I have been fascinated by all things Exmoor since childhood: the landscape, the people, the wildlife – and the ponies. Especially the fact that they had remained the same for thousands of years.
On a visit to Dunster in the summer of 1998, I picked up some literature about the ponies from the visitor centre and discovered that they were in fact a rare breed. I spent some time that summer on the moor watching two foals, a colt and a filly from the Anchor herd, playing with each other. I did my research on the ponies and decided that yes, I would like to own one.
The autumn round up came and the foals were removed from the moor. It was at this point that I learned that, despite their rare breed status, there was no market for the ponies and any that were not purchased would be shot. I had decided that I wanted to buy the little filly I had been watching during the summer and went to where she had been placed in the ‘disposal’ field. Her brother was in the disposal field with her and when they tried to get the filly out for me, her brother followed. I could not resist and said that I would have both. I named them Abbi and Yorick.
I also purchased two other foals from the National Park herd, which was the start of my association with using Exmoor ponies for conservation grazing.
I went back home to Cheshire and decided that what Exmoor ponies needed was better marketing and promotion of the breed so that people would understand how special and versatile they are. If people were able to touch and feel the ponies they would understand them and it would enable them to connect with the ponies better. What they needed was their own dedicated centre on Exmoor where people could come and not only see ponies, but touch them, talk to them and even ride them. I was convinced that this was the way forward and from my kitchen table in Cheshire set up The Moorland Mousie Trust and began working to make The Exmoor Pony Centre a reality.
The breakthrough came in 2000 when The Daily Telegraph did an article on my activities with the Trust. One of the readers was Captain Ronnie Wallace. He pointed it out to Rosie his wife, who owned Ashwick on Exmoor and the Anchor herd. They offered help with setting up a centre and I met up with Ronnie and Derek Sparks and together decided on the buildings and land on which to set up the centre. Sadly, the Wallaces both died before the centre was established, but Derek Sparks continued to give support to the project until his recent death.
That of course was only the start of the story. Much of the effort Mike and I put in to create the centre was pure physical slog as well as administrative – digging and shovelling to get the ground right; building fences and paths; building the offices, tack room and loos. It is still developing and expanding with the help not only of Mike but a tiny dedicated staff and a small army of volunteers.