Exmoor Ponies - conserved by conserving


The Welfare of Horses, Ponies, & Donkeys Used for Conservation Grazing

(See also the ADAS Code for the Care of Equids)


  1. Grazing animals have been utilised for a number of years as tools of conservation management on numerous sites throughout the United Kingdom in order to maintain the desirable ecological balance by controlling certain plant species so that other species are promoted.
  2. On some sites the grazing animals are wild, semi-feral, or domesticated and the species utilised have ranged from rabbits and goats, through sheep, pigs, cattle and equines, to large exotic herbivores.
  3. This code of practice is limited to the welfare of equines.
  4. On a number of sites it appears that the prime consideration has been the flora, birds and invertebrate life, with scant attention being paid to the welfare of the animals used to graze the land.
  5. The welfare of the grazer is as important as the species on behalf of which the project was instigated. In any well managed situation, the management should never be to the disadvantage of the grazer employed for the benefit of other species. It should enjoy the same provision as any grazing animal in a well-managed situation.
  6. In the United Kingdom, the welfare of animals is provided for under the Protection of Animals Act 1911; in Scotland by the Protection of Animals (Scotland) Act 1912.


  1. Domestic horses have not been bred for survival and are less hardy than British native ponies. They tend to have a finer and thinner coat that is not in any way designed to help them keep warm, dry and healthy throughout all the weathers that might be expected in the winter.
  2. Horses are more prone to diseases, accidents and unsoundness than native ponies. They thus require a higher level of supervision than ponies. They also pose a problem about supplementary feeding, especially during the winter period.

  1. Donkeys are not unduly upset by cold, frost or snow but are totally unable to withstand heavy rain, especially if this be accompanied by strong wind. For this reason, except on a few particular sites, donkeys are not generally acceptable for conservation grazing. Even on special sites, full shelter and attention should be provided.


  1. Britain has nine breeds of registered native ponies. There are no wild horses or wild ponies in the United Kingdom. However, within some of the native breeds there are semi-feral ponies or ponies that run out throughout the year on their native heath or other similar ground. Every pony in the United Kingdom has a distinct owner who, at all times, including during its use for conservation grazing, is legally responsible for its welfare. Ponies may be unbroken or broken, handled or un-handled, but never wild.
  2. It is important that ponies used for conservation grazing have strong and correct conformation. It is especially important that the tooth and jaw formation is correct in order for the pony to be able to graze properly. It is also important that the pattern of the whorls on the coat of any pony regularly out in wet weather, is of regular pattern. It is this pattern that is designed to run water off a pony and keep its body dry.
  3. There are many unregistered ponies about. For the purpose of conservation grazing, many of these would be suitable, but those that had either the grazing capability of, or close relationship to, the type of pony accepted by breed societies for registration are most likely to be successful.


  1. A local delegated person should have overall responsibility for all equines on a site. This person, or persons deputising for them should be able to manage the equines effectively and competently.
  2. The delegated person has a duty to ensure that all equines have:-
    • Freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition;
    • Freedom from discomfort;
    • Freedom from pain, injury and disease;
    • Freedom from distress;
    • Freedom to express most normal patterns of behaviour
  3. The delegated person should be able to demonstrate ability to:-
    • Recognise normal behaviour and good health in equines as opposed to abnormal behaviour, fear and/or disease;
    • Recognise signs of injury, common illnesses and distress;
    • Handle equines compassionately and in a humane manner, anticipate potential problems and take necessary preventative action.



  1. The welfare of any animal is the legal responsibility of the owner.
  2. All animals should be managed as domestic animals.
  3. All animals should be handled by, or under the supervision of trained or experienced personnel.
  4. All animals should be regularly monitored by an individual competent to assess their well-being.
  5. All animals should be subject to and used in accordance with national legislation and regulations and local bylaws.
  6. All animals should have appropriate and current insurance, especially third party cover. Provision must be available immediately for the accommodation of any animal requiring rehabilitation either on the request of a veterinary surgeon called in, or due to an animal falling below the accepted standard (Condition Score 2, where 1 is emaciated and 5 is obese) - using scale devised by Pollock (Appendix 1)


  1. All animals should only be used in grazing situations which do not place them under nutritional stress so that they are obliged to eat that which is harmful to them.
  2. No animals should be subjected to new, novel or unusual grazing situations without a period of close supervision to determine their levels of stress.
  3. All animals should have access to fresh clean water at all times. There should be contingency plans to provide emergency water should, for any reason, the normal water supply fail.
  4. All animals should be provided with fodder and other nutritional supplement as are exceptionally necessary due to foul weather. Such foodstuff being stored locally so that, in emergencies, it is immediately available.
  5. All animals that fall to the condition score 2 must be removed from the grazing site to premises where they can be rehabilitated.


  1. All animals should enjoy effective animal management.
  2. Any site should be maintained free from substances known to be harmful to animals and debris likely to cause injuries.
  3. All sites should be maintained free from poisonous plants. On sites where this is not practical, the local delegated person must be aware of the poisonous plants and the attendant risks and must be certain that management decisions and pressure on grazing will not increase the risk of poisonous plants harming animals.
  4. Every site should have access to suitable handling facilities that provide safety to handlers as well as being designed and built so as to avoid any injury or potential injury to animals. Handling facilities can be portable and shared between sites. (EPIC note:- There are currently NO portable handling systems designed for and suitable for use by equines. The BHS is reconsidering the inclusion of this sentence.)
  5. All animals should receive regular health care such as dosing for helminth parasites. It has been stated that since equines are on extensive grazing there is no need to dose against worms. This is not only bad husbandry, but is deliberate negligence of veterinary care.
  6. All animals should receive trimming for overgrown or misshapen feet. The need to resort to the use of a narcotised dart gun to sedate unhandled animals for simple procedures is not good management and should be avoided. Mild sedation for some procedures may be acceptable in occasional circumstances.
  7. All animals should receive veterinary attention when required.
  8. All animals should have shelter available such as is necessary and appropriate for the species or breed.
  9. The minimum age for foals for conservation grazing should be five months unless they are running with their dams.

Tim Mackintosh()