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Prize winning pit pony Prize winning pit "pony", West Lothian Agricultural Society Show, 1929

Ostler's, were responsible for looking after the pit ponies and horses in the mine. Pit ponies were well looked after and were given proper stables with lighting and a bed of moss litter. Duties of an ostler would include maintaining the underground stables, feeding and looking after the general welfare of the animals. Grooming was normally done by the pony drivers.

In comparison to coal mines, shale seams were generally much higher and 10 foot high seams were not uncommon. The spacious nature of shale workings meant quite sizeable horses could be used underground, including large Clydesdale horses. Despite the introduction of underground diesel locomotives in circa 1940, ponies remained in use at many mines until closure of the industry in 1962.

The West Lothian Agricultural Society's show was held every year in Linlithgow. Pit ponies were brought there from throughout the shale field and were judged for appearance and condition.


"My duties were to get down there in the morning, first thing and have them all fed and watered and ready for the pony drivers coming down at half past six every morning. You had a shift went out at half past six, and they got their feed away with them, they didn't come in during the day, they didn't come back till two o'clock! It was my job to get them all prepared in the morning and whilst they were out at their work, there would be twelve out at their work, my job was to clean the stables and have the additional twelve ready for the afternoon shift to go out at half past two. At that time, of course, you would be getting your feeding down and clean out the stable, up to the surface and all that sort of thing to do. There was another man shifted me, he came on at half past two and took over till ten o'clock at night.He shut up at half past ten at night and I was down there in the morning again, and there was the feeding stuff to get down, and the stables to clean and see if there were any injuries, well, there wasn't an awful lot......there was a guilty thing of ponies getting nails in their feet, with the nails being nailed down in the pits where the wee bogeys ran, there were often nails sprung out and the horse could pick it up in it's feet". JM, Ostler, Totley Wells Shale Mine, circa 1940


SSPCA Pit pony certificate

This certificate was presented to Leslie Johnston, Hopetoun No 35 (Threemiletown) Pit in 1939. Certificates of merit were issued by the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for humane treatment of the horses. It was often said that the ponies were looked after better than the men that worked in the mines!

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