An article about the true destiny of the Exmoor pony appeared in a recent copy of the Rare Breed Survival Trust magazine, the ARK. The article, published with an Exmoor Pony Society by-line, appeared to state that the only truly happy Exmoor pony was the one that shuffles around the show-ring competing for rosettes. The article went on to imply that for an Exmoor pony to have a job as an equine conservation grazer on a nature reserve was more to be pitied than despised. We were encouraged to believe that these poor ponies, living outdoors as a herd members and contributing to biodiversity, will forever aspire to incarceration in a stable of their own, and a bucket of nuts twice a day.
This appears to be just one more manifestation of the malaise that has afflicted the breeding of native ponies for decades. Many of our native breeds have been so 'improved' by man that they can no longer survive the rigours of their native habitats. They may look pretty and win rosettes, but they are no longer up to the job for which they appear to have been originally designed.
The Exmoor pony is endangered. The pony's success in conservation grazing is helping ensure its survival and is encouraging breeders that there is still a place for the 'primitive' native pony characteristics that seem to be under threat from the influence of the judges in the show ring.
All Exmoor ponies should be inspected in their first year and those that pass are entered into the studbook. Any of these Exmoor ponies employed on conservation sites can be part of a breeding programme; they can produce progeny that will contribute to the further diversity of the gene pool. The progeny, having also undergone the inspection process, can continue on the same site, be transferred onto a new site to breed with other blood lines or just become a family or a show pony. It is not unusual for ponies to work on conservation sites and to be 'shown' successfully in their spare time.
This can only be possible if all ponies undergo the inspection process. It has come to EPIC's attention that some breeders, presumably with the co-operation of the Exmoor Pony Society, have decided not to have some of their colts inspected. It appears that ponies from the Acland, Haddon and Warren herds, in recent years, have neither been inspected nor been branded nor registered.
These ponies, although pure bred Exmoors, will not be entered in the studbook, will not be available for breeding and will not be able to go on to alternative lives as 'mountain and moorland' ponies. Unbranded, uninspected, unregistered 'little brown' ponies have no market value and will contribute to the growing numbers of equines traded at auctions and sale rings for a few pounds. Their prospects are bleak; the best they can hope for will be the inside of a dog food can; the worst, a life of neglect and suffering.
For this to happen to an endangered breed is a source of concern. There are already too few Exmoor ponies for a group of them to be written off for breeding purposes. Today's scrawny colt can, of course, become the super stallion of tomorrow but only if it has been inspected and registered by the breed society.
EPIC advises all equine conservation sites to ensure that any Exmoor ponies they are offered have been properly inspected and registered. All Exmoor ponies that have passed their inspection carry a brand, in addition to documentation, as evidence of their registration. If a warden is offered a pony, which is alleged to be an Exmoor, but does not have a brand or appropriate documents, they should be cautious! They should try to find out more! What is certain is that unregistered ponies will be extremely difficult to re-home, should it be necessary.
(This is also the case for other native ponies. Wardens are recommended to ensure that all equine conservation grazing recruits have been registered and entered into the relevant breed society's official studbook.)
by Tim Mackintosh