Comann Each nan E ilean recently celebrated 40 years of dedication to the preservation of Scotland’s last native horse breed – the Eriskay Pony.
The Eriskay Pony Society has been, and continues to be, dedicated to Europe’s rarest equine breed; and determination to stop the extinction of the ponies has seen the group play a vital part in recent success by breeders on the islands.
Members are part of a long line of islanders whose history is intertwined with the historic creature. The name itself - Eriskay Pony - recognises the important role played by the people of Eriskay in keeping the breed alive.
Fr Calum MacLellan, a native of the island, summed it up when he said: “Without the people of Eriskay there would be no pony but without the pony there would have been no people on Eriskay.”
In 1971 Eriskay was discovered to be home to a breed of horses that were unchanged since people first settled on the island. This remarkable find, which was in part due to the areas remoteness lead to a determination to keep the breed pure and to retain the history of Scottish ponies.
However with no living stallion on Eriskay at the time, there was a very real danger that the Eriskay Ponies would disappear.
In 1972 the Society was formed, first named the Association for the Preservation and Development of the Eriskay Pony before changing it name in 1978 to the Eriskay Pony Society, and the task to find a stallion was on.
At first ‘lookalike’ stallions were considered for the mares, but just as all hope for the preservation of the pure breed Eriskay Ponies had disappeared Eric turned up.
Eric was a pure breed Eriskay stallion found living on South Uist. The breed was saved and although the Society played a key role in their preservation, the hard work continued.
Although pure breeding itself survived it was not until 1995 that it returned to the islands with the introduction of four Eriskay Mares acquired by Countess Granville and three pure-bred stallions already owned by the society.
Since then there has been great success in breeding the ponies in the Western Isles and pure breeding stations can be found in not only the Southern Isles but also in Lewis and Harris.
The Society believes that the characteristics of the ponies change when breed in different environments as well as the activities they are suited to, such as conservation grazing and endurance riding.
To recognise this the trademark ‘Seorsa Gaidheal’ is attached to Eriskay Ponies born, bred and brought up in the Western Isles.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Eriskay Pony Society, its rich history and the part it has played and continues to play in the preservation of this rare breed, a dinner will be held in Lochboisdale Hotel on Saturday 26th of May.