Human Journey

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.

  • Ima Ryma

    1941, World War II,
    The SS Politician sank,
    Not from attack, as foes might do,
    But from the weight of booze not drank.
    We Eriskay ponies were brought
    To salvage the whisky galore.
    Thousands of the cases they sot.
    Of course it all was for the war.
    Our island flowed with the stuff,
    Hauled by us ponies from the sea.
    The humans could not drink enough.
    But that’s just how the humans be.

    Humans have some very pour taste,
    Cannot let whisky go to waste.

  • Anna strong

    Is very sad for these ponies, with the introduction of passports many of these hill ponies ain’t wanted, we had the same problem here with our dartmoor ponies where there was only 200 left, it’s so important to keep these breeds going and I wish the eriskay pony all the luck in there survival, I’m sure the good folk of eriskay won’t let these beauty full ponys dwindle away.

  • Mirosław Kurek

    Na szczęście Koniki Polskie ocalały od zapomnienia i sam jestem posiadaczy jednego z nich imieniem Hultaj

  • donna

    When I was a little girl some 30 plus years ago I had my own pony and he was a welsh and pure black. Very devoted and stealthy for a smaller horse. I have also ridden the quarter horse, The welsh ponies are much better for smaller children. On the farm a quarter horse is the best for cutting out cattle etc. LOVE the horse such a majestic animal

  • Stephanie

    I am donating to try to help these ponies I love horses an ponies and I will do all I can to help them and every one else should to please help these ponies because everyone and everything matters so please come together to help and I also wish the best for these ponies and HOPE they do not go extinct so PLEASE help and not just this pony there are more animals out there that need our help just take a little bit of time to help these poor animals please there are soo important to our world. And to all who already support these animals or donated to the shelters or places that help these animals thank you very much and god bless you all.

  • Sèamus

    A nice article but its a shame that the picture does not actually show Eriskay ponies, the above “photo by marcus_jb1973 / Flickr” shows two Shetland ponies.

    Shetland ponies were not used to breed with the last remaining Eriskay mares, Highland ponies were used.

  • Sandra Ferrol

    As stated by Saemus above, the photo is of Shetlands on South Uist, not Eriskays.

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