from Equine Tourism – www.equinetourism.co.uk
The Exmoor Pony Autumn Gatherings
October and November are when most of the semi-feral Exmoor pony herds are gathered from their moorland enclosures and herded to their owners farms, for inspection and selling. So if you’re thinking of having an Exmoor pony, now is definitely the time to get one! There are strict qrazing quotas for farmers and landowners with common grazing rights, which mean that most of the foal crop must be found alternative homes or grazing schemes. While some fillies will be kept for future breeding stock, and the occasional colt kept to run on as a potential stallion, the majority of colt foals and some fillies will be available for sale and re-homing.
The Exmoor pony has evolved to cope with the harsh cold, wet, inclement weather offered by the Exmoor landscape and climate. They have developed an impressive set of ‘tools’ to survive long, hard winters with little nourishment – including the growth of a bear-like winter coat with long hairs to stave off relentless rain, yet keep dry underneath. Their thick, course manes and tails are shaped to let water run off, as are their unique padded ‘toady’ eyes, small ears and ridged foreheads. They have a thick, heavy skull and jaw which can draw up freezing air into the nasal passages and warm it before it reaches the lungs, and ‘prehistoric’ teeth which can cut through small branches and chew course vegetation. They have short, strong legs with hard wearing feet that can cope with covering large distances on uneven, varied terrain without lameness. Well conformed Exmoors move freely from the back end, giving beautiful even, economical paces, and they can jump like stags. They have a rotund, barrel-like appearance with strong, wide chests, and a gut system capable of processing large amounts of rough vegetation. In short, the Exmoor pony is a fantastic, self-sufficient, off-road vehicle!
Inspection & Branding
Once the ponies are gathered from their grazing areas and driven to the farms, they are either separated immediately from their mothers, or kept ‘in ground’ as a herd until inspection day. The foals will never have been handled by humans so are extremely shy and wild, and obviously apprehensive about their new environment. One by one, they are caught and held while they are carefully inspected to ensure they meet the strict Exmoor pony breed standards. Inspectors are looking for teeth defects, white hairs, white soles of the feet, insufficient mealy markings and other general conformation defects that may result in them failing the inspection. Once the pony has passed inspection, it is micro-chipped for individual ID. And unless the breeder or any new owner has requested otherwise, the pony is hot branded with visual marks. Until recently, hot brands were applied to the foal’s shoulder and flank. However, since new rules changes in early September, the ponies will now be hot branded with a maximum of four branded marks on the rump only. The process is extremely painful and traumatising for the foals, who are restrained throughout and receive no pain relief. The brands make third degree burns, which produce painful lesions lasting up to a week. Some brands will continue to open up in places and bleed at periods for years afterwards.
How you can make a difference: If you are interested in purchasing a moorland Exmoor pony foal – you can talk to the breeders before inspection day, and can request that your pony is not hot branded. Most moorland breeders will be delighted not to hot brand a foal leaving the moor. Exmoor pony foals are a lot easier to socialise and train if they are not hot branded, and therefore have no trauma of remembered pain and prolonged restraint to overcome.
Buying a Moorland Exmoor Pony Foal You can contact the moorland farmers and breeders directly and enquire about foals and youngstock they may have coming up for sale. You may be invited to attend the gathering of the herd, where you can gain first sight of the foals and then return on inspection day to purchase your foal when it has passed the inspection and can be registered in the Exmoor Pony Stud Book (subject to confirmation of the DNA result proving parentage). You can also contact the Exmoor Pony Society (www.exmoorponysociety.org.uk) for details of Moorland farmers and breeders, or the Exmoor National Park Authority. You can find details of some of the moorland breeders on Equinetourism.co.uk together with breed profiles and histories of the moorland herds. If you cannot find the information you want please email email@example.com for help.
Buying an Exmoor Pony foal or youngster born ‘in ground’ If you would like an Exmoor pony, but don’t want to take on a semi-feral foal, then you can buy a foal or youngster from one of the in ground breeders, who handle and socialise their stock before selling the ponies. The foundation stock of these breeders is usually from the moor so will have retained all of the desirable Exmoor pony characteristics. Individual ponies for sale can be found on the Exmoor Pony Society website, and you can also find details of lots of Exmoor pony herds and breeders on www.equinetourism.co.uk. Workshops in understanding Exmoor ponies, foal handling and horse agility are being developed at Holtball Exmoor Pony Stud on Exmoor – check Equine Tourism for details.
What happens to the foals that don’t find homes? The Exmoor pony is an endangered breed with between only 2,000 and 3,000 ponies in the world today (exact figures are still trying to be confirmed with the Exmoor Pony Society). The gene pool is very small and the breed has been brought back from near extinction after the Second World War, so the moorland breeding herds are important, and must be kept active. However, we are still a long way from finding homes for most of the foals leaving the moors. The lucky ones are kept as future breeding stock or sold directly off the farms at inspection time. The Moorland Mousie Trust charity takes some of the surplus foals (approximately 40 to 50 a year in total) but this still leaves a substantial number of foals without a future. These are either shot on the farms or transported to the abattoirs for processing into meat for zoo animals or similar. This is a great shame as these are not randomly bred, low-quality ponies, but extremely carefully bred, high-quality, intelligent pure bred ancient historic wild ponies, who are a national treasure and of global interest as a breed.
For more information:
Exmoor Pony Society – www.exmoorponysociety.org.uk
Equine Tourism – www.equinetourism.co.uk
Moorland Mousie Trust – www.moorlandmousietrust.co.uk