Miniature horses, also known as pit ponies, were more than just cute and cuddly animals in the early booming days of coal mining. Pit ponies were incredibly valuable. They could maneuver the unforgivingly narrow, cramped underground mining terrain while pulling heavy carts full of coal.
After the Mines Act of 1842 was passed in England, which forbid children under 10-years-old to work, the mining industry felt a labour shortage. Mining companies turned to pit ponies to fill the gap left from the loss of child labour. In 1913 alone, over 70,000 pit ponies were employed in Britain’s coal mines.
Some miners would complain that ponies were treated better by management than the men. In a few mines, underground stables were built to house the ponies over the busy months. When work slowed down during the summer, pit ponies would emerge from the dark depths of the mines to graze pastures and bask in the fresh, warm breeze.
As technology advanced, pit ponies were gradually replaced. However, it can’t be forgotten that the noble miniature horse played a key role in the history of coal mining. (From the collection of the Nanaimo Museum)