Wild herds of pony grazing the landscape would have been a familiar sight for the Stone Age cave dwellers living in limestone caves at Warton Crag. Rather than a trip to the local butchers, they would have hunted and enjoyed eating young pony meat with spears and cooked it on open fires! The Iron Age settlers at Little Haweswater and later Viking inhabitants of this area would also utilised the very primitive wild herds of wild animals which roamed here and throughout Britain for food, working and riding animals.

Amazingly DNA research now shows a genetic blueprint of that ancient pony still exists! The Exmoor pony is now recognised as one of the oldest surviving primitive pony in the world. The British Hill Pony or the Exmoor, as it is now known, has the same appearance and characteristics of a pony which lived alongside the Woolly Mammoth, 130 thousand years ago.

The fact that the ponies have managed to survive in the wild all these years is in itself amazing. However from those herds of thousands roaming and grazing and helping to create Britain's grassland. Only forty were left during the second world war and were isolated on Exmoor. Even they were under threat, as they were stolen for meat in hard times. Fortunately a few dedicated people began to encourage breeding again, although they still are endangered.

Ponies and Art

Apart from being beautiful, cave paintings also tell us a great deal about the grazing animals living then and give us insight into how the people lived. Ponies are often featured in European cave drawings and many are uncannily similar to the present day Exmoor pony, with the pale eye and nose markings.

Stoneage art, as well as visiting and drawing the herd of Exmoors on Gait Barrows NNR, were the inspiration for the creation of the ceramic panel made by children of Silverdale School. The children spent time observing and drawing the ponies on the reserve, learning about how they graze to conserve wild flowers, as well as looking carefully at cave art illustrations back at school. They carefully created pony shapes from the clay, later colouring and glazing their work. The finished piece and the preliminary drawings, a community based Art project is now on display in Silverdale village (outside the Co-op Store).

The ‘Rare Steeds’ project has exceeded all expectations and the children have created a unique panel with a special textured quality. They have managed to capture a subtle pre-historic mood, reminiscent of the cave art, as well as representing the ponies living and grazing in a natural landscape throughout history, for all to enjoy.

EPIC has just been given a Green Partnership Award to help it complete its next 'Wild Art' project.

View the slideshow

Margaret Mackintosh()