EPICENTRE - the newsletter for Exmoor Ponies in Conservation

Exmoor Ponies in Conservation Newsletter

Issue 1 Article 6


I started to breed Exmoor ponies in 1991. My first mare Tawbitts Topsey, was a mare from the trekking herd of the Royal Dick Veterinary College in Edinburgh. She had never been broken but had been minimally handled. She was in foal and produced a filly foal shortly after she arrived. She has proved to be a very successful brood mare, producing four colts and two fillies. She only missed one year because there was no stallion here in l991.

By 1994 it was clear to me that if I wanted to continue building , I would need either to give over all my land to the ponies, or find somewhere else for them to run. I was interested in the idea of an independent free-living herd in Ireland, but did not have enough room. About eight miles from where I live there is a National Trust Reserve. It is an area of sand dunes called Murlough near Dunduan Bay in County Down. I contacted the National Trust and was very lucky. They were not happy with the grazing regime on Murlough and were looking for a better one. They were very interested in the ponies and by April 1995 the two mares and the two yearling fillies were running on about two hundred acres!

I added my first stallion, Heathpool Loch Broom and subsequently Ropely Marillian, whom I brought from Scotland in April 1996. Everything seemed to go well. The only real problem was catching the foals for branding and removing the colts. The National Trust was very helpful and the warden, Hugh Thurgate went to great trouble planning with me and the Exmoor Pony Society, a suitable funnel-shaped corral in which to catch the ponies. This has proved very successful. Once this had been tried and tested I thought all our problems would be over. But no! First our stallion drove out a young colt foal and we had great fun catching him after he had been living on his own for a while - but that's a story for another day.

The second problem was from people feeding the ponies. When the ponies went out first, they had been shy. Topsy does not trust people although she can be handled if she's caught. She keeps her foals at a distance. The two daughters who went on as yearlings were handled a little, and can sometimes be approached by people they know. This was almost perfect as the herd was not too flighty but kept it's distance. The ponies could be seen but not touched. The public was safe and so were the ponies. After foaling in May I could only get near one or two of the young mares, but I could always approach the stallion even though he still did not approach me.

By the end of August things had changed. One evening the ponies were grazing near the gate, and Marillian came straight towards me clearly looking for titbits. He tried to put his nose in the pockets of my coat and when I produced nothing stamped a hind foot. He was not aggressive. I know his good nature, but not all people who walk the dunes know how to react to an overly friendly pony, particularly one so big and strong as Marillian! Very reluctantly I decided that he had to come off the dunes, away from his mares and foals. So nice is his nature, that he left with no more than a few whinnies and went into the trailer. It is hard to see him alone now in the field. The notices I had put up asking people not to feed the ponies clearly were clearly not enough and unwittingly harm has been done. The question is how can we avoid problems of this kind?

by Sarah Creaner

N.B. Ponies do respond to the 'lottery ' principle and it may only take one person feeding out of many more who abide by the notices to create this behaviour pattern. Often the more bold herd leader, may create further risk by aggressive chasing of his/her peers away from the food source. Any ideas anyone? Ed.