whether of Scotch origin or not we are uncertain, performed about the year 1814 a greater feat than Dr Anderson's favourite...

The same tale told Again?

Jonty Wilson, the Kirkby Lonsdale blacksmith, wrote in 1978 of a feat of endurance performed in the 18th century by a Galloway based in Kirkby Lonsdale. Edward Linsay (a Scot who is said to have arrived in Cumbria with the Old Pretender's army in 1715) went into partnership with Thomas Singleton as a carrier using packhorses. They were based in Kirkby Lonsdale at the rear of the Queen's Head inn. (Wilson)

Singleton was evidently the more sporting-minded of the two, being interested in cockfighting and dogfighting. He took a wager of 100 guineas that he could ride 1000 miles in 1000 hours. He rode for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and Wilson says it took him nearly 7 weeks -- although 1000 hours is just under 6 weeks. Perhaps, despite the "7 days a week" he had Sundays off? In Wilson's account, Singleton rode one of the partnership's pack horses, a 13-2hh Fell stallion named Black Sampson. When the pony died it was buried near Biggins, in Kirkby Lonsdale. Wilson wrote that he knew the exact spot.

Note: F W Garnett (1910) and C Richardson (1990) both quote Youatt's version (above). They cite this as happening in 1701, and give the rider's name from that source as Sinclair. Garnett, however, says it was on the "old Carlisle racecourse" and differs in that he states the wager was for 500 guineas and the date 1704.

Wilson, however, says the Linsay-Singleton carrier partnership was struck up after the 1715 Rising and that according to parish records Edward Linsay married in 1736 while Singleton's wife and newborn son died in the same year. There is something like a 35 year discrepancy and the names do not match! Were there two wagers of this sort, the later following the example set by the first?

It is hard to judge, because Youatt was not contemporary, either, with the 1000 hour feat being performed in 1701 and many of his anecdotes matching the wording in Brown's slightly earlier account. Both were writing 120+ years after the event. Possibly both were copying from an earlier book or newspaper report. Both were nearer to the ride in time than Wilson; Wilson, however, gives more detail and is possibly recounting a different event. If anyone has access to the sources, we would welcome information to clear this up.


Youatt on "The Horse"

William Youatt wrote in 1831:

"A horse between thirteen and fourteen hands in height is called a GALLOWAY, from a beautiful breed of little horses once found in the south of Scotland, on the shore of the Solway Firth, but now sadly degenerated, and almost lost, through the attempts of the farmer to obtain a larger kind, and better adapted for the purposes of agriculture."

"There is a tradition in that country, that the breed is of Spanish extraction, some horses having escaped from one of the vessels of the Grand Armada, that was wrecked on the neighbouring coast. This district, however, so early as the time of Edward I, supplied that monarch with a great number of horses."

He does not call the Galloways "ponies" although in other places he talks later of Exmoor and Dartmoor ponies, both of which fit the "under 13 hands" criterion (and both of which, he says, are ugly - the Dartmoor even uglier than the Exmoor!).

"The pure Galloway was said to be nearly 14 hands high and sometimes more; of a bright bay or brown with black legs, small head and neck, and peculiarly deep [body?] and clean legs. Its qualities are speed, stoutness and sure-footedness over a very rugged and mountainous country."

Again, the term "clean" legs is used - shorthand for "clean boned" as described by Smith and other agriculatural reporters in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, which described the flat, flinty quality of bone we see in a good Fell or Dales pony today. It does not mean that the legs carried no feather. (The preference for large amounts of feather is a modern one, and a small amount of feather was probably an old characteristic of all the British natives; see the discussion on horses in Chaucer's time.)

Although Youatt and Sinclair both said that "the pure stock" was nearly impossible to find by the 1820s, the term "galloway" was still in use in Cumbria in very recent times (I have heard it in spontaneous use by farmers in 1985 and again at Westmorland County Show in 2021) for any stout general purpose pony, but particularly the Fell, often under the combined expression "Fell Galloway" to distinguish it from a "Dales Galloway". Some of the older breeders had seldom used the term "Fell pony" but almost always "Galloway."

Youatt adds that "many of the galloways now in use are procured from Wales or the New Forest; but they have materially diminished in number." Here he is using the term "Galloway" in its generic sense - based mainly on height - rather as the term "hoover" has been adopted for "vacuum-cleaner".

On the domesticated animals of the British islands (1846 approx)

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.

Although Youatt, Low and others asserted that the Galloway was nearing extinction in the 1830s, Samuel Lewis's detailed Topographical Dictionary of Scotland (1851) stated: "WIGTOWNSHIRE: The horses, being of the true Galloway breed, are much esteemed."

Also, Pigot and Slater's Topography stated in the 1850s:

WIGTONSHIRE or WIGTOWNSHIRE forms the western part of the ancient district of Galloway, ... The district has long been celebrated for its breed of horses, distinguished by the appellation of 'Galloways'; they are of the Spanish or rather Moorish race, and, when the breed is pure, of a dun colour with a black line along the back: these animals are small, but active, sinewy and spirited.

The Scotch Pony

"The Scotch Pony" drawn for Goodrich's 1859 Illustrated Natural History of the Animal Kingdom. Notice how the story is perpetuated, with fewer or altered details; the Galloways are now "dun" rather than bay, though they are still compared, anecdotally, to Spanish stock.

"The Welsh Horse is small but is noted for its energy and perseverance upon the road. The Galloway is a Scotch breed somewhat larger than the preceding but of similar qualities; it is said to resemble the Spanish horse." (Goodrich, 1859.)

Ponies, Galloways, and Cobs

Encyclopaedia Brittanica, 9th Edition 1881, said a pony 'must be less than 52" (13hh) from the ground to the top of the withers; else he is a Galloway.' And a cob 'should not exceed 14.1hh'.

Advertisements of the 18th C indicate that the term 'Galloway' was also applied in Cumberland to smaller ponies, down to 11 or 12 hands (see Small Ads page).

References for these readings are on the Thanks page.

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Last updated 8 November, 2021 .
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