DALES PONIES: Stephen and Colin Longstaff in Arkengarthdale
DALES PONIES: Stephen and Colin Longstaff in Arkengarthdale

One of the oldest herds of dales ponies in the country belongs to the Longstaff family whose ties to Arkengarthdale date to the 1650s. The herd still roams the moorland near Reeth. Wendy Short went to meet Stephen Longstaff and his father Colin.

STEPHEN Longstaff is a builder and stonemason but most of his spare time is dedicated to looking after the Lummas herd of dales ponies and keeping the family tradition alive.

He has recently returned to the in-hand showing world and had almost immediate success with Westwick Supreme, a yearling colt which won its class at this year’s Dales Pony Society spring show near Barnard Castle. It was purchased from noted dale breeder David Eccles and the Longstaffs were also awarded a reserve place with their homebred mare, Lummas Eve.

The dales pony almost became extinct in the 1950s and is today classified as a rare breed due to the low number of breeding animals that are registered each year, but Mr Longstaff believes that it has a lot to offer.

“The dales is a great all-rounder and family pony,” he says. “It excels as a ride-and-drive, but one of our ponies has gone on to have a career in show jumping and others have been trained for dressage competitions.

“The breed is very easy to keep and is suitable for rough grazing, as well as being very hardy and also highly intelligent. The colour is mainly black, although some are bay and roan, and there is a limit of 14.2 hands high as a maximum height. It is very similar to the fell, but the dales is the heavier breed.

“The ideal dales mare is short-coupled, with an attractive head and a broad foot. We favour the traditional type, which was originally bred for work. We breed for strength, so that our stamp looks more like a small horse than a pony.”

The foals are born in May and this year the family has kept two fillies, with the current herd stallion having been purchased from Keith Metcalf of Bolam. In the past, Lummas ponies have been sold to the US and to Ireland.

“Dales ponies can produce a healthy foal at up to 20 years of age and the mares give birth very easily and without intervention,” says Mr Longstaff, who lives at Healaugh. “Our foals are trained to the halter from a very young age in preparation for the show ring and to ensure that they are easy to handle if they go on to new homes.”

There are plans to show a couple of homebred ponies over this season and the father-and-son team will be assisted by Stephen Longstaff’s partner, Sara.

“We will be showing our Lummas ponies at Eggleston

and Bowes this year, with the team comprising Westwick Supreme and our mare, Lummas Eve.

“Inheriting a herd of registered dales ponies has been a privilege and as a member of the younger generation, I have a duty to retain the breeding line that was established by my grandfather, John Robert Longstaff. But looking after the herd is also a pleasure and as a family we will continue to strive to breed the best animals that we can and stay true to the traditional type.”

Herd History

MR Longstaff’s great grandfather was a lead miner and also bred ponies which he hired out for working in the mines.

When the mines were closed, he went into farming and the family moved from Booze, in Arkengarthdale, to Healaugh, in Swaledale, and then on to Lummas House Farm near Marske, in 1927. This was where his grandfather, John Robert Longstaff, registered his first dales pony in 1938.

Born in 1916, John Robert was a staunch supporter of the breed and he also enjoyed showing, winning first prize in 1962 at the Royal Show, which was then held on the Town Moor, in Newcastle. He kept a highly influential stallion called Lummas Comet, which had a reputation for producing good quality foals. Another noted pony which came much later was Lummas Prince, a stallion which won the championship at the dales pony spring show at Barnard Castle in 1994.

Blue Peter Pony

IN 1987, representatives from BBC’s Blue Peter contacted the Longstaffs as they were looking for a dales pony to buy with money raised through a Christmas appeal for Riding for the Disabled.

The family reluctantly parted with Raygil John, an animal they had purchased from the Raygil stud near Lartington. The pony was rechristened Jet and went on to have a long career in service. He was considered outstanding by the centre where he made his home and he was also broken for driving.

Dales Pony Society Obituary – John Robert Longstaff

IN 1997 a Dales Pony Society publication published the following obituary for John Robert Longstaff (extract):

“John Robert was a true hill farmer of the old school, a Swaledale sheep breeder, knowledgeable stockman and noted dales pony breeder who kept faith with the breed during the dark days of the ponies in the 1950s.

“He was instrumental in no small way in saving the breed from extinction, breeding quality ponies and running a good class of stallion. This was done out of the love of a good dales pony at a time when they were in decline and had very little commercial value.

“In the early 1960s he was one of a small number of dedicated breeders responsible for unifying the Northern Dales Pony Society and the Dales Pony Improvement Society, giving us the Dales Pony Society we have today. Lummas Dales ponies today represent possibly the most pure blood and true pony type in existence.”