DNA push on to find rare Newfoundland Ponies

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A Newfoundland pony.
A Newfoundland pony. © Newfoundland Pony Society

Ponies thought to be from the rare Newfoundland breed are able to be DNA tested for free in an effort to identify and add more purebred ponies to the official registry. 

Anyone who owns a Newfoundland Pony (or suspected Newfoundland Pony) is encouraged to apply for testing under an initiative by the Newfoundland Pony Society (NPS), with 50 grants available for testing.

There are thought to be fewer than 400 of the critically endangered breed left. It has been recognised it as a Heritage Animal by the Newfoundland Government.

A typical Newfoundland pony.
A typical Newfoundland pony. © Newfoundland Pony Society

The Newfoundland pony is unusual in that it has not been altered, or “improved” as it’s called. Despite the loss of thousands through meat plants, which left the breed critically endangered, it is so genetically diverse and healthy that it can thrive once again without introducing new blood to its gene pool – and without crossbreeding it.

The DNA testing program is part of the process used by NPS to identify purebred Newfoundland Ponies. Earlier this year, one of the oldest known living Newfoundland Ponies, ‘Mudder’, aged 30, was found living in an emaciated condition in Quebec, working at a children’s riding stable. Through the efforts of the Newfoundland Pony community, DNA testing confirmed her as Baytona Star #228, a registered Newfoundland Pony whose whereabouts have been unknown for many years.

Because Mudder/Baytona Star was registered, she was able to be quickly identified as a Newfoundland Pony.

“The rescue and identification of Mudder highlights the importance of making sure that all known Newfoundland Ponies are registered with the NPS. She has since been adopted by a family just outside Ottawa where she is receiving excellent care,” the society said.

Newfoundland ponies Wonder and Skipper.
Newfoundland ponies Wonder and Skipper. © Elisha Massong/Newfoundland Pony Society

Once a DNA application is received by the NPS, if the ID committee finds that there is reason to believe that the pony in question is a Newfoundland Pony, the owner will be notified, and the $50 DNA testing fee will be waived. All owners of Newfoundland Ponies that are tested under this program must agree to proceed with registering their pony for $25 if the DNA confirms that they are registerable.

The Newfoundland Pony is an “all purpose” pony known for its strength, courage, intelligence, obedience, willingness and common sense. Newfoundland Ponies are hard workers and easy keepers.

Their ancestors — primarily, Exmoor, Dartmoor and New Forest ponies and to a lesser extent, Welsh Mountain, Galloway (extinct), Highland and Connemara ponies — arrived with the Island’s early settlers from the British Isles. They were hardy creatures who were already well adapted to the harsh climate of the islands of the North Atlantic. Isolated from the rest of the world, the ponies intermingled for hundreds of years, breeding in the seclusion of Newfoundland’s bays and coves to produce a sturdy pony.

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