Galloways and Fell Galloways as native utility horses

Literary references


The earliest reference (at present) to the Galloway is in Shakespeare (Henry IV part II, 1597) when Falstaff's sidekick "Ancient Pistol" visits Falstaff at Mistress Quickly's tavern in Eastcheap. Pistol is described as a "swaggering rascal" by the landlady. He starts making advances towards Doll Tearsheet, who is Falstaff's fancy. He brags of his sexual prowess, claiming that he is superior to "packhorses, and hollow pampered jades of Asia that cannot go but thirty miles a day." She scorns Pistol's lack of money and his general uselessness, and when he gets angry and threatens to rape her, she exclaims:

"For God's sake, thrust him down stairs: I cannot endure such a fustian rascal."

Pistol shouts back:

"'Thrust him down stairs!'? know we not Galloway nags?"

He draws his sword, Falstaff does likewise and wounds Pistol in the shoulder, and Doll is much impressed by Falstaff's defence of her.

Unpicking this scene, Shakespeare clearly expected his audience to understand the various types of horse that Pistol compares himself to, and to appreciate his final claim to be a "Galloway nag" as both proud and ridiculous (owing to his age). It's possible that Pistol is also bragging of his northern roots. Also, if Shakespeare assumed this knowledge in his audience, then the Galloway, its geographical origin and its qualities must have been common knowledge in London for some time, and there may be earlier written references still to be found.


And in a satire by Bishop Hall also published in 1597:

...Dost thou prize
Thy brute beasts' worth by their dam's qualities?
Say'st thou this colt shall prove a swift pac'd steed,
Onely because a Jennet did him breed ?
Or Say'st thou this same horse shall win the prize,
Because his dam was swiftest Trunchifice
Or Runceval his syre; himself a galloway?
While like a tireling jade, he lags half way.
(Chalmers' English Poets, vol. v. p. 275. book iv. satire 3.)

The term "galloway" then, is older in print than "pony" which the Oxford English Dictionary traces back only to 1659. ("Fell pony" as a phrase appears in print much later, in 1851.)

Gervase Markham, The Compleat Horseman - 1607

"Also in Scotland there are a race of small nagges which they call Galloways or Galloway nagges which for fine shape, easie pace, pure metall and infinit toughness are not short of the best nagges that are bred in any country whatsoever; for soundness in bodie they exceed the most races that are extant, as dayly experience shows in their continuall travellings, journeyings and fore-huntings."

Now whether the "Galloway nagges" were amblers or trotters, is difficult to determine, since the writer mentions them separately ("also in Scotland...") from those he has previously described.

Britannia, 1607

Camden, the dogged traveller of Elizabeth's reign, wrote: 

Galloway to the Latin writers of the Middle Ages is Gallwallia and Gallovidia...The inhabitants ... catch ... an incredible number of very tasty eels, whence they make no less profit than from the tiny horses with compact, strong limbs for enduring toil which are exported from here.

The Gull's Hornbook, 1609

Thomas Dekker's satire suggested that the would-be fashionable man should:

Ride thither upon your Galloway nag, or your Spanish jennet, a swift ambling pace, in your hose and doublet (gilt rapier and poniard bestowed in their places), and your French lackey carrying your cloak, and running before you; or rather in a coach..

Nicholas Morgan - Perfection of Horsemanship - 1609

A list of breeds arranged in order of popular esteem in England

1 Arabian; 2 Thessalian (possibly only by repute in classical literature); 3 Neapolitan; 4 Barbary; 5 Turkey; 6 Spanish Andalusian; 7 Sardinian and Corsican; 8 Hungarian; 9 High Almaine (German); 10 Flaunders; 11 Swethland (Swedish); 12 Irish; 13 Friesian.

According to Anthony Dent in "Horses in Shakespeare's England" (1987), Morgan "noted that Great Britain ranked nowhere in this order of prestige, but that proverbially England excelled in palfreys, Scotland in trotting geldings (from Galloway) and Brittaine (Wales) in hackneys."

In 1620 in "The Horsemans Honour...

...or the beautie of horsemanship as the choise, natures, breeding, breaking, riding, and dieting, whether outlandish or English horses," Morgan stated:

"For the horses of Scotland they are much less than those of England, yet not inferiour in goodnesse; and by reason of their smallnesse they keep few stoned but geld many by which likwise they retaine this saying 'That there is no gelding like those in Scotland,' and they, as the English, are for the most part amblers."

Daniel Defoe

Defoe (1660-1731) wrote in his "Tour Through Scotland":

"Besides the great number of sheep and runts, as we call them in England, which they breed here; they have the best breed of strong low horses in Britain, if not in Europe, which we call pads, and from whence we call all small truss-strong riding horses Galloways. These horses are remarkable for being good pacers, strong, easy goers, hardy, gentle, well broke, and above all, that they never tire, and they are very much bought up in England on that account."

So we have two views of the value of the Galloway: one, that he's "common", both in the sense of numbers and by direct comparison with the high class racehorse; and the other, that he is short, strong and infinitely useful. He is a Toyota pickup or a twelve-year-old Ford, not a Ferrari.

Britannia's Pastorals

The Oxford English Dictionary cites William Browne's Britannia's Pastorals, 1613, I.v.504-5, 'a stubborn nag of Galloway, | or unbacked jennet...'

Andrew Marvell

In his poem "The Loyal Scot" 1650-1652 Marvell wrote:

Our English youth shall sing the valiant Scot.
Skip saddles, Pegasus, thou needst not brag,
Sometimes the Galloway proves the better nag.

Utility horses in Brough, Westmorland

In the Westmorland county archives at the end of the late 1600s a butcher and a mason living in Brough were each recorded as owning a Galloway; one was worth £2, and the other only 5 shillings (one eighth of £2!)

Exporting Galloways: to England and across the Atlantic, 1706

John Spreull (1646-1722), known as "Bass John", wrote in 1706 that he bought and sold "fine Scots galloway horses". (Dent) He stated:

"Search the custom books at Port Glasgow where I myself entered and payed [export] dutie for 50 or 52 mostly ston'd horses and maers which I shipped in a great ship of 400 Tunn for Surinam an Dutch Plantation for a brood of horses, and they were almost all Highland Galloways excepting some few ...

"And for certaintie the borderers on both Scots and English side came oft to Dunbarton fair and bought small droves of them when they carried up their cattle. And what gentleman did ever ride post in any or all of the roads of England and never met with a Scots galloway, if they have not, I am sure I have, and I have frequented the roads there ... and still when I had some Scots galloway it was coveted and often bought from me. And I can aver as a truth that an Scots galloway of 40 or 50 shils ster [sterling] per piece will ride farder and kill and beat and founder an English Geldin of 20, 30, 40 or 50 £ ster price. If they continue long I know them ride 40 or 50 miles a day; and then they are kept easilie and can feed upon the Orts [leavings, leftovers] of others. It's true English Geldings 30, 40, or 50 £ ster price may run [gallop], and course [race] and do wonders, yet I shall kill them with a Scots galloway of 40, 50 shil or 5 £ ster price, through long fatigue and time, scarcity and wants incident."

Galloways continued to be exported to the New World in the 18th C:

A history of the Cutter family of New England, 1871. Benjamin Cutter, William Richard Cutter (Page X), refers to an accident in 1759:

"On September 20, 1759, a spirited Scotch galloway, on which Mr. Cuthbert Lambert, son of an eminent physician in Newcastle, was riding, took fright ..."

Stolen! - Newcastle Courant, Sat 20 Oct 1711

...a dark Gray Colt Galloway, 12 hands high, with a short Bob-Tail, past Four Years Old : whoever can give Notice of them, or either of them, to Thomas Drinkrow...

Alexander Pope, 1713

"The Guardian," No 91, June 25, 1713 Volume 2, published a Letter by Alexander Pope, detailing the comical Rules of "The Short Club, a Society of Men who dare to be short". We can infer from this that Galloways were shorter in stature than 14.2hh and relatively cheap.

"III If any member shall purchase a horse for his own riding above fourteen hands and an half in height, that horse shall forthwith be sold, a Scotch galloway bought in its stead for him, and the overplus of the money shall treat the club."

Entries at Cumberland Quarter Sessions

These reported thefts of Galloways give an indication of values:

11 - Quarter Sessions Rolls
1 - Petitions
162 -

1731 Midsummer petitions

Archive centre Carlisle
Reference Q/11/1/162/17
Title Petition of Joseph Nelson of Eaglesfield, "Humbly Complaining" - chestnut galloway [pony] stolen; duly booked with Wilfrid Fisher, Booker at Cockermouth. Ordered 3. 3s.0d. Written in a good clear hand.


ditto, 117 -

1715 Midsummer Petitions

Archive centre Carlisle
Reference Q/11/1/117/15
Title Petition of Ursula Hall of Howgill, Cumberland, widow - horse stolen, value £1. 10s. 0d., booked at Brampton; petitioner is a poor working woman, needs the horse for her work; its loss "has proof'd [proved] her great Ruin". Ordered £1. 10s. 0d. At foot, pinned ; Booker's certificate for the bay galloway gelding, the goods of Widow Hall; signed Robert Elliott, book-keeper.


ditto, 138 -

Strays in 1719 - File 3

Archive centre Carlisle
Reference Q/11/1/138/7
Title Petition of John Atkinson of Little Corby p. Hayton - dun Galloway [gelding*] stolen, worth £2. 15s. 0d., duly booked. Ordered £2.1[missing] s. *supplied from next item.


ditto, 195 -

1739/40 Christmas petitions

Archive centre Carlisle
Reference Q/11/1/195/25
Title Petition of John Henderson of Penrith, yeoman - black bay Galloway [pony] stolen from Pearson's Ing near Keswick; duly booked. Ordered £3. 10s.

The above entries are from Cumbria Archive Service Catalogue.

Dr Johnson, 1755

Dr Johnson's dictionary construed the term "Galloway nags" as "common hackneys", carrying the modern sense of "we can spot rubbish when we see it".

Values of Galloways in the mid 18th C

A history of agriculture and prices in England: from ..., Volume 7, Part 1 - Page 58; James Edwin Thorold Rogers, Arthur George Liddon Rogers - Agriculture - 1902, quotes sale prices between 1751 and 1783:

1752. Brandsby. Farm. No date. 2 coach horses (bought of myself) for the draught £1 15/. Unspecified. Grey Scotch galloway ... Welsh galloway (bought) £6 6/. Grey Galloway (sold) - £4. unspecified 2 Scotch Galloways (bought) - £11; 1751- unspecified Grey Scotch Galloway (sold) - £1.

Interestingly, the term "Galloway" is also attached here to animals from Wales - more evidence of the generic term superseding the name as a place of origin.

Annals of agriculture and other useful arts, Volume 20, edited by Arthur Young, 1793


Waggons and large carts must be absolutely proscribed: I have little doubt of Scotch Galloway stout ponies, of about £8 price (as prices go now) in a light Irish car, or very light cart, one poney to each, being the cheapest draft in such situations, as those ponies will bear keeping on the mountain when not worked.


After the paring, burning, and liming, the land must be ploughed once thinly, not to bury the lime and ashes too deeply. The team for this work will probably be four Scotch ponies, which, for such situations, will be found cheapest.

Agricultural Surveys, 1794

Andrew Pringle, writing in official mode for the Board of Agriculture in 1794, noted that "The (Westmorland) Commons are numerous, extensive and valuable ..." and added that they were mainly stocked with Scotch sheep, black cattle and geese. He observed frustratingly briefly that "a few ponies of the Scotch breed are reared upon the commons, but the practice not being general, need not be dilated upon." (Pringle.) He distinguished between these "ponies" and the local "horses" which he didn't think were particularly useful or valuable (see Countryside Museum). Fortunately small newspaper advertisements of the period give us more detail about the Scotch type of pony. It seems reasonable to assume the "Scotch" pony is the same as the "Galloway", given that Galloway, Scotland, is just across the Solway from Cumbria; Pringle did not seem to think it necessary to explain his term, which suggests it may have been in common use and widely understood.

Support for this comes from Tuke, writing, in the same national survey, of the North Riding of Yorkshire:

"Horses constitute a considerable part of the stock of the high parts of the western moorlands; the farmers there generally keep a few Scotch Galloways, which they put to stallions of the country, and produce a hardy and very strong race in proportion to their size, which are chiefly sold to the manufacturing part of the West Riding and Lancashire, to be employed in ordinary purposes."

His counterparts Bailey and Culley (see also below) wrote of the horses of Northumberland:

"those bred in the county are of various sorts, descended from stallions of various kinds, from the full blood racer, to the strong, heavy, rough-legged black. From the full-blood stallions and country mares, are bred excellent hunters, road and carriage horses, and from the other kinds of stallions are bred the draught horses, which in general, are middle sized, active animals, well adapted to the husbandry of this county."

In his own part of this 1794 survey, for the Galloway region, Webster wrote that:

"Tradition states that the antient Galloway horses sprang from a Spanish breed, which escaped from a vessel of the Armada that was wrecked upon the coast. Some of these are yet to be met with; their shape, which is in general good, does not exceed their other properties, being esteemed high spirited, very hardy and easily maintained."

A portrait of the Scots poet Robbie Burns shows how small a riding pony was likely to be at the end of the 1700s.

Scottish Parish Surveys, 1790s

On the Scottish side of the Border, Parish surveys were conducted between 1791 and 1799 in which it was noted: from Twynholme (Kirkcudbright, Galloway region):

"The old breed of Galloways, so highly valued for spirit and shape, and which continued a long time after the wreck of the Spanish Armada, when several stallions were thrown upon this coast, is almost entirely, if not totally extinct."

[How much trust one can put in the "Spanish Armada" story, I am not sure; it crops up in other breed backgrounds as well, and to believe it as a source for all of them stretches credulity quite a long way. It may in reality reflect a continuous tradition of trade along the Atlantic seaboards from very early times, that has by default become attached to this one seaborne historical event.]

The Parish surveys in the Dumfries and Galloway areas yield almost no other comment on specific horse breeds, though from Wigtown (Wigtownshire, Galloway region) it was reported:

"... the breed of horses has been greatly improved. The little galloways, the native produce of this place, are totally worn out; and a breed much larger, and abler for the purposes of agriculture, brought originally from the West of Scotland, has been introduced."

Culley's Observations on Live Stock

Culley, from Northumberland, remarked in 1807:

"The SCOTCH HORSES like the Welch are exceedingly hardy but too small for the draught, except the Clydesdale horses &c taken notice of before. Those properly called galloways are now rarely to be met with, from an inexcuseable inattention to the breed, which is nearly lost. From their name we may suppose they originated in the county of Galloway, and it is generally said was owing to crossing with the Spanish horses... there is much probability in the account, but whether true or not, is not so material, as the loss of so valuable a breed of little horses is to be lamented."

General View of the Agriculture of Shropshire: By Joseph Plymley; 1813

"There was at Walcot, a few years ago, two or three stallions of Arabian blood, a cart-horse of the Dishley breed, a Scotch galloway, and a Welsh poney horse, all which were for the improvement of the breed of that district."

Scottish Surveys 1814

A further Scottish survey in 1814 drew the following remarks on Galloways:

The province of Galloway formerly possessed a breed of horses peculiar to itself, which were in high estimation for the saddle, being, though of a small size, exceedingly hardy and active. They were larger than the ponies of Wales, and the north of Scotland, and rose from twelve to fourteen hands in height. The soils of Galloway, in their unimproved state, are evidently adapted for rearing such a breed of horses; and in the moors and mountainous part of the country, a few of the native breed are still to be found. The true Galloways resemble the Spanish horses in some very characteristic features, particularly in their faces. This similarity makes it probable, that the breed has been indebted for its improvement, to the Spanish horses that are supposed to have escaped from one of the vessels of the Armada, that had been wrecked on the coast of Galloway. This ancient race is almost lost, since farmers found it necessary to breed horses of greater weight, and better adapted to the draught. But such as have a considerable portion of the old blood, are easily distinguished, by their smallness of head and neck, and cleanness of bone. They are generally of a light bay or brown colour, and their legs black. The name of Galloway is sometimes given to horses of an intermediate size between the poney and the full-sized horse, whatever may be the breed. (Sinclair)

A treatise on the records of the creation: 1818. Volume 1 - Page 36. John Bird Sumner uses as part of his argument a comparison of horse types -

"Among horses there is no less variety; as, between the tall and bony draught-horses of Lincolnshire, the Scotch galloway, the Welsh or Shetland poney, and the breed of racers."

Sir Walter Scott, 1820s

In "The Abbot" (1820):

Adam Woodcock, the falconer.... came after the party as fast as his active little galloway-nag could trot...

"I cannot tell what makes me love you so much, unless it be for the reason that I loved the vicious devil of a brown galloway nag whom my master the Knight called Satan... I loved that nag over every other horse in the stable --- there was no sleeping on his back --- he was for ever fidgeting, bolting, rearing, biting, kicking, and giving you work to do, and maybe the measure of your back on the heather to the boot of it ... Satan was a good nag."  !!!

In "The Fair Maid of Perth" (1828) Scott describes a smith, riding:

"a strong black horse of the old Galloway breed, of an under size, and not exceeding fourteen hands, but high-shouldered, strong-limbed, well-coupled, and round-barrelled - A judge of the animal might see in his eye that vicious temper which is frequently the accompaniment of the form that is most vigorous and enduring, but the weight, the hand, and the seat of the rider, added to the late regular exercise of a long journey, had subdued his stubbornness for the present." Scott contrasts it satirically with another's "great trampling Flemish mare ... with a huge piece of hair on each foot and every hoof full as large in circumference as a frying pan".

Scott also gives an entertaining view of a galloway in "Guy Mannering": Chapter 22: Brown meets Dandy Dinmont:

' ... How d' ye travel?'

'On foot, sir; and if that handsome pony be yours, I should find it impossible to keep up with you.'

'No, unless ye can walk up to fourteen mile an hour. But (...) gudewife, could ye lend this gentleman the gudeman's galloway ...?'

The galloway was turned out upon the fell, and was swear [easy? difficult?] to catch ...

Chapter 23: Brown rescues Dandy Dinmont from attack by thieves:

The galloway was, by good fortune, easily caught, and Brown made some apology for overloading the animal.

'Deil a fear, man,' answered the proprietor; 'Dumple could carry six folk, if his back was lang eneugh; but God's sake, haste ye, get on ...'

Brown ... therefore mounted Dumple en croupe, and the little spirited nag cantered away with two men of great size and strength as if they had been children of six years old. The rider, to whom the paths of these wilds seemed intimately known, pushed on at a rapid pace, managing with much dexterity to choose the safest route, in which he was aided by the sagacity of the galloway, who never failed to take the difficult passes exactly at the particular spot, and in the special manner, by which they could be most safely crossed.

They soon came to the place he named, a narrow channel, through which soaked, rather than flowed, a small stagnant stream, mantled over with bright green mosses. Dinmont directed his steed towards a pass where the water appeared to flow with more freedom over a harder bottom; but Dumple backed from the proposed crossing-place, put his head down as if to reconnoitre the swamp more nearly, stretching forward his fore-feet, and stood as fast as if he had been cut out of stone.

'Had we not better,' said Brown, 'dismount, and leave him to his fate; or can you not urge him through the swamp?'

'Na, na,' said his pilot, 'we maun cross Dumple at no rate, he has mair sense than mony a Christian.' So saying, he relaxed the reins, and shook them loosely. 'Come now, lad, take your ain way o't, let's see where ye'll take us through.'

Dumple, left to the freedom of his own will, trotted briskly to another part of the latch, less promising, as Brown thought, in appearance, but which the animal's sagacity or experience recommended as the safer of the two, and where, plunging in, he attained the other side with little difficulty.

Henry Alken, The National Sports of Great Britain, 1825

"The Shooting Horse, then, --- merits particular consideration: in the first place, for convenience sake, he should be of the galloway size, at any rate not above fourteen hands in height..."

Ponies, Galloways, and Cobs

Encyclopaedia Brittanica, 9th Edition 1881, said a pony 'must be less than 52" (13hh) from the ground to the top of the withers; else he is a Galloway.' And a cob 'should not exceed 14.1hh'. Advertisements of the 18th C indicate that the term 'Galloway' was also applied in Cumberland to smaller ponies, down to 11 or 12 hands.

Height or Type? Pony vs Galloway

As for the "ponies" of 13 hands, the earliest we know of the term "pony" is recorded in the mid-17th C (1659, powny, from Scottish, apparently from Fr. poulenet "little foal"). Nathan Bailey's Dictionarium Brittanicum: or A More Compleat Universal Etymological English Dictionary (1730s) defines the word pony as "a little Scotch horse". Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice described Mrs Gardiner hoping to drive round Pemberley: "A low phaeton, with a nice little pair of ponies, would be the very thing" - whether this was in the original First Impressions of 1797 or inserted into the later revision that became P&P in 1813 is not clear.

Lawrence asserted in 1829:

A horse below thirteen hands in height is styled a poney; above that height, and below fourteen hands, a galloway. Fashion, however, rules the roast in all things, and of late it has become the ton to nickname galloways, and almost sized horses, ponies, quasi pets; and I have lately heard Tattersall [horse auctioneer in London] himself announce, from the pulpit, a poney for sale, which bordered very nearly on fourteen hands. The word or term has also been, of late years, curtailed, as I humbly conceive, of its fair orthographical proportion. It is now spelled pony, a literal abridgement, according to my observation, by that celebrated journal The Times, by way of the laudable economy of a single letter in an advertisement.

Military Mounts, 1813

Before making any judgements on usefulness or commonness by height it is helpful to have some data about the heights of horses in, for instance, military use: the British Army's 2nd Dragoons in 1813 (Morgan) employed animals of the following heights:

16 hands, 57 horses

15.2 hands, 256 horses

14.2 hands, 340 horses

14 hands, 55 horses

More than half the Dragoons were mounted on horses of 'galloway' size.

The Galloway in comparison to other countries' horses

"The Sportsman" (1830s?) remarked:

"The Swedish horses are very like the Scotch Galloway - rough, tight, hardy little animals, better adapted for the road than for draught, for which they are under-sized."


References for these readings are on the Thanks page.