Thursday, 9 August 2012

Eriskay ponies save the whisky !

“Without the people of Eriskay there would be no pony
but without the pony there would have been no people on Eriskay”
Quote by Fr Calum MacLellan, a native of Eriskay.

 Eriskay pony

I love the fact that the Eriskay pony is one of the few breeds that hasn't changed for thousands of years.  The breed known as the Scottish Highland pony is descended from the Eriskay type, but has had other breeds introduced which makes it larger.  It has been suggested that many types of other breed have been bred with, and influenced the Highland pony, including Arab, Percheron, Clydesdale, Dales and Fell, but the Erisky pony remains pure.  The reason for this is because of the Islands remote location.  The Outer Hebrides - Uist, Eriskay, Barra, and the other small Islands were very cut off from the mainland until recently.  In the olden days people living on the Islands would of had to row or sail to get to the Islands !

When we visited the Islands we went over a bridge from the mainland to get to Skye, then a ferry to get to North Uist - North Uist is connected to South Uist by a bridge, then we crossed another bridge ( only built very recently ) to get to Eriskay.  To get to Barra is another ferry.  

The bridge between South Uist and Eriskay

There were once many of these ponies throughout Scotland - particularly in the crofting areas, where they helped people with many jobs like carrying peat, working the land, transporting kids to school.  They are very good all-rounders.

There is an interesting story of one very good use the Islanders found for the pony.  In 1941 the cargo ship the  SS Politician foundered off the Eriskay coast, and the islanders, using the Eriskay ponies, carried away the cargo of 250,000 bottles of whisky !

Unfortunately, because of the invention of cars and tractors, and other modern 'conveniences' the pony started to decline in numbers.  In 1971 it was realised that there were hardly any left, and no one knew of any stallions, so the breed was faced with extinction.

Read the next blog to find out how an exciting discovery of a horse named Eric saved the day :-)

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