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E p i c e n t r e
Issue 4

Stallion Useage

Dear David,

I write in response to your letter regarding the overuse of stallions. It is certainly a cause for concern if as a result there is some damage to the breeding population of Exmoors.

Firstly, I feel that the discussion of this very important issue should be widened and all members should be informed and consulted about the problem. There should certainly not be an immediate time limit on efforts to reach a solution. Many people have breeding mares and need to be involved.

Stallion Quota.

This could be a way forward but presents at least one problem. If a breeder has a large number of mares, the trouble and cost of getting a colt inspected vetted etc, used for perhaps only one two seasons and then castrated or euthenaised might make this impractical. More small breeding groups where a stallion might fill his quota over a number of years might be the order of the day. As most people are only able to run one stallion this would mean actively encouraging new people to breed small numbers, ideally co-operatively.

Stallion parades

As a social event, of course they are pleasant, but not necessarily that functional. Surely the promotion of certain animals is no longer appropriate in any case? If they are just to give the best looking ones premiums I feel this is money poorly spent. Perhaps the time has come to start thinking about a more effective way of making stallion information available to potential breeders. The collective cost and effort of transporting ponies possibly hundreds of miles to the venue doesn't justify the benefits.

Also viewing an entire from the outside although giving an idea of type/movement etc does not give a prospective breeder all the information needed. The test of any entire lies with its progeny and the family it comes from. In the case of Exmoors the single most important factor is the ability to produce foals which pass inspection consistently, not the ability to look pretty or produce a show pony occasionally. In this case 'handsome is' most certainly, only as 'handsome does'!

At present parades aren't well supported, but to use members money to provide incentive for people to take their animals, would be even more of a waste of finances.

An interactive web site could provide photos, even video and full information about each animal at a very low cost to the society. The paper directory could be a more limited backup for those who prefer it.

However, this is assuming anyone wants to breed Exmoor ponies! Pony breeding is at an all time low in any case and Exmoors, despite their endangered status are not able to compete on a level playing field. At present few people who have decided to breed native ponies will opt to go into Exmoors, when every other British native pony breed society offers 100% registration for the foals bred and none of the hassle of the inspection procedure.

If the number of stallions used is to be realistically increased (but not necessarily the number of foals overall per annum) then the Society needs to start working on encouraging new people into breeding and begin removing some of the obstacles which according to some I have spoken to, are at present hindering the pony's popularity in equestrian circles.

Foal inspections.

The process is cumbersome and outdated and seems to have limited success in its purpose to ensure that only the genetically desirable animals go forwards into the breeding population. In its favour it can only be said that it is better than nothing and does prevent some unsuitable ponies being bred from. However ....

  1. The inspection of the animal at 5 or 6 months does not take into account important aspects such as movement and hereditary conditions which don't manifest until maturity (e.g. sweet itch) which may be more damaging to the breeding population than pigment flaws.
  2. The branding process itself is becoming more difficult as more digits are needed and could damage smaller foals. It is outdated as the most efficient and reliable way of identifying animals. Hot branding has to involve physical restraint of (even handled) ponies) which can involve some risk to those handling the animal and is a disadvantage for an owner with any infirmity. Often brands are illegible while microchips are reliable and quick and easy to implant. (See Hot Branding and Microchipping by A. Copland Epicentre 4)
  3. In many adult branded Exmoors, white hairs or even white marks can be seen, not conducive to an injury, which is an indication that these can be easily 'missed' in the foal coat (or else breeders under pressure not to be left with failed ponies cover the white.) These ponies obviously carry 'white' genes yet bear the society's stamp of approval and can be bred from.
  4. Probably most the important point is, that information about failed ponies or their hereditary faults is not available to breeders, from the society. At present no one is able to make informed decisions about which ponies to use. Breeding a foal, which will pass inspection, is largely a matter of chance or expensive trial and error. The work and effort which goes into the inspection procedure is largely wasted if the data isn't made available and is a hugely missed opportunity. All we are sure of is that all Exmoors with brands on have teeth which meet properly!
  5. It would be helpful to breeders if the foal inspection procedure were to be revised and updated. Most people would be more likely to accept the inconvenience of inspections if the process was streamlined and the information resulted in an ultimate improvement of the population and helpful in the development of strategy which would in the long term reduce the occurrence of failures. Possible suggestions for discussion
    1. Introduce a quota system, (perhaps for a trial period) for stallions. Some financial support from the Society for castration instead of premiums?
    2. Encourage new small breeders (and therefore new stallions) by;-
    3. making inspection and identification procedure easier. i.e. microchipping.
    4. making available inspection guidelines outlining the process and the criteria, clearly.
    5. creating two tier registration, breeding and non breeding. Registration of ALL foals so that even failed ponies are saleable/showable, in line with every other British native pony studbook.
    6. all failed (hereditary faults) information becoming available so that breeders can make informed decisions.
  6. In addition to the stallion directory, a breeding website set up with full information about each stallion and its progeny's failure and pass rate. Relevant articles and the latest breeding information. Contact numbers for the owners etc.

If a quota system for stallions were adopted, it would be possible for a breeding mare to make an almost equal genetic contribution to the population during her lifetime. Perhaps therefore a second inspection of mares at maturity is indicated, to a list of veterinary criteria similar to the stallion, before acceptance onto the breeding register? Costs ultimately retrievable by foal premiums perhaps.

It seems there needs to be some considered thought applied to the future and health of the breeding population based on genuine improvement, which is not driven by show ring influences, (as has happened with the Dartmoor pony). I hope the committee will be successful in addressing some of the problems facing the breeding of the pony at present.

Best wishes

Margaret Mackintosh