Monday, 31 December 2012

Goodbye 2012

It's the last day of the year - and what a year it has been; dominated by the twin spectres of recession and weather.

As the country has tightened its belt, donations to the Trust have taken a tumble. Apart from our August open day, which was dry but bitterly cold, fund-raising events at the Centre have been hit by the seemingly never-ending rain and visitor numbers have suffered as a result.

So, with the Centre operating on a shoe-string, we were worried we would be unable to take all this year's unwanted foals. But, ironically, it was the the weather that came to our rescue.

With sodden fields, stranded livestock and water-logged crops, farmers had more immediate worries than rounding up ponies so many of the gatherings did not take place and foals were left to run with their herds on the moor for another year. Which meant that we have been able to accept all the foals from those herds that have been gathered.

Foal sponsorship day was another victim of the rains. Diana, along with the delicious lunch she had prepared for us, was cut off by floods and unable to get to us so Linzi was despatched to the local Co-op for emergency rations of soup and quiche. However, most of the sponsors did arrive safely and the day was a success despite the weather and the somewhat ad hoc catering arrangements.

For Linzi, the year ended in adventurous fashion. While checking on some of our fostered ponies at Challacombe, she became stranded by the floods and had to be rescued by the fire service!

On that note, on behalf of everyone here at the Pony Centre, I wish all our readers and supporters a very happy (and hopefully dryer!) New Year.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

PROFILE. Val - The Boss

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.