Many a visitor to Eriskay departs enchanted by the ponies that roam freely across their island home.   Known in Gaelic as ‘Each Beag nan Eilean’ (Small Island Horse), the Eriskay Ponies, the last surviving native Hebridean pony breed, are generally grey in colour, with dense waterproof coats to protect them from the harsh island weather. The ponies played a cruical role in 1941 when the SS Politician ran aground off the Eriskay coast, to help the islanders “rescue” the cargo of 250,000 bottles of whisky.

With ancient Celtic and Norse roots, they are akin to other northern breeds, such as the Faroe pony and the Icelandic horse. They are also similar to drawings and sketches of ponies on the ancient Pictish stones which can be found in north and west Scotland.

Until the mid 19th century, the ponies had quite a large population and were used for general crofting work and light draught but with increased intensification of farming numbers began to fall due to crossbreeding with larger breeds such as Arabs and Clydesdales to produce ponies that could cope with heavier tasks.

By the early 1970’s, the population had declined to around 20, and although their status remains critical, work by the Eriskay Pony Society and others, involving preservation of the original genetic material and careful breeding programmes, mean there are around 300 breeding females registered in the world.