Our community blogs
EXMOOR PONY FOALS For Sale this autumn
Following the pony gatherings in Oct & Nov, there will be a small number of quality Exmoor pony foals and youngstock For Sale. These beautiful ponies are born and bred in Exmoor National Park and many will have enjoyed a wonderful, free-living start in life.
The newly-weaned foals need careful, patient, kind socialisation to human contact so they can make the successful transition to life off the moors. Exmoor ponies are an endangered breed so they are all important.
If you would like to help an Exmoor pony foal by offering a good home this autumn then please visit the link below to the Moorland Exmoor Pony Group Breeders Directory where you will find contact details for the farmers.
The MEPBG represents Exmoor herd owners Herd 423 on Countisbury (the Bryant family), Porlock Herd 100 on Porlock Hill (the Coldicutt family), Moorland Herd 99 on Molland Moor (the Dart family), the Exmoor National Park Authority herds, Tippbarlake Herd 387 on Brendon Common (the Floyd family), Withypoole Herd 23 on Withypool and Anstey Commons (the Milton family), Farleywater Herd H67 on Buscombe (the South family) and Holtball Herd 11 in Porlock Vale (the Westcott family).
Link to the MEPBG Breeders Directory: http://www.exmoorponyclub.co.uk/index.php?%2Ftopic%2F1342-mepbg-breeders-directory-where-to-buy-an-exmoor-pony-from-exmoor-national-park%2F
More information at www.exmoorponyclub.co.uk and www.wildponywhispering.co.uk
Photos by Lisa AndJamie Waters and Helen Disberry
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Heritage Exmoor Pony Festival 2016 - a Resounding Success!
The Heritage Exmoor Pony Festival, which celebrates and promotes the pedigree and purebred Exmoor ponies of Exmoor National Park, has once again been hailed a resounding success by its organisers, the Moorland Exmoor Pony Breeders Group, Exmoor Pony Club and Moorland Exmoor Foal Project - drawing visitors from across the country and overseas to the area.
Throughout August, people have enjoyed a host of Exmoor pony events and activities and learned about the charismatic ancient breed that graces the moors of Exmoor. Starting with a fully-booked Wild Pony Whispering ‘Discover Exmoor Ponies’ Workshop early in August, visitors then experienced the gathering of the magnificent Tippbarlake herd from Brendon Common - the largest herd of free-living Exmoor ponies in the world. Glorious weather provided great photo opportunities as the ponies cascaded through Lancombe Crossing, with Exmoor Photography and wildlife photographer Jamie Waters on hand with tips to get the best shots. Jamie also ran two Photographing Exmoor Ponies in the Wild workshops during the festival.
Later that week, visitors to Brendon Barton enjoyed a guided tour of the Tippbarlake herd ponies at home on the farm with the Floyd family, followed by a delicious homemade cream tea.
On 12 August, Dr Sarah Blott from Nottingham University gave a talk on the pioneering new Exmoor Pony DNA Whole Genome Project at Exmoor National Park Authority’s Exmoor House. Project stakeholders include Exmoor National Park, Rare Breeds Survival Trust, Moorland Exmoor Pony Breeders Group, Exmoor Pony Society, vet Peter Green, the Molland Estate and Badgworthy Land Company, and it is chaired by DEFRA Chief Vet Tim Morris.
The MEPBG Exmoor Pony show at Brendon Show saw pedigree and purebred Exmoor ponies compete for the supreme championship and the MEPBG/AH Saddles Exmoor Pony Championship Final - both won this year by Cheritonridge Mont de Brouilly, owned by Mr N & Mrs D Westcott. Champion Foal was Mr J Bryant’s as yet unnamed moorbred filly foal and Que Sera Sera owned by Ms B Rawle stood Moorbred Champion and Overall Reserve Supreme Champion. Non-Pedigree champion was Monsieur Chapeau, owned by Mr & Mrs Westcott, who also stood Reserve Moorbred Champion and Reserve Supreme Champion in the MEPBG/AH Final. Farleywater Siren, owned by Ms K Hollick-Blee stood Pedigree Youngstock Champion. Apple Blossom and Ms M Maddocks standing ridden champions.
Moorland events included a well-attended walk on Molland Moor, hosted by the Dart family who provided a homemade cream tea at their farm afterwards. Visitors were treated to the magical sight of the moor in its August glory with the herd of free-living ponies appearing from over the hill and allowing the group to walk amongst them. There were more stud visits and moorland walks including to Anstey and Withypool Commons, Countisbury and Buscombe. Later in the month, Exmoor National Park Conservation Manager Rob Wilson-North led a guided Archaeological Packhorse Walk from Crawtor Hill, accompanied by Exmoor ponies from the Moorland Exmoor Foal Project, which proved very popular with locals and visitors alike.
On Sun 21 Aug the MEPBG held a busy Open Afternoon at Holt Ball with visitors keen to meet the Exmoor ponies and farmers and see the agility demos and impressive displays from local photographers and artists Jamie Waters, Maureen Harvey, Helen South and Helen Disberry. There was also the opportunity to meet Monsieur Chapeau and Bear, stars of Dawn Westcott’s real-life books, Wild Pony Whispering and Wild Stallion Whispering.
Towards the end of the month, Wild Pony Whispering workshop participants learned how Exmoor stallion Bear prepares for liberty and agility work with the Core Connection Warm Up exercises featured in Wild Stallion Whispering, followed by a demonstration of his skills on the agility course.
The 2016 Heritage Exmoor Pony Festival concluded with a compelling illustrated talk on Exmoor Ponies & Their Future and book signing by MEPBG co-founder and author Dawn Westcott, at Exmoor National Park Authority’s library in Dulverton. Well attended by land owners, locals and visitors, the talk highlighted the Exmoor ponies as a national treasure, together with the challenges facing them and steps being taken to safeguard their future, including the new Exmoor Pony DNA Whole Genome Project.
MEPBG Chairman Nick Westcott said, “I’m very pleased to see the Heritage Exmoor Pony Festival go from strength to strength. It’s proving invaluable in helping people to understand the qualities of our indigenous native ponies and also the challenges we face in conserving and preserving them. It promotes awareness that good homes need to be found for some of the wild-born foals in the autumn and that with kind and patient socialisation, new owners are rewarded with the most wonderful ponies that can turn their hoof to almost anything - including endurance, riding, driving, jumping and agility - along with their skills as conservation grazers. The ponies are an iconic part of Exmoor and we’re keen to see more people get involved with the breed.”
There will be Exmoor pony foals and youngstock available for sale this autumn from the Bryant family’s Herd 423, the Coldicutt family’s Herd 100, the Dart family’s Herd 99, the Floyd family’s Herd 387, the Milton family’s Herd 23, the South family’s Herd H67 and the Westcott family’s Herd 11. More information at www.ExmoorPonyClub.co.uk.
Please email: MoorlandExmoorGroup@hotmail.co.uk.
PURCHASING EXMOOR PONY ENQUIRIES:
If you would like to speak with any of the MEPBG Herd Owners directly, please see the MEPBG Breeders Directory here: http://www.exmoorponyclub.co.uk/index.php?/topic/1342-mepbg-breeders-directory-where-to-buy-an-exmoor-pony-from-exmoor-national-park/
You can also find the Moorland Exmoor Pony Breeders Group, Exmoor Pony Club, Moorland Exmoor Foal Project and Heritage Exmoor Pony Festival on Facebook and Twitter:
Twitter: @MoorlandExmoors @HeritageExmoors @ExmoorPonyClub @WildPonyWhispering @StallionWhisper
Press & Media enquiries to: DawnWestcott@hotmail.com please
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Gosh doesnt time fly?
Lets see, what have the boys been up to?
A band of stallions was set loose a couple of miles away and they had been heading down to our place daily, with us chasing them back home, complaining to the owners, the police and the local mayor. One day while we were in town, they must have arrived and smashed their way in, because we returned, after dark, to find the fencing lying inwards and all our horses gone. This was my worst nightmare. I knew the big horses would come home once found, but would the ponies have lead them further out into the wilds? would the ponies come back once they were free and wild again? I rustled up a couple of buckets of oats, a pile of headcollars, lead ropes and prepared some colic treatments in case they had all gorged on fruit, excess grass etc. we opened up all the external gates and began searching and calling in different directions.
I found hoof prints from our houses, heading south and tracked them into a wood where I lost them at the stream, but heard mick shouting for me, he had seen the reflection of eyes on the north side of the property. Sure enough, the horses were close to the fence, no doubt waiting to be let in. I called their names and the ponies were second and third through the gate, no headcollars needed. That was a HUGE relief.
To add insult to injury, a few weeks later, I was woken by my husband telling me the horses were in a field over the road!! This time ours had mowed through the fencing (post and rail, with chain link and a strand of electric!!!!), I went out in a sundress and flip flops, not thinking, into the wheat field, leaving the gate open behind me. As soon as I came into sight, Daemon appeared and wanted a fuss, then Lycan, oh boy, 'catching' escaped horses was not this simple when I was young. I popped a headcollar onto my mare and laid the rope loosely over my hand and walked home. The 4 boys followed. Naturally, as we reached the gate, the village bus appeared, the gate being open and all the horses around sent the dogs into frenzy, believing the bus to be a threat. Bus had to stop, dogs all over the road barking, yet the horses remained calm and nonchalantly strolled in as if they had not caused this circus.
The ponies had their first hoof trim. We are lucky enough to have Nick Hill and Ralitsa Grancharova living here, if you aren't aware, he is a world class specialist trimmer (former farrier) and she is a holistic vet who trained in trimming. They work all over the world, trimming, healing and training. Daemon of course, stood rather unconcerned and had his feet trimmed using their super Japanese saw rasps, after seeing the large horses being done. Lycan allowed Nick to lift his first hoof - then took off. He ran a beautiful wall of death for about 15minutes as we discussed how long it would take him to tire out, then he slowed and trotted a little more. Eventually, once he was grazing, I approached again and gave him back to Nick, where he had 3 feet trimmed (he did think about leaving but was rather offended by us all laughing at him), the last foot was self trimmed to perfection and needed no work.
We've had many visitors here, and of late, the ponies have joined in wanting to meet everyone, my 5year old niece was very taken with them and I wondered had i deprived some small child of 2 perfect kids ponies as she stood cuddling their heads. A local horse man is very taken with their paddock recall ability and they will gladly go to the fence to attract the attention of anyone close enough to stroke them.
Daemon has shown us that nothing worries him, so I began, very casually long linging him. Only in straight lines. To begin with I merely attached them to his headcollar and let them drift around the floor, pulled one up and touched his side and rump with it to check this was not a problem for him and then had a friend hold the lines whilst i walked at Daemons head, my friend follows him rather than directing him. He is absolutely fine with this. So much so, that next year I'm making him a very lightweight muck cart (no human seating) so that he and I - then Lycan, can walk together and he can pull the cart as I poo pick. If I balance the cart carefully, use indespension units to absorb ground changes and keep the materials lightweight, he should barely feel it, but get some great experience in driving prep in very relaxed surroundings.
Last week, I finally tried my bitless bridle on Lycan. He'd been watching me through the kitchen window, looking for attention, so I thought I would ask if he minded. I didn't adjust it, as i wasn't aiming to use the bridle, only see if he would allow me to put it on and fasten it. Well, he did. Not only that, he stood quite happily while I ran back inside to grab my camera and photograph him - don't panic, the reins were not on, more's the pity. Given that that was so easy, I hunted out my empty saddlebags and draped them over his back, after I had removed the bridle. He was free to leave if he liked, he saw me wear the bags and he nuzzled them first. He was not a bit concerned, so I draped them over Daemon afterwards.
This made me really happy, that Lycan has finally gone first with something. He is becoming a very chilled little chappy. Recently he hurt his face. I twice cleansed and treated the wound at liberty with him a little anxious about it, but he worked out I was helping him. After that he would wait for me, head raised and cheek turned toward me, for treatment. No collar, nothing, just me, him, soaked cotton swabs, saline syringe and healing gel.
Sweet, sweet little ponies.
I'll update the album with more images now
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Author Victoria Eveleigh attended Dawn Westcott's 'Agility, Liberty & Behaviour Workshop' for the Exmoor Pony Festival in August 2013 and wrote this fascinating Blog about her experience. Many thanks to Victoria for her kind permission in sharing the blog:
VICTORIA EVELEIGH'S BLOG
'So Much To Learn'
"Over the years, I’ve noticed we tend to slip into an interesting frame of mind nearly every time we’re presented with a situation where we’ve reached the end of our chain of knowledge . . . We might react with anger and try to force a solution to the issue. Another way we might react is with unchanged repetition, making the same unsuccessful efforts over and over and expecting a different result. We may also act with resignation and abandon our efforts completely. Still another way to respond is with deliberation. Seeing that we are in over our heads, we may step back from the situation and start to come up with a workable solution . . . it’s the last option that gives us the best opportunity for growth. Unfortunately, it is usually the most difficult one for us to choose, because our egos tend to get in the way of common sense. After all, it can be pretty hard to admit when we’ve come up against a situation we thought we were prepared for, but really weren’t. It’s not an easy thing, coming to the last link in our chain of knowledge.
(‘Horsemanship Through Life’ by Mark Rashid)
For several years I’ve handled my untouched moor-bred foals at weaning, to get them quiet enough to be caught, touched and led a short distance. The youngsters have then been returned to moorland grazing or have been sold on to someone else, so I’ve never had to take them to the next stage of training. I’ve become used to dealing with highly reactive semi-wild Exmoor ponies or our ‘ready made’ riding horses, but there are huge gaps in my knowledge – especially of that in between stage where most training takes place. To use the chain analogy, I have a lot of missing links!
Orion and his sisters, Gaia and Demeter, are two years old now and (although I haven’t handled them nearly as much as I meant to) they are at the stage where they’re ‘testing the boundaries’, for want of a better term. I can imagine Gaia, in particular, thinking I wonder what will happen if when she gives me an experimental nip or tries to run ahead of me, and I want to be able to show her it’s not a good idea without squashing her natural exuberance.
It was because of this, and because I was so impressed by a horse agility demonstration given by Dawn Westcott with her Exmoor stallion ‘Bear’, that I enrolled for the Agility and Liberty Workshop during the Exmoor Pony Festival week.
When I saw Dawn at the Exmoor Pony Art Exhibition a few days before the workshop, I told her about Gaia and she asked me what I felt inside when I worked with her. Did I feel strong in my core? Um, sort of, I think, um . . .
The day of the workshop arrived, and I was looking forward to a thoroughly enjoyable time: early lunch with some good friends in Porlock, then on to Holt Ball for the afternoon. A day off. Ideal!
To begin with, Dawn talked us through various ideas, techniques and exercises with Bear (aka Hawkwell Vesuvius). It looked deceptively easy, mainly because most of the communication that was going on wasn’t visible. The demonstration ended with Bear doing a triple jump at liberty, then he was turned out in the field with his mares for a well-earned rest and we had a tea break. So far so very good.
Then Dawn and Nick brought in four Exmoor ponies: Otis, Penelope Pitstop, Tambora and Harry. Penelope came straight up to where everyone was sitting, lapping up the attention. She appeared to be self-confident and very bossy towards the other ponies. My immediate (unspoken) reaction was that she needed to be ‘taken down a peg or two’, as my Dad used to say when people were too cocky.
“Tortie, would you like to come and work with Penelope?” Dawn said.
Eagerly, I climbed over the partition between the viewing area and the arena. Penelope immediately came towards me and started nibbling at my clothes and hands. It was rather endearing. I was used to Exmoor ponies who were much more wary. I rubbed her forehead, eager to make friends. But the nibbling became more like gentle nips and she was really trying to crowd me now.
“I shouldn’t let her do that. Make her go back,” Dawn said.
“Back,” I said, looking Penelope in the eye and stepping towards her. That would have been enough to send Orion, Gaia or Demeter scurrying backwards, but not Penelope. She stood as still as a statue.
“Back,” I repeated, and this time I shook the rope in my hand for good measure.
Penelope stood her ground, looking amused.
I was aware everyone was watching, and I felt stupid. This had to be the most stubborn pony I’d ever met! I shook the rope more vigorously up and down with both hands and walked straight into her, but she was as solid as a brick wall. Dawn took the lead rope from me and, with hardly any visible effort she got Penelope to walk backwards and stay a few steps away, outside her personal space. “You’ve got to mean it. Project your energy,” she said.
I tried again, with limited success, so decided to do something else: moving the pony’s hindquarters. Dawn had showed us how to do this with Bear – walking out to one side and asking him to move his hindquarters. I’d seen this, but in my rattled state I forgot about it and tried to move Penelope round by standing in front of her and inviting her to move by shifting to one side and focusing on her hind legs. This is what I do with my ponies, and how I was taught by Vanessa Bee. It works well with semi-wild ponies, as standing a short distance away from their hindquarters is often too scary for them. Just looking at their feet can get them moving.
It didn’t work with Penelope.
I tried again, this time turning her head to encourage her to step round.
Rather than thinking about what Dawn had shown us half an hour earlier, I carried on with plan A (see Mark Rashid above!) becoming increasingly frustrated that it wasn’t working. Eventually Dawn stepped in and showed me how she did it. Penelope moved round, no problem. Oh God, everyone’s watching me make a fool of myself, I thought. I did as Dawn had shown me, trying my best to concentrate my energy, and it worked to a certain extent, but I must have had a terrible frown on my face because I always do when I concentrate!
Penelope moved reluctantly. If she could speak, I expect she’d have said, “Yeah. Whatever.”
Time to move on and try something different, I thought, admitting defeat. So we went up to the far end of the school and I tentatively led Penelope through an archway with brightly coloured ribbons of plastic hanging from it, expecting her to pull back in alarm as my ponies would have done. She went through without a moment’s hesitation. I got the distinct impression she was glad to be doing something fun and useful at last. We weaved in and out of the bending poles, over the seesaw, through lots of scrunchy milk cartons, round the maze, up a plank onto a circular platform on top of a tractor tyre and over a jump. I had the distinct impression she was showing me what to do, rather than the other way round. All the time I was trying to work out whether my rope was long enough and slack enough, whether I should walk slightly in front or beside her and other technicalities. For a brief moment towards the end I forgot to think and actually started enjoying myself, and when that happened Penelope started walking beside me rather than slightly behind. Hmm…
Then it was time for me to hand over to someone else. Penelope looked happier with her new handler, I thought (although my ego was glad to note she wasn’t entirely cooperative!). It would have been nice to be able to say it was because I’d got Penelope going and had showed her how to do everything, but the fact is she knew exactly what to do already.
So what did Penelope teach me? Far more than I could ever have learned by just watching a demonstration. This blog is already long, so I’ll boil it down to three main things:
1) Horses are excellent mirrors. I’d just written about this in Joe and the Race to Rescue, yet I chose to ignore it when it mattered. Basically, I’d decided fairly early on that Penelope wasn’t my kind of pony. She was too cocky, bossy and annoying.
What did she think about me? Probably much the same thing. I was too focused on making her ‘do’ things and I didn’t bother to relax and get to know her properly. It was only towards the end of my session with her that I realised how incredibly intelligent, brave and talented she is. You definitely wouldn’t want to squash that by taking her down a peg or two.
2) There’s a lot more to good horsemanship than meets the eye. In fact the most effective sorts of communication are invisible: energy, breathing and how we feel inside. There was a young girl on the course who was there because she loved ponies, full stop. She seemed to have an amazing connection with the pony she handled. No prizes for guessing why!
3) It’s easy to measure horsemanship by what someone can make their horse do, and it’s easy to appear to be a good horseman (by that standard) if the horse you are handling is frightened of what you might do if he or she doesn’t cooperate. My Exmoor ponies respond to my every cue because they haven’t completely lost their natural fear of me yet. Penelope wasn’t in the least bit afraid of me and she couldn’t see any good reason to do as I was asking, so I felt powerless. I’d come to the end of my chain of knowledge. I reacted in all the predictable ways.
I need to forge lots of new chains, starting with how I feel inside when I work with horses. I need to be strong, consistent and soft, but most of all I need to stop analysing everything, smile and remember how it feels to be a girl who loves horses, full stop.
Thanks, Dawn, and thanks Penelope!"
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Some Liberty play with Exmoor Stallion Hawkwell Versuvius 'Bear' on the farm
By Dawn Westcott
Today Bear and myself found some time to practise some Horse Agility and Liberty Connection and then go and explore some areas of pasture and rough grazing around the farm that he doesn't normally have access to.
Jimbo the sheepdog came along too and we had some fun, with Bear doing big sweeping circuits exploring the pasture and then cantering back to me. It was lovely to experience the Connection with this majestic stallion and good to see him secure, interested and confident about leaving his familiar herd to come and play.
A great afternoon
Here's Bear on his way back after a circuit of the area
Exploring the different scents
On his way back to me again
Now we're off to a different field - this is exciting!
Time for a gallop through the long grass
More interesting scents!
Bear and Jimbo
Blog copyright, photography and all rights reserved: Dawn Westcott
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Exmoor Pony Society - Please Stop Denigrating the Moorland Exmoor Herds!
The Exmoor Pony Society yesterday published this statement on the Exmoor Pony Festival social media page on Facebook.
From The EXMOOR PONY SOCIETY: "DID YOU KNOW ....Historically both the registered Dartmoor and the registered Exmoor pony were free-living on their respective moors nowadays the vast majority of ponies on Dartmoor are given the status of Dartmoor Hill Pony with the registered Dartmoor pony moving from the Vulnerable category into the Endangered Category this year and breeding predominantly in-ground. Tom Beeston, CEO of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, said in a statement: “Last year’s watch list was described as a wake-up call – this year’s delivers the message that we have more work to do, not less.
The registered Exmoor pony is in Category 2, Endangered on the Rare Breed Survival Trust Watchlist. Our purpose is promote these wonderful ponies and to educate the public on their welfare and management and ensure that the breed as it is known today remains on the moors and commons of Exmoor working closely with the moorland herd owners who share the common goal of preserving and conserving this precious breed. As with all breeds, their pedigree is recorded into a studbook and in accordance with EU/DEFRA legislation only ponies whose parents are already in the studbook are they themselves allowed to enter the studbook.
Such parentage must be verifiable and in the case of in-ground Exmoor ponies this is achieved through identifying the foal at food with its dam and a valid covering certificate from the owner of the stallion who covered the mare giving details such as the date when the covering took place.
In the case of the free-living Exmoor ponies, two Class 1 scientific laboratories hold a database of all the DNA profiles of the stallions and breeding mares running on the moor together with all their progeny since the early 2000s. This database and the consequent DNA parentage testing of moor bred foals is fully funded by the Exmoor Pony Society through grants, donations and funds raised through membership and fees for passports. It is only with DNA parentage testing that the moor bred foals can be fully registered into the Exmoor Pony Society studbook and continue their important role in the conservation and preservation of the Exmoor pony breed.
For the majority of herds, DNA parentage testing returns 100% results. On some commons where non-Exmoor ponies, first-cross and ponies of unverifiable parentage can be found, this inevitable affects the breeding policies of the registered free-living Exmoor ponies herds in these areas. This is regrettable and results in some ponies of Exmoor type not being eligible for registration. The breeding policies for each herd are set by the herd owners and not by the Exmoor Pony Society albeit that the Society advocates responsible breeding from registered Exmoor stallions and mares worldwide to ensure that the existing gene pool which has been stable since 1982 remains in place and that genetic diversity is maintained by breeding from as many registered ponies as possible given the current equine crisis in the UK. Returning bloodlines to the moor is also a key priority to strengthen the genetic pool."
EXMOOR PONY SOCIETY
Well, some of that statement is not entirely correct and some of it is mis-leading.
Here are a Few HOME TRUTHS about the EPS DNA System and the Moorland Herds:-
Why does the EPS publish statements like this above? Let's take a look at the situation on Exmoor. On the large wilderness areas of Exmoor, there are various interlocking commons where gates get left open and ponies get mixed up (just this week two escaped Exmoor ponies belonging to a non-MEPBG (Moorland Exmoor Pony Breeders Group) member caused damage and havoc on Buscombe. These kind of things can happen. However, a non-MEPBG herd owner allowed two Exmoor stallions to escape onto a private moor and run riot for two years without permission with the long-standing herd there and this is irresponsible practice). These commons and moors span thousands of acres of challenging terrain which provides so much natural cover that ponies can hide, despite the most skilful efforts to gather them. It is often impossible to provide accurate covering certificates which state exactly which mare was covered by which stallion and when. Sometimes, foals or yearlings are already separated when they are brought in and cannot be seen at foot with their dam. This is called ‘a free-living natural environment’ and it is highly desirable for maintaining the standard and type of Exmoor ponies.
This special free-living environment of Exmoor National Park is the original indigenous home of the Exmoor pony. This breed was created in the 1920’s by a group of Exmoor farmers who selected a number of ponies from the many different ponies running out on Exmoor, which contained blacks, greys, browns, duns, bays and even chestnuts apparently. They set a breed standard of characteristics they liked and ‘bred to type’. The Exmoor you see today is a result of that ‘breeding to type’. The breed still regularly produces white markings, black ponies and other anomalies – because these characteristics are within the original ‘mix’ of their genetics. The Exmoor pony did not originate from one particular ‘species’ such as Equus Ferrus, which makes it different to other horse and pony breeds, and it is not a unique ‘prehistoric’ pony - it originated from breeding to type from a pool of ponies running on Exmoor.
The question could be asked therefore, is a pony really ‘an Exmoor’ if it is bred off Exmoor? Or is it an ‘Exmoor type’? And can any pony born and bred into a free-living herd of Exmoor ponies, in Exmoor National Park, be anything other than ‘an Exmoor’ – irrespective of exactly who its parents are?
THE EPS DNA SYSTEM: The other consideration is that the current EPS DNA parentage testing system contains errors and does NOT have a complete baseline of reference DNA profiles for some of the moorland herds. When DNA was brought in as a registration requirement in the early 2000’s, the society did NOT trial the system to see what worked and what didn’t – an incredible and catastrophic oversight. The society also did NOT take DNA samples from all of the moorland stock. It was collected in ‘dribs and drabs’ over the years – missing out on some lines if mares died in between. They also made mistakes when they collected samples and misread some of the ponies brands. And they lost and mixed up samples. Of course, as breeding had been recorded ‘to the breeders’ best knowledge up until then, some of the information was bound to be incorrect and there was apparently an element of 'guesswork'. There were then mistakes made in data capture, mistakes made on forms and multiple samples taken from mares over the years, without inserting microchips – resulting in continuing ‘confusion’ and sometime more apparent 'guesswork'. The EPS DNA source data is therefore fraught with anomalies and errors and DNA testing of Exmoors creates around 90% of the problems that Weatherbys experience in producing DNA results for equines as a whole. The EPS will not apparently address this and persists in making statements implying that all is fine. It most certainly is not.
CULLING EXMOOR PONIES TO 'ERADICATE' ADMINISTRATIVE ERRORS: Some of the moorland herds have been persuaded to cull stock ‘to fit the system’. So where, for all the above reasons, some mare lines consistently failed to ‘DNA parentage verify’ – the farmers were persuaded to kill them and ‘eradicate the errors’. Some herds culled up to 50 mares, and this included some of their best stock and some herd owners still bitterly regret this. Other herds resolutely refused to cull their precious (and endangered breed) ponies and the Tippbarlake herd is one of them. This herd is founded on extremely important original bloodlines of herds 1 and 10, with moorland stock being bequeathed directly from Bob Westcott. This is the only herd where these lines have continued to live out on the moors they originated from, without breeding ‘in ground’ or ‘off the moor’. Culling this herd to ‘fit an error-ridden’ DNA system would be pure folly. The herd owners have done a commendable job in safeguarding and preserving these precious ponies and resisting attempts to persuade them to eradicate stock simply because the registration system is not up to the job.
The same situation has occurred on Molland Moor, where the herd owner has been pressured to cull this precious, long-standing herd entirely because of a DNA fiasco and breakdown in communications with the society as a result. Fortunately, they also have a strong commitment to the ponies before ‘red tape’ and alternative registration is now being sought to safeguard the future of these ponies too.
RETAINING PURITY IN MOORLAND BREEDING PROGRAMMES: The moorland farmers have run stock out on Exmoor for centuries and regularly graze different breeds of sheep like the Exmoor Horns and Welshies, etc, on the same enclosures, along with cattle and ponies. Amazingly, these distinct breeds remain distinct breeds and the farmers are perfectly capable of keeping stock ‘pure’ when they want to. It’s called moorland farming and the Exmoor farmers are good at it.
The Exmoor Pony Society appears to be continually brushing the questionable state of its DNA system and other registration mistakes, inefficiencies and incompetences under the carpet - and also continually denigrating and casting aspersions on the quality of the moorland Exmoor pony stock. Particularly on social media. The way the society portrays and treats the moorland farmers of Exmoor with its pompous and often inaccurate ‘propaganda’ is embarrassing – and disloyal? IMO. Remember, several of these farmers are the descendants of the original founders of the Exmoor Pony Society.
BREEDING TRUE TO TYPE AND RETAINING THE TRUE MOORLAND TYPE OF EXMOOR PONY: Living in genuine semi-feral, free-living family herds in their indigenous, natural environment of Exmoor National Park enables these true to type, purebred Moorland Exmoor ponies retain their desirable characteristics and behaviours. It is openly acknowledged by experts like Libby Henson (Grassroots) and Tom Beeston (RBST CEO) that as soon as they leave the moor, they start to change. There is ‘genetic drift’. Exmoor pony populations away from Exmoor are very important as this not only opens up markets for moorland stock, but it also reduces the risk of extinction from natural disaster or disease. However, for too long, the core breed population on Exmoor itself, particularly the amazing ponies from the wilder moorland areas, have been presented as somewhat 'second rate' which has left the moorland farmers frustrated and demoralised as so many are unnecessarily excluded from registration.
EXMOOR NATIONAL PARK RETAINS THE CORE EXMOOR PONY BREEDING STOCK: So these genuine, authentic, free-living Moorland Exmoor ponies form the key breeding stock. If the DNA system can’t properly verify the parentage, because the baseline data is incomplete and error ridden, and EPS staff recording data make too many mistakes (in Nov 2014 none of the mare data was recorded on the foals DNA sample envelopes unbeknown to the herd owner – rendering them unidentifiable) – then it needs to change. And if the registration system requires foals to be seen at foot with their mares, and yet various of them come in already separated, or they don’t come in at all until the following year – and the DNA system is not up to identifying them - then the system needs to change.
Let’s face it, the current registration system has resulted in the slaughter, exclusion from registration and loss from the dangerously small gene pool of countless perfectly good purebred and precious Moorland Exmoor ponies over the years. And it has got to stop.
BEHAVIOUR OF THE EXMOOR PONY SOCIETY: The EPS behaviour at recent moorland inspections has been hostile, aggressive, questionably incompetent and disgraceful and now the EPS is making impossible demands with its ‘rules’ and registration system. Citing ‘EU/DEFRA’ regulations’ to excuse the society’s failure to satisfactorily register these important ponies.Only recently, the EPS has prevented the MEPBG from taking part in this year's Exmoor Pony Festival, forcing the MEPBG to run its own Heritage Exmoor Pony Festival.
HIDING BEHIND EU/DEFRA REGULATIONS - NOT GOOD ENOUGH! These EU/DEFRA regulations ALLOW for the inclusion of different classes, a supplementary register and an upgrading system within the main section of British Stud Books. The EPS has none of this in its main stud book, and refuses to even consider utilising these options to safeguard the purebred genetics that are constantly discarded and lost.
The emphasis should not perhaps so much be on ‘returning bloodlines back to Exmoor’ (particularly ponies with a tendency to itch, for example, or with less than desirable conformation) but should perhaps be more on preserving and conserving the true, indigenous moorland stock, instead of continuing to squander genetics?
The almost £2,500 of charity funds the EPS spent transporting members five or so ponies down to Exmoor from Scotland could have paid for A LOT of DNA testing for Moorland Exmoor ponies – for the White Rocks ponies for example? And the £7,300 of charity funds the EPS spent last year on solicitors trying to justify the undemocratic and discriminatory termination of our memberships, without a right of reply – could have been spent on A LOT MORE DNA tests for moorland ponies – like Molland Moor and creating a proper and correct DNA baseline for the Tippbarlake herd?
What were they thinking in failing to take DNA samples from all the mares and then not correctly recording the data when the mare and foal combinations were correctly presented to them by the herd owner at the inspection? What were they thinking indeed? This registration mess continues today.
And the claim that the EPS pays for moorland DNA testing is not entirely true. If so, what are they thinking trying to charge the owners (not breeders) of moorland foals hundreds of £££s, without warning, for ‘failed DNA testing’? They’ve just landed me with a surprise additional £98 bill for Monsieur Chapeau’s failed DNA testing which I hadn’t even agreed to or even known they would try to charge me. I’m the owner not even the breeder of this pony who comes from the Dunkery Commons, where only registered Exmoor ponies run. Tom Faggus (gathered from Buscombe last May as a yearling) has had TWO DNA samples sent to the EPS and they have so far FAILED to even run a complete DNA test for him, citing ‘the lab is busy and it will be done when time allows’. This is now getting on for A YEAR.
And due to the inspection fiasco of the 2014 Tippbarlake foals, all eighteen, who have passed physical inspection and meet the breed standard, remain un-DNA-parentage verified. What would Bob Westcott say about that? Including 12 precious fillies.
This is all truly disgraceful. If I hadn’t been already chucked out of the EPS by a bunch of petty, small-minded and jealous showing competitors for ‘expressing concerns’ about this sort of thing, including illegal multiple hot branding of domestic foals, I would be ashamed to be a member of the Exmoor Pony Society for publishing this kind of statement above. IMO.
The EPS Secretary should perhaps get on and provide that long requested (by the herd owner) account for her behaviour at the Tippbarlake inspection rather than waste time writing misleading statements like this? Oh and perhaps get on and run that DNA test on Tom Faggus please. This is a genuine, authentic Moorland Exmoor pony whose registration should be the top priority of the EPS? Shame on the Exmoor Pony Society for yet more bad behaviour.
And why post the above statement on the Exmoor Pony Festival page? Is the Exmoor Pony Festival now going to be tarnished and 'tainted' with this Exmoor Pony Society 'propaganda' too? Oh dear
Blog copyright: Dawn Westcott 2015
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The MEPBG Heritage Exmoor Pony Register - calling all Exmoor pony owners!
The Moorland Exmoor Pony Breeders Group (MEPBG) is looking to track and record ALL Exmoor pony bloodlines in the UK and overseas, and we welcome information about your Exmoor ponies.
The aim is to create an accessible register which tracks Registered Pedigree; Unregistered Pedigree; Pure; First Cross & Part-Bred Exmoor ponies - giving the opportunity for vital knowledge transfer, transparency and cross-referencing of data.
Most important is the recording and tracking of 'pure' but currently unregistered Exmoor ponies and their progeny. Exmoor ponies who do not have DNA parentage verification will be able to have an optional DNA Purity (Whole Genome) Test to confirm their purity, followed by DNA parentage testing - which will facilitate entry into an appropriate level of the Heritage Exmoor pony Register - providing much needed recognition for the pony and subsequent progeny.
The MEPBG is concerned that various 'pure' Exmoor ponies are not being suitably registered and as a result, are being 'lost' for a variety of reasons, which is not acceptable with the dangerously small gene pool. This includes a significant number of Exmoor ponies overseas and ponies who 'fail' at inspection for minor cosmetic reasons that do not compromise their quality and value to the breed.
The new register will, crucially, offer greater recognition for pure Exmoor ponies who are currently classified only as 'Exmoor Type' if one or both of their parents can not be verified.
The group is endeavouring to ensure that all Exmoor ponies, and their progeny, have the opportunity to be represented in the new MEPBG Heritage Exmoor Pony Register.
We are very keen to hear from owners and breeders of all Exmoor ponies, alive and dead, and their progeny.
If you're interested in helping to build this valuable resource for our endangered breed, please let us know if you have Exmoor ponies in the following categories:
- REGISTERED (in the main studbook)
- UNREGISTERED PEDIGREE (unregistered but from a registered sire and dam or 'Section X')
- PURE (thought to be from pure Exmoor parents - one or neither registered)
- FIRST CROSS - one parent registered/pure and one from a different breed
- PART BRED - Less than 50% Exmoor (down to around 12.5%)
Please email brief details about your pony/ponies, together with your full contact details to MoorlandExmoorGroup@hotmail.co.uk and we will be in touch.
Thank you for helping the MEPBG to track and record Exmoor ponies worldwide!
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Que Sera Sera - 'Liberty'
The Supreme In Hand Champion of the 2014 Moorland Exmoor Pony Breeders Group MEPBG Exmoor Pony Show, three year old Que Sera Sera 'Libby' 423/38 has a heartrending tale to tell.
Born into the free-living Herd 423 that runs on Countisbury, Libby's mother was killed by a car when she was two weeks old - the busy A39 transverses the ponies moorland grazing and all fencing has been removed due to a moorland regeneration scheme. That night, the foal didn't want to be caught and stayed free. But the next day, another mare brought the foal down to the farm yard and when James Bryant went to shut the gate, she galloped out, clearly leaving the foal there saying 'Hey I brought her to you, now you have to look after her!'
So James tried to bottle feed the foal but she wouldn't drink. He phoned around the various Exmoor pony organisations and experts and was told to shoot her. However, he kept trying to get the foal to feed, but she wouldn't. Finally, he was preparing to put her down, and then poured the milk from the bottle into a bucket in despair. The foal drank. Bethany Hernaman, who was working with the Bryants at the time, decided to take on the foal to see if she could help her survive. She called her Liberty 'Libby'. In just one week she was strong enough to be turned outside and galloped around with incredible spirit and energy. She was then introduced to Bethany's two Arabian geldings who instantly loved her and became her surrogate parents. She lives with them still.
As part of her socialisation, Bethany took Libby for walks out on the moor, with the family’s ten dogs and let the foal go free with the dogs to run and play - then they all went home again. She does liberty and horse agility with Libby. Now, at three years old, Beth took the filly to the MEPBG Exmoor Pony Show to help promote Herd 423 - and she won Overall Supreme In Hand Champion, because Que Sera Sera (her official name) has turned into such a beautiful pony. And the special bond between them allowed the filly to sparkle with presence all day.
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Ivy has been to two local shows now.
She happily loads and travels on her own taking everything in her stride, she's coped with lots of strange sights and sounds including lorries and trailers going past her.
She has been placed each time despite being the only yearling there.
We still need to work on her trot as she often either canters or remains in walk but there is plenty of time for that.
I am delighted that she remains calm, watching what is going on around her. Today she was fascinated by a miniature Shetland stallion, when she first saw him, he was wearing a rug, Ivy just stood and stared, she didn't know what he was. Unfortunately, she was in the show ring at the time! It took a while to persuade her to walk on.
The judges have been very complimentary about her. Todays judge was lovely, she even took her hat off to reassure Ivy that she wasn't a monster. She said her conformation and movement were spot on and added that she will be a stunner when she's older.
Again I have to apologise for writing an update so late!
So much has happened since the last blog...summer has finally arrived and most of the ponies have lost their winter coats and traded it in for shiny summer coats in many shades of brown, from light brown to almost black! They are so beautiful. Each time I see them I feel very grateful that we were able to save them from such a horrible fate. They are starting to find us more and more interesting and follow us everywhere.
Within a very short time, they have developed their own tracks system. They follow the same routine every day, which takes them to the same place at the same time, and it is amazing how fast their tracks appeared! The herd moves like an "army" - in a particular order and all the ponies follow the same tracks in single file. My son happened to be walking on a track and the ponies even started to follow him!
We also had an emergency on our hands a couple of weeks ago. An Exmoor pony herd lives in a nature reserve called "Mandeveld" close to my home. I have known this herd for many years and Wieke (the girl in the photo above, who rescued the ponies together with me) also knows the herd very well, in particular a 2 year old colt called "Johan". She told me she couldn't find him anywhere and was really worried about him. I called the nature reserve and was told that they had taken him out of the forest that very day because he had been in a fight with Ilkterton Cracker, the older stallion, and was badly injured. They expected Johan to be pts that afternoon...I offered them to treat him at our (borrowed) pasture, if possible and within ten minutes they called me to say they would take him to us! Phewww that was such a relief. He travelled really well and we put him in the roundpen. He was walking on three legs and at first we thought his tendons were torn, but after cooling his leg consistently for 5 days, he started to walk much better! Apparently the tendons were stretched but not torn
You'll probably wonder how we were able to cool his leg - after all, a pony from the wild cannot even be approached...Well, what saved Johan is the fact that Wieke had been gentling him a bit in the forest for a year...so she could approach him, touch him and treat him Again, that is why we feel that ponies who are used for conservation grazing should all be gentled and halter-trained; if not, a simple injury can be a death sentence...
Johan was lucky, he is recovering really well and this week he will be moved to a small pasture of his own. Despite his very young age, he is too much of a stallion to be near any mares!
A couple of days after that we faced another emergency...one of the rehomed Exmoor ponies had escaped, because someone had cut the fencing of her paddock and let her out....Wieke and I managed to put her in a small fenced off section of the huge pasture she had fled to. The person where she was agisting no longer wanted her on his property, which put the young woman who had rescued her in a very difficult position, with nowhere to go for the pony. So she was brought back to us and her rescuer is kindly sponsoring her until she is rehomed again The morning after she came back she joined the herd and she immediately had a very long grooming session with the youngest colt of the herd, who we think is her little brother.
Some funny things happened as well. For instance, we discovered that the ponies are absolutely crazy about willow branches! There were many of them lying beside the fencing that had been cut and piled up there two months ago. When we pulled them into the pasture the ponies went bezerk! They couldn't wait to eat the leaves and chew on the branches, they ran to them and didn't know which one to go to first!
So all the ponies are doing very well; they are relaxed and happy, they feel safe and at home. Their trust is growing and most of them come close to us now. There has been some interest in adoption lately, and we hope that a few ponies will find a fabulous home!
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Don't forget to tune into BBC Countryfile this Sunday at 7pm to watch staff and students demonstrate the training they have been doing with Adam Henson's exmoor foals over the last 8 weeks.
If you can't wait til Sunday here's a sneak preview...
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