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Pit Ponies

The Museum's pit ponies
The Museum's pit ponies
© National Coal Mining Museum for England (Photo: National Coal Mining Museum for England)
Depending on the task to be done different breeds and sizes of ponies were selected. Horses of 1.7 m (16 hands and 3 inches) height could be used close to the shafts, where many tubs had to be kept moving. Small ponies of around 1.2 m (11 hands and 3 inches) height were generally used near the coal faces, with bigger animals up to 1.4 m (13 hands and 3 inches) being employed in the main roadways. Generally geldings were preferred, though some stallions were kept, but it was really unusual to have mares underground.

Breeds varied considerably in different areas, but both Shetland and Welsh ponies were common, and some colliery owners attempted selective breeding to encourage the development of sturdiness and strength required for hardworking animals. During times of high production, particularly after a slump when stocks of ponies would be low, very high prices could be paid for good animals and in times of shortage, ponies were imported from as far afield as the USA, Iceland and Russia.
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