Rare Breed: The Fight to Save Eriskay Ponies

For all the wildlife found on the Hebrides islands, there’s perhaps no more perfect symbol of the island chain’s isolation and its struggle for the future than the Eriskay ponies.

Eriskay, where the ponies are believed to have originated hundreds of years ago, is a tiny island in the Outer Hebrides—a remote island chain we visited north of the Scottish mainland. Limited habitat and inbreeding had dangerously imperiled the Eriskay ponies, known for their fine gray coat and diminutive stature. In the 1970s, only 20 ponies remained.

That’s when a group of community members saw the urgency to save the rare horse from disappearing forever. Shetland ponies and other breeds were brought to Eriskay to breed with the remaining mares. Some original purebreds exist, but not many. A large portion of the offspring are mixed breed. It’s not ideal, but it’s a small price considering what was at stake. There are now 420 known ponies with Eriskay blood.

It’s still not enough to ensure the current population can sustain itself. They’re still considered dangerously at risk by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, a UK nonprofit that keeps records on threatened species. The community remains on the case to ensure the islands’ future will includes Eriskays. An organization known as the Eriskay Pony Society has established a detailed studbook to track every individual pony. A key part of the group’s work is very focused breeding schedules to ensure the population of remaining Eriskays stays spry and diverse.

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