EPICENTRE - the newsletter for Exmoor Ponies in Conservation

Exmoor Ponies in Conservation Newsletter

Issue 1 Article 3

IN THE BEGINNING...........

There was the Exmoor Pony - and then there nearly wasn't. You'll know all that, well, we knew that too. We thought that if we had an Exmoor pony, perhaps we could persuade someone who had some run down limestone grassland to give it a go. We've kept native ponies for twenty five years and thought we knew what we would be letting ourselves in for. All we had to do was find a suitable foal and then seek out a local conservation organisation willing to let us test the experimental evidence.

Our Exmoor pony arrived in November 1994. It had come straight off the Fells at Brampton from Peter Dean's herd, via the Penrith sales. As with all Exmoors, it was branded with its herd number, 14, on the front quarter and its own number on the rear. Having had little exposure to man during its first six months, it took particular exception to this experience. So did its mates. There were three of them. Margaret, somewhat new to horse sales, must have twitched ambiguously and was informed afterward the sale that she was the proud owner of three colts. Enter Merlin, number 9, Peregrine, number 10 and Elfin, number 11.

During their second six months they came to terms with living with people and their things; cars, fences, buckets; well you name it, they were against it. If people had had anything to do with it then woe betide the people. Margaret sought treatment for the twitch and attended AA meetings for a while (Auctions Anonymous).

The search for the conservation organisation and the grassland rapidly assumed some urgency. After a couple of false starts, we discovered English Nature and salvation in the shape of Rob Petly Jones. During the winter of 1994, Rob, who was aware of the credentials of the breed, took the risk of running a trio of wild ponies on part of the Gait Barrows reserve. The three boys, however, were most reluctant to move. If we thought they were going back into that trailer...........

Three days later, we put up warning notices and kept a very close eye on them for the first few weeks. We needen't have worried. After the initial mad half hour, they kept themselves to themselves and just set about looking majestic.

At the end of just one season, there seemed to be evidence that they had made a difference. There were more Ragged Robins and more Marsh Orchids and quite a bit of positive feedback from people using the footpaths. They did so well, they were offered another engagement. Martin Metcalfe from English Nature helped introduce us to the owner of some wild marshy land in Crag Bank that they wanted to reclaim. The trio spent their second spring and summer getting fat and growing more and more used to their part in the scheme of things and sure enough, in their second year on that pasture, there were some Marsh Orchids on Crag Bank.

Meanwhile, the AA having expelled Margaret as a hopeless case, plans were being laid to acquire a mare on loan for a couple of years. It appeared to be a sensible alternative to the sale ring. Enter Pimpernel, from herd number 49 via Mr and Mrs Thomas from the Brecon Beacons and with the good offices of their stallion Inca Dove.

She went off to spend her time with the lads until a few weeks before we thought she was due to foal when she came back to our bit of pasture. We'd done what seemed to be the right sums and kept a close watch on her for what seemed like months. She was checked on at 11.30 one night and was found to be just her usual self and that was that. One of our daughters came back from a baby sitting about an hour later and realised something was developing and woke the household. Half an hour after we had got down to the stable in our nightclothes the foal was born soon after that, Lily was up on her feet. She was born with the amniotic sac still intact around her and was being ignored by Pimpernel. Margaret had to break it herself before the foal moved and attracted her mother's attention.

Well that was then and this is now. We hadn't been conservation grazing for long when we discovered that we were not alone. There were more mad people with more mad Exmoors on other nature reserves. We started thinking that perhaps we were all re-composing the same saga and that it might be a good idea if we were able to profit from one another's experiences.

by Tim Mackintosh