On 4th November 2001 there was an inspection of Exmoor foals carried out by Mr. Peter Dean and his wife Susan at Heathpool farm, the home of Mr. Copland and herd 93. Among those present were Geneticists, Veterinary Surgeons, other Exmoor pony breeders and owners, and the, then, assistant editor of “The Native Pony”. As a result of discussion that day and subsequent contacts Mr. Copland was invited to submit a Letter to the Native Pony. Here it is as published in the February edition:
It is the policy of the Exmoor Pony Society that all pure-bred foals be inspected for the presence of "faults" before registration by the EPS. The value in this system lies in the records of failures, which reveal the very genes being selected against.
The rules of the EPS then require that ALL registered ponies be hot branded. It has been accepted that hot branding of foals is less stressful than freeze branding, when done on “free ranging” or “semi-feral” animals. This has been assumed by the EPS to include ALL Exmoor ponies. Nothing could be further from the truth. In 2000 only 37% of foals registered came from common grazings on Exmoor. So some 63% of foals hot branded could not be described as "free ranging" or "semi-feral.
Myself with many others concerned in animal welfare have tried to have microchipping accepted as a more humane and suitable alternative to hot branding. This has been opposed by the EPS on the grounds that chips may fall out, ponies could not be identified without brands, and "we have always branded, it is traditional”. I do not accept that inability to recognise one's own stock, which is poor husbandry or that “tradition” are sufficient reason for animals to be subjected to an outdated and painful procedure.
Efforts made to prompt the EPS to release information on foals rejected at inspection have also failed. This attitude, based upon the sensitivities of some members to failure of their stock at inspection, negates the whole inspection system. The raison d’ętre for the existence of any breed society is to exchange information, not only between breeders, but also for the benefit of owners and potential owners.
One of the current problems of the EPS is that it is run entirely from Exmoor, there is no provision for either proxy votes or postal votes at Annual General Meetings. The Society is no longer a local group, it has now members and breeders throughout the United Kingdom and abroad. As a registered charity it must become more democratic and permit all members the right to a vote without always having to travel to Exmoor for a meeting on a specified date and at a specified time in order to register that vote.
Alex. N. Copland BSc. BVM&S. MSc. MRCVS
The Society is saddened at Mr. Copland’s attack on the inspection and branding system, especially as he has served as an Inspector for a number of years although, of course, he is entitled to voice his views.
The Exmoor Pony Society works to uphold high standards at Inspection and constructive ideas are always given due consideration. The Exmoor Pony Society, like most of the native breed societies, is run from its native area and considers that informed decisions are best made when the opinions of members are made known and can be debated at a general meeting. Postal or Proxy voting would not give all members access to all the arguments.
Hot branding is used as the longer restraint required for freeze branding would be more stressful for foals and micro-chipping, as an alternative to branding, was democratically rejected at the 1994 AGM.
Ponies from one herd on Exmoor have recently been micro-chipped and, when the chips were read a fortnight later 2 chips could not be found, indicating a less than satisfactory identification medium. Microchips are not effective out on the hill, they cannot be read at a distance and while owners of small groups will certainly know their ponies, to suggest ‘poor husbandry’ is insulting to those owners with 30 or 40 Exmoors, given their uniform appearance.
The decision not to disseminate information concerning foals rejected on inspection was, again, democratically taken at the 1996 AGM: concern about Data Protection regulations was only one of the considerations. Perhaps the greatest perceived concern was the danger of inexpert interpretation of failure data and the consequent potential for unfair effects on breeders.
The inspection system exists to ensure that ponies free from disqualifying faults are registered and those that display faults are not. This it does.
The Exmoor Pony Society
Reaction to EPS response
The unidentified person signing as Exmoor Pony Society must have gone to sleep in 1994. Had they been awake they would have known the main discussions within the Society about micro-chipping of ponies were held in 1997. At the AGM of 1997 a scheme that offered an alternative but parallel system of micro-chipping was propounded. The scheme offered the benefits of positive chip identification (I think members had by then realised that if inserted properly chips just do not "fall out".) along side the needed hot brand marks for both ponies in semi-feral environments and for breeders who felt that because the system of branding started at the foundation of the Society (1921) should be maintained.
The EPS numbering system is un-paralled for its ability to reveal a great amount of information about individual ponies. This includes information about ponies, pure bred but rejected at Society foal inspection. In 1996 there was no one in EPS who was qualified to interpret such information. Presently, however, EPS membership includes such a person. There is also a close relationship with the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh that enjoys world wide recognition in the field of genetics. They have already carried out a small study of information from EPS stud book This information is already available. Similar information should be readily available to EPS members and potential pony buyers so they may make personal judgements on individual ponies.
It is suggested your printed letter that constructive ideas are always given due consideration. Perhaps, after a lapse of five years and a marked change in the public attitude, a proposal similar to that of 1997 merits fresh consideration. In view of the recent clarification that data protection is restricted to human data, it is time for the Exmoor Pony Society to regain its progressive lead amongst breed societies and concentrate its efforts on the ponies it is charged to promote.
I hope your readers will wish to be part of wide opinion gathering and send their views to you. EPS members should, additionally, let their views be known either by attending the Society AGM or by writing to the Chairman. Democracy only works when people with views get counted.
P. R. C. Dean EPS member
I write in support of the letter by Mr Alex Copland MRCVS published in your February edition regarding the hot branding of Exmoor ponies.
As a welfare society the Scottish SPCA has long advocated identification of all animals where practical. Reliable identification can assist in proving ownership in civil disputes, prevent fraud, and importantly from our point of view, assist in tracing the owners of lost, abandoned or neglected animals.
It may well be that the “tradition” of hot branding evolved from the fact that it was one of only a few methods available when the practice originated. However, where there are clear welfare benefits, modern technology should override tradition.
Microchipping is over 98% reliable and unlike tattooing or branding is tamper-proof. It is the preferred and recommended method of identification by the veterinary profession and welfare societies alike and as such I would recommend all breed societies adopt microchipping as the standard method.
Ian R. Gardiner Chief Executive of SSPCA
The RSPCA position currently is that the Society reluctantly accepts hot branding for unhandled native foals. It does not support hot branding of non moor-bred, well-handled foals, where micro-chipping would be the method of choice. Hot branding of quiet foals may classify as unnecessary suffering, an offence under the 1911 Act.
I agree with the statements that brands are difficult, if not impossible, to read at any distance, particularly when winter coats are worn. To my mind the value of all these marks is not that they allow easy identification, which they do not, but they do allow a definitive identification when the ownership, or breeding of a particular animal is in doubt. This definitive identification could easily be achieved by micro-chip, with arguably much less distress to the animal.
I was somewhat surprised to read that a fortnight after implantation two chips could not be found in one herd. Was this the fault of the chip, or of the operator using the reader? There have been few substantiated reports of microchips being lost, but a number of reports of migration of the chip which has made identification more difficult. As you may know, all newly registered thoroughbred horses now have to be micro-chipped.
I agree with the general thrust that the whole point of an inspection system is to set standards, which remove unsatisfactory animals, and for this to be effective it must be fair and open. If the inspection criteria are variable, and failures are hidden it discredits the whole process.
David M. McDowell. BVMS MRCVS
Equine Veterinary Officer for RSPCA
We read the correspondence between the Exmoor Pony Society and Mr. Copland with interest as it raises a number of important points about the value of data. There are issues we would like to add to the debate, since we feel that they have relevance to all breed societies. Most importantly, they demonstrate the considerable benefit to a breed from having its data assessed by qualified geneticists.
Characteristics and important traits for a breed can be assessed for their genetic basis. Where necessary suitable matings can then be set up to avoid conditions that might impair welfare or cause breed rejection. In this way make unwelcome but heritable conditions can be greatly reduced. Such schemes are essential if breed societies see a future for their particular breed.
The publishing of breed data in itself raises the profile of the breed: either that it is has an interesting story to tell to a wider public, or that it is being positive about the future, so stimulating wider involvement with the breed.
It is valuable to encourage a number of genetic groups to examine data, since each group will have a different perspective and will ‘test’ the data in different ways. An example of the benefits of multiple scrutiny has come from a very different agricultural context: only when BSE data began to be tested by different groups with different expertise did an epidemiological understanding emerge.
For more forward thinking breed societies, their role focuses on the use of results rather than, as in the Exmoor case, the use of the data. All analyses can be done anonymously and so it is the breed societies who have the responsibility for ensuring the best possible outcome for the future of their breed.
Professor J.A. Woolliams, D.Sc., Dip.Math.Stat., M.A.
G.A. Walling, Ph.D., B.Sc. Department of Quantitative Genetics, Roslin Institute , Edinburgh.
I was very pleased to see the letter from Alex Copland at last opening the discussion on hot branding. I was almost equally saddened to read the response from the Exmoor Pony Society, a Society who, as a breed society, exists as a result of the enthusiasm and dedication of its members and with a mandate to promote the Exmoor pony. Therefore I do take issue with the lack of proxy or postal voting, a situation almost unheard in other Charities. We, like so many breeders, live over 200 miles from Exmoor, and it is not always possible to attend AGMs or EGMs. As with so many other people, we have livestock to consider when we attend meetings and also demanding jobs. So our views are never taken into account as we cannot vote without attending personally. I really could not believe the statement “Postal or Proxy voting would not give all members access to all the arguments” - of course it would! Perhaps the EPS would care to elaborate on what seems to be a statement of direct contradiction! We breed other ponies and find that the breed societies are very approachable and keen to hear from people away from their native area as, unlike the Exmoor Pony Society, they recognise that breeders all over the UK are doing a good job to promote their breed.
I also take issue with the matter of identification on the moor. Whilst appreciating all Exmoors are uniform in appearance, they are very different to the experienced eye and I would certainly hope that breeders on Exmoor fall into this category. If you keep livestock and work with it on a daily or even a weekly basis, you will be able to recognise individuals. If all Exmoors are so similar that we cannot differentiate between them, there seems little point in showing them - or indeed inspecting them!! So I cannot accept that argument. Veterinary Students in Edinburgh, who are training to be pony trekking instructors, have to be able to identify over twenty Exmoor ponies by sight, many of whom are not branded. Also, we all know that Exmoors in their winter coats, do not show their brands to any extent. And why should the ownership of 30 or so ponies which only applies to one big herd, mean that over 100 foals should be subjected to branding when that herd only registers 15 or 20 foals?
It is my strong contention that there should at least be a choice to the owner of the foal between micro chipping or branding.
Trustee for University Federation for Animal Welfare and EPS Member
I was surprised at the comment in the Exmoor Society's reply to Mr Copland regarding Microchips as an unsatisfactory identification medium for equines. Over 1 million Identichips have been implanted in all species in the UK since its launch in 1989. During this time as well as many thousands of pet owners being thankful for the return of their lost pet as a result of identification due to a microchip. Many organisations and governmental bodies have trialed and subsequently used them as a means of identification. Most recently the P.E.T.S travel scheme was introduced in which the microchip is the key to the positive, unique identification which is essential to this scheme.
In 1998 following trials the British Harness Racing Club announced that all horses racing under its rules must be microchipped. This requirement remains in place and they continue to be very pleased with the microchip as a method of identification.
Weatherbys extensively trialed microchips before choosing it as a method of identification for all foals entered on the General Stud book since 1999. They have implanted over 40.000 identichips and they report less than 1% have caused any form of problem either at implantation or in subsequent reading. The Irish Horse Board have also recently taken the same decision.
The experience with the 20 Exmoor ponies therefore does not follow experience in larger numbers elsewhere but without knowing details of implantation methods and sites it would be wrong to comment in detail.
Andy Pound Marketing Manager Identichip
A letter from the EPS secretary to members of the committee dated 19th March has been leaked to us. It contains two paragraphs, which characterise the controlling group within the present committee of the EPS, the first, is the proposed reply to Native Pony: -
“The Exmoor Pony Society Committee is of the opinion that the Native Pony is not the place to air the internal politics of the EPS that it was elected to represent and therefore do not wish to make any further comments through the pages of the magazine.” The second Paragraph: -
If it is your wish that I try to influence the editor and ask her not to print the letters then I will do so but obviously the decision will be hers.
The EPS secretary was seen to spend much time with the Associate Editor of Native Pony at a National Pony Society meeting in Coventry on the 23rd March.
Clearly I cannot comment on whether these matters bear any relation to the decision of the editor of the Native Pony not to publish factual information on microchipping, genetics, and animal welfare.
However I do believe that ordinary Exmoor Pony Society members and the public should be made aware of the content of these suppressed letters.
A board of trustees is the governing body of a charity and is ultimately responsible for everything a charity does. The Charity Commission defines trustees as “Those Responsible”. So it does not matter whether one is called a trustee, governor, director, councillor, or committee member… if you have this role and your organisation has a charitable status, then in law, through the Attorney General and the courts, you are responsible as a trustee.
Trustees have to act in the best interests of the charity - not in any other interest, and all should be able to demonstrate the basic values of honesty and integrity. Trustees have to ensure that they are skilled to do their job, that they are up to date, and everything they are involved in is legal and safe.
As well as specific skills a trustee should have certain qualities which make them suitable for holding the position of charity trustee. The Nolan Committee identified seven principles of public life:
These seven principles should form a Code of Conduct for trustees to safeguard any organisation and maintain public confidence in charities. Every charitable organisation must deal openly and fairly with its own members, members of the public, and other organisations. This should be under the direction of its managing committee but the actual interface with these other bodies is usually the Chairman or Secretary.
These attributes do not seem to be possessed by the majority of the EPS committee. It appears that the committee is more concerned in preserving the view that by some divine right only they, and they alone, should be concerned with the welfare of the ponies, the breeding of the animals, maintaining a studbook, and the establishment of genetically sound breeding strategies for the ponies.
Selflessness and Integrity are replaced by a Hypersensitivity that seeks to exclude all views but their own.
Objectivity is replaced by a paranoid Subjectivity, taking offence at any difference in opinion
Instead of Openness we have Secrecy, we are not even permitted to know whom other EPS members are.
Honesty and Accountability are hidden in pronouncements from on high.
The EPS committee, without any reference to local groups appoints “Local Representatives”.
One EPS member made the very true observation that “the Exmoor Pony Society is Not User Friendly”.
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