Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Traprain under Snow

Like everywhere else, it has been snowing hard up on Traprain in Scotland but the Exmoor ponies take it all in their stride.

These pictures have been sent in by Liz, a volunteer, who spends much of her time up there with the ponies, keeping an eye on them and making sure that all is well.

I hope Liz will be a regular contributor to the blog, so look out for more of her lovely photos in due course.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Freddy's Progress

Freddy is doing really well. He's such a friendly pony and has a lovely gentle temperament.

In the first week of the New Year we we carried on with his handling sessions and, for the first time, he let me walk him round the barn on a lead rope.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Tom - an Exmoor Pony

Tom is a real character and one of our most popular ponies.

He was born in the summer of 2002 on Winsford Hill in the heart of Exmoor where he spent the first few months of his life living wild, until autumn when the herd was rounded up in the annual gathering and he was separated from his mother.

Along with his fellow foals, Tom was inspected to ensure he was a pure-bred Exmoor pony. He was then branded with a hot iron, giving him a unique identity. A star on his nearside shoulder indicates he is a true Exmoor. On his near hind rump is an anchor identifying him as a member of the Anchor Herd of Winsford Hill and under the anchor is his individual herd number, 300.

The Moor can only support a certain number of ponies and, unfortunately, there has long been little interest in purchasing moor-bred colts. Those, like Tom, not needed to graze the moor or to be kept as breeding stallions face an uncertain future.

Along with other unwanted foals, Tom found a home with the Moorland Mousie Trust.

Here, he was given lots of love and experienced handling before going to a foster home where he lived with two older ponies and learned new skills such as getting used to traffic and meeting lots of people.

When he was two years old, during a routine visit from the vet, it was discovered that Tom has a minor heart problem. It shouldn't cause him too much trouble but we'll be keeping a careful eye on it.

 After leaving his foster home and spent some time grazing in a conservation area until, at the age of four, he came back to the Moorland Mousie headquarters where he was taught to be a ridden pony.

Tom has a wonderfully kind and trusting nature and loves attention which makes him especially popular with schools and the residents of Minehead Care Home where he is a regular visitor. 

Tom is one of our ponies available for adoption at the Exmoor Pony Centre and always has a steady stream of admirers.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

A Question About Foals

One of the comments following the last post about Freddy, asked the following question:

Why are the babies separated from the mums so early on? Why can't they be separated at a later age? And branded? :-( And what happens to the mums after? Or the foals who don't end up in your rescue?

The Moor can only support a certain number of ponies. If it becomes overcrowded the ponies' health will suffer and the strength and purity of the Breed would be compromised. Therefore, many of the new arrivals must be removed each year. When the herds are rounded up in the Autumn the animals are given a health check and the foals are inspected to ensure they meet the standards of the breed. Then the main herd is released back onto the Moor.

Some of the filly foals may be allowed to remain with the herd as future breeding stock. However, there can only ever be one stallion in a herd and so, for the colt foals, the future is always uncertain and, until recently, they were quite likely to be shot and end up on a French dinner plate or in a tin of pet food.

Thankfully the ones that come to the Exmoor Pony Centre now have a much brighter future, either as riding ponies at the Centre, taking part in conservation grazing schemes across the country, or finding new homes with foster families.

Branding of some sort is essential in order to be able to identify the individuals and maintain an accurate record of the Breed. It shows the pony is a true Exmoor, identifies the herd it was born into and gives the pony's individual number within the herd. Hot branding is a hugely controversial subject and one on which, as a charity, the Moorland Mousie Trust does not express an opinion. There are many arguments both for and against, the alternatives being freeze-branding or micro-chipping.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013


Every year I've promised myself I would sponsor a foal and this year, finally, I have.

In November 2012, the new foals began arriving at the Centre and I went to see them. The choice was easy. I knew which one I wanted the moment I saw him.

I've called him Freddy.

Freddy was born on Withypool Common right in the centre of Exmoor and is a gorgeous reddish brown colour, typical of that particular herd.

 He spent the first few months of his life roaming free until the herd was rounded up in the Autumn gathering and brought down off the Moor to the home farm.

The first experience most of these wild foals have of human beings is when, at only a few months old, they are separated from their mothers and branded with a hot iron. So when they arrive at the Centre these, sometimes traumatised, ponies need plenty of gentle handling.

For some reason Freddy has not been branded so has escaped that particular experience.

We give them a day or two to get used to their new surroundings, then we begin to work with them using intelligent horsemanship techniques (aka 'horse whispering'). This was the part I was looking forward to as, although Linzi would do most of the work with him, I would have a chance to learn how to handle him myself.

Within a couple of weeks, Freddy was accepting a head collar and lead rope and allowing us to pick up his feet.

And we are gradually building up a loving (at least on my part!) and trusting relationship.