Their role in war and work
The highland pony's role in work
Highland ponies have always been regarded as utility animals. For generations they served as pack and pannier carriers and were also ideally suited to all kinds of farm work, from ploughing the fields and carrying the crofters to market, to bringing home the peat across treacherous and boggy ground. Although mechanization has largely ousted the ponies from these traditional tasks, some are still used for light carting, row-crop work, and by cattlemen and shepherds on the hills. They are also used quite widely for forestry, dragging thinnings out of steep or soft ground, and for carrying bundles of young trees for planting to sites where motor vehicles cannot go.
The highland pony's role in war
An impressive Highland mane
The history of the Scottish Highlands was never peaceful, and it is likely that the ponies were used by the warring clans, so it seems appropriate that numbers of them served in the Army, even as recently as the Second World War, when they were with the Lovat Scouts. At one time troops mounted on Highland ponies formed part of the Scottish Horse raised by the Dukes of Atholl and were present in Edinburgh on the occasion of the King's visit in 1903. For many years Highland ponies have been associated with the sports of stalking and shooting. The ponies' great strength and their natural sure-footedness assures their continued demand for carrying sportsmen up the Scottish hills and carrying stags weighing up to sixteen stones (with a special saddle, itself a considerable weight) down those same rough, precipitous hills.
The value of these ponies as a means of seeing the beautiful Scottish mountains has been appreciated at least since the days of Queen Victoria. In "Life in the Highlands" the Queen describes a September day in 1842 when she and Prince Albert were the guests of the Duke of Atholl at Blair Castle: "We set off on ponies to go up one of the hills, Albert riding the dun pony and I the grey, attended only by Sandy McAra in the Highland dress. We went out the back way across the ford, Sandy leading my pony and Albert following closely, the water reaching above Sandy's knees". This charming picture suggests that the Queen enjoyed what has now become one of the most popular forms of sporting holidays - pony trekking - and it is surely no coincidence that the first trekking centre was founded in Scotland, using Highland ponies. This was at Newtonmore in Inverness-shire, where the late Mr Ewen Ormiston started a trekking centre in 1952.