As many of you will know, Dartmoor is famous for its ponies. Small and hardy, whenever you drive over the moor you will almost certainly see them. Imagine my surprise then when I recently saw what looked like huge medieval jousting horses charging across the heather, with long manes, flowing fetlocks and mud flying in all directions! No, I hadn’t been on the Sloe Gin, I had come across a group of horses riding out from ‘Adventure Clydesdale’ based up on the moor.
These magnificent Clydesdale horses can stand up to 18 hands high, that’s a good 6ft, at the shoulder. They were bred for their strength and were extensively used in agriculture and haulage. Dating back to the mid-18th century, the breed was developed from Flemish stallions imported to Scotland and crossed with local mares.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, thousands of Clydesdales were exported from Scotland and sent throughout the world, including Australia and New Zealand, where they became known as ‘the breed that built Australia’. However, during World War I, their numbers began to decline due to increasing mechanization and, sadly war conscription. This decline continued, and by the 1970s, the Rare Breeds Survival Trust considered the breed vulnerable to extinction. Things have improved slightly since then, but they are still considered vulnerable.
So what are they doing dashing around Dartmoor?
Adventure Clydesdale has its origins on the Isle of Skye but, after a number of years, one of the leading lights, Tim Ancrum, decided to leave and find a more ‘riding friendly landscape’ to help his business flourish. After much searching, he settled on a farm in the Lake District. Rather than load up the horses and move everything south, he came up with the idea of riding 12 of the horse all the way to Cumbria! The journey of 450 miles, covered closely by Scottish television, confirmed to Tim the horses’ ability to tackle long trails, giving their riders a safe and comfortable ride. The TV coverage did the business no harm at all and it went on to be featured on the BBC Countryfile programme and became a top tourist attraction.
Always one for a challenge, Tim decided to move on again, this time to Cornwall with six of the Clydesdales, and established Adventure Clydesdale, concentrating on this magnificent breed and its ability to take on the challenges of the rugged terrain of the south west of England. In early 2013 Tim and his partner Aileen Ware moved their business to Dartmeet, in the middle of Dartmoor, an outstanding location for long distance trail rides.
So, if you are visiting this area, don’t be too surprised if you see something rather larger than a Dartmoor pony coming towards you! It is a magnificent sight, I can assure you, although I personally won’t be hopping on board anytime soon – my appreciation will be from the comfort of the car!
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