Friday, 30 November 2012

Taming the wild ponies

“People assume they are too wild to tame,” said Mr Thomas, of Crymych, Pembrokeshire.

Read more: Wales Online
“People assume they are too wild to tame,” said Mr Thomas, of Crymych, Pembrokeshire.

Read more: Wales Online
 Welsh mare and foal

Here is some more about one of Britain's wildest pony breeds (and one of the most endangered) living on the Carneddau Hills in Wales. 

They are actually pretty wild, on alert all the time and are very suspisious of anything unusual happening around them.

While I was there I was quietly watching a group of ponies having a nap in the sun.  They were all quite relaxed, but some were still on the lookout.

 Welsh ponies dozing in the sun

   Quite relaxed 

All of a sudden, out of no where came a scary plastic bag flying about on the wind.  The ponies were all instantly awake and running from the 'predator'.

Fleeing the plastic bag

They ran for a bit then stopped to see if they were being chased by the scary bag, and when they realised that the bag was just a bag, they soon settled down again and began to graze.

An article from Wales online written in June 2011 explains how the wildness of the ponies could be contributing to the decline of them, and why the farmers who owned the ponies decided to ask Barry Thomas a local horse whisperer to help - here is a small piece from the article:

        " “People assume they are too wild to tame,” said Mr Thomas, of Crymych, Pembrokeshire.

“People assume they are too wild to tame,” said Mr Thomas, of Crymych, Pembrokeshire.

Read more: Wales Online
“People assume they are too wild to tame,” said Mr Thomas, of Crymych, Pembrokeshire.

Read more: Wales Online
 “Therefore they are not marketable, they cannot be sold, they cannot fetch a price, so the farmers cannot afford to keep breeding them.

“There are only around 200 of the ponies left on the hills of Snowdonia, so anything that can be done to save them must be done.”

After an end-of-season sale last year in which 45 of the Carneddau ponies were sold for just £430, Mr Thomas was asked to see if he could do what nobody has ever done before: tame and train a Carneddau pony.

The Carneddau Pony Society hoped the training would help increase the animals’ market value, which in turn would give the Snowdonia farmers the incentive to breed them."

 A similar thing had been done before by Monty Roberts, the American 'horse whisperer' when he had tamed and trained a wild Mustang.  Barry Thomas is actually one of Monty's students and was glad to accept the challenge.

He captured 2 of the wild ponies and brought them back to his farm.  He did succeed in taming and training them, and there was a programme filmed about it but unfortunately I can't find it to watch.  Whether it has helped with the popularity of the Carneddau wild ponies, or whether people will want to own them is to be seen, but the Carneddau ponies more domesticated cousin - the Welsh section A pony, is very popular.  In the next blog I will look at the breed characteristics and see why they are such great little ponies.

Read the whole article here

 Beautiful chestnut mare

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Welsh ponies outsmart Henry VIII

 Welsh mountain pony

This isn't the first time the Welsh mountain ponies have been threatened with extinction.  The ponies were nearly made extinct 100's of years ago, around the beginning of the 16th century.  Apparently King Henry 8th, who had a reputation for killing anyone and anything that got in his way, demanded that the ponies all be destroyed.  His reasons for this were that they were too small - too small to carry a knight in full armour !  Luckily he didn't succeed, and some of the ponies survived. 

The Romans recognised their strength and agility though, and used them for many jobs while they were in Britain, and even took some back to their homeland .

They were also used in the 19th century by the coal miners to pull carts down into the coal mines.  That must have been a pretty miserable life for them.  Some of them even lived in the mines, staying in stalls built down there and living on hay, never seeing the light of day.

All this has made them very tough and strong, and made them into the hardy little ponies that they are today.  The welsh pony and cob society says "Bred in the mountains and wild regions of Wales for many generations, their acknowledged beauty does not mean they are merely a 'pretty toy' — centuries of 'survival of the fittest' has ensured the sound constitution, iron hard limbs and great intelligence"
society website

You  can definitely see they are tough and hardy little ponies, but they are also very beautiful.

 Some more photos here of the Welsh mountain ponies on Carneddau.  It started rain while I was photographing them, but they were starting to get used to me and I didn't want to leave so I carried on taking photos.  I didn't realise how wet my camera lens was getting, until I look at the photos later - you can see the photos getting more and more misty - but I actually think it gives quite a nice effect, kind of like a soft filter !

 Yearling welsh pony

This one has dreadlocks as he's loosing his winter coat.

 Yearling welsh pony

 Beautiful welsh mare

Welsh mare and foal

Even though people have recognised the ponies usefulness and adaptability during the centuries, they are still facing an uncertain future.  Some are being used for land conservation, but they are not very saleable, going for only a few pounds each at the sales.  In the next blog I will write about how a Welsh horse whisperer was bought in to try and help improve this.

Remember many of these prints can be purchased on my website or my Etsy shop

Thursday, 18 October 2012

cheeky foal

There were about 4 or 5 foals in the herd I was watching, all only a few days old.   One of them had spotted me watching him and got a bit shy.  He went and hid behind a gorse bush, so I couldn't see him.  It didn't take long for him to got curious though and he peeped his head out from behind the bush.

welsh pony foal

He kept getting shy and hiding back behind the bush, and then peeping out again, each time a little bit further.  He was being very cheeky and was definitely playing with me !  In the end he realised I was no threat and wanted to show off.  He ran out from behind the bush and started running around, keeping making glances my way - I couldn't help laughing at him - he was so cute.

practising his trot

speeding up

He ran around for a few minutes - trotting, cantering, galloping and bucking - he was having great fun, but then he suddenly got embarrassed, and ran back and hid behind his mum.

welsh mare and foal

He was still watching me and knew I was watching him.  After a while he ran off again, up and down the hill, round and round, until he got tired and ran back to his mum for a rest.

welsh mare and foal

I had the best time watching him, and he made my day.  Its amazing how he was only a few days old but was able to do all the paces and even buck already !  He was a real show off as well, maybe he will grow up to be the stallion of his own herd one day.

This is a lovely shot of his mum.

 wild welsh pony

Lets hope that the Carneddau ponies future is safe, and that they continue to grow in numbers, and remain on the hills.  Luckily we are now starting to realise that the wild and feral native ponies of Britain are very important and need protecting.  They are very important to our heritage, but also are very useful in land conservation.  This is a quote from a very interesting BBC news article from 2008:

“Theses mountain ponies are very special to us in Snowdonia. Not only do they contribute to our cultural heritage, the Welsh mountain ponies and their genetics has an important role to play in sustaining the diversity of plants and insects on the mountain slopes. Their grazing patterns mean that they keep vegetation low on the mountain in winter and provide a good source of food to the chough during the winter. This in turn allows the fragile habitats of the highland to be revitalized when the sheep aren’t there.”

You can read the whole article here

Article on the welsh carneddau ponies

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Finding the Welsh ponies

As part of my plan to travel the length and breadth of Britain to photograph all the British native ponies in their native environments, I next visited Wales.

After quite a long drive of about 6 hours, and after driving through some places with funny names ( one place was called Pant, which we thought was really funny due to being very immature ) we arrived at the South of the Snowdonia National park.

I hadn't had time to do much research on where to find the feral Welsh ponies, but I knew they were somewhere in the park. It wasn't until the next day when I started driving through the park that I realised it is massive !

snowdonia national park website

How on earth was I going to find the ponies ?  I asked around at some tourist information places and finally a woman found out they were near a place called Aber common and pointed to an area on the map near the top of the park.

We drove to the area but couldn't find a road that seemed to go where we wanted to go.  We eventually took chance and headed up a very steep, tiny single track road.  We got to the top and there was a car park and some paths up onto the hill, so we decided to take a look.  A man walking his dog just got back to the car park and I asked him if he had seen any ponies.  He said no he hadn't seen any ponies today, but he was a local and said they were around somewhere up on the hill or in the valley.  He said there are 3 small herds in different areas, and some had just had foals.  Sometimes he would see them other times he didn't.  I was so excited we had found the right area, and that they had foals, but I was a bit worried we wouldn't find them.

As we walked up through the gate I saw a National trust sign that said 'Carneddau' and remembered that during my research I had read about the feral Carneddau ponies, so we were definitely in the right area for seeing some proper feral ponies. 

The Carneddau ponies are in the group of Welsh ponies called Welsh section A mountain ponies, and the ones on Carneddau common are truly feral and have been here for 100's if not 1000's of years.  Welsh mountain section a ponies are on the endangered breeds list as vulnerable, although the wild ones are extremely rare.

We walked up the hill to the left rather than into the valley, and carried on a little.  After about only 1/2 mile or so we spotted the ponies in the distance - I couldn't believe how lucky we were.

We crept up slowly and quietly as they are not handled or used to humans being too close.

Feral Welsh Carneddau mountain ponies

I sat and watched them for a while, but kept my distance as they knew I was there.  I slowly crept a little closer.  One of the ponies gave me a shifty look and moved the others away a bit.  He was beautiful and strong, and had the most amazing long mane.  I knew by the way he was behaving that he was the stallion.

Carneddau pony stallion

I hung around with them for a few hours and they gradually got used to me, allowing me to get fairly close, but never too close.  I managed to get some lovely photos of them, so please read the next blog to see more photos and find out more about these lovely little rare and endangered ponies.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

I want one

I was very taken with the Eriskay ponies on the Island.  I thought they would be very timid and wary of humans, so at first I stayed quite a distance away from them and kept very quiet.  I had my long lens on my camera in order to get close enough shots. 

But within a few minutes I was surrounded by inquisitive and nosey ponies !  They all wanted to know what was going on, and came over to have a look.  Even the little foals and yearlings were coming right up to me and nudging me.  It actually became quite hard to take photos of them as they kept shoving their noses into the camera lens.

  Nosey Eriskay pony

After I had said hello to them all and they knew I was a friend they gradually wandered off to graze, and occasionally popped over to say hello.

 My new friend - I want to take him home !

The Eriskay pony society breed standard says of their temperament:

"Eriskay Ponies should be placid and amenable with no signs of viciousness or aggression".

Breed standard 

This is certainly how this little herd were.  And it's why they made excellent all round, useful ponies back in the old days, when they did a bit of everything, and had to be relied on to be safe and sound for the children to ride.

Quote from the Eriskay pony society: 

"Today, Eriskay Ponies can be seen competing in all spheres of equestrianism. Members of the Eriskay Pony Society regularly take part in activities such as hunting, dressage, show jumping, show hunter, cross country, pony club eventing, team games, western riding and driving. Although they stand between 12.0 and 13.2hh they are strong for their size, have terrific stamina and can carry a light adult with ease. They also make excellent driving ponies, Lesley Cox from Cheshire has had tremendous success with her tandem driving ponies, competing at FEI level and winning regularly.
Other Eriskays make excellent family ponies, with their human friendly characteristics coming to the fore playing football in the garden with the kids, or working with special needs children as RDA ponies."

From what I saw of these lovely ponies, I would definitely recommend them as a child's or family pony ( or even a small adult like me ) :-)  

 Eriskay pony in the reeds

 Eriskay ponies in the reeds

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Black and white

The ponies....not the photos !

A very interesting fact about the Eriskay ponies is that they are born black, but hardly any of them stay black - they nearly all go white or grey and occasionally bay.

Black Eriskay pony yearling

In the small herd that I saw on Eriskay all the adults were white or grey and the 3 young ones were black or very dark grey.

Black Eriskay pony yearling

This mare is so white she is really glowing in the sun, but her baby is really dark black. 

Mum and baby

These photos were taken in March and you can see how lovely and thick their coats are - their coats are really dense and waterproof and they are able to live out on the hills all winter in the harshest of the Scottish weather - which I can tell you is sometimes really bad, especially on the West coast !  It can get very cold, wet and windy, and very often snows.  They have quite generous tails and manes to keep out the weather.

Even though they are quite small ( 12hh - 13.2hh ) they are very strong and can easily carry a small adult ( which is good because I would like to get one some when ! )

Just on a bit of a side note -
I find it very interesting to see that even without much interference from humans these feral horses do really well - some people may look at them and think "poor ponies out on the hills with no lovely lush grass, no buckets of feed, no cosy stable or rugs and no shoes on for the rocky ground" but I look at them and see very well adjusted and happy ponies - none of them are too fat, none of them are too thin and their hooves are in excellent condition.  They don't seem to suffer from so many of the common ailments of our pampered and fussed over horses and ponies.  This sort of terrain and rough pasture suits them much more than our conditioned ideas of what is good for them.  Maybe we should more often consider what is natural to the horse and try our best to imitate this in the way we keep our equine friends at home.

Rocky rough terrain

Thanks for reading, and hope you will read the next post. 


Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Eric the Eriskay pony

I have been finding out more about how a pony called Eric saved the breed of Island ponies that we now call Eriskay ponies.  Here is his story :

At the start of the 1970's there were only about 20 pure Eriskay ponies left on the Islands. 

Eriskay ponies on Eriskay

Then in 1971 a small group of people on Eriskay, including a local priest, a doctor, a vet, a scientist and some crofters, got together and decided to save the Island ponies, because they realised what a special breed they are.  They realised that the number of Island ponies left was dangerously low, and that the breed was actually facing extinction.  As far as they knew there wasn't even a stallion left to continue the breed.

In 1972 they formed the 'Comann Each nan Eilean' – the 'Eriskay Pony Society' (CEnE), to ‘preserve and develop’ the breed.  

Eriskay pony studbook society ( CEnE )

Because they couldn't find a pure stallion they considered finding ‘lookalike’ stallions to serve the Eriskay mares, as they thought that was their only option.  These stallions would be found from the Highland ponies and the local Island of Rhum ponies.

Then, in 1973, a pure Eriskay stallion was discovered in the neighbouring island of South Uist - his name was Eric.  As the only stallion around for quite a while, Eric must have had a great time after that !

Eric took his work very seriously and sired six pure females and five pure males. 

The lovely breed of Eriskay pony was saved from extinction, but they are still on the rare breeds endangered watchlist as category 1 -  'critical'.  Critically endangered means there are under 300 registered, adult, breeding females in the world.   Other British horse breeds in category 1 are the Cleveland Bay, Suffolk, and Hackney horse & pony  Although I'm not sure if these would be classed as a British native pony, they are still breeds that have been in Britain for a long time and it would be sad to see these disappear.

My photographs are of the small feral herd on the Island of Eriskay, but most of the Eriskay ponies are now domesticated.

Feral Eriskay pony

I prefer him in black and white -

Black and white Eriskay pony

More information about the ponies can be found on these sites: 

But I will be writing more about them and posting more photos  if you would like to follow my blog.

Also if you like any of the photos they can be purchased here:


Thursday, 9 August 2012

Eriskay ponies save the whisky !

“Without the people of Eriskay there would be no pony
but without the pony there would have been no people on Eriskay”
Quote by Fr Calum MacLellan, a native of Eriskay.

 Eriskay pony

I love the fact that the Eriskay pony is one of the few breeds that hasn't changed for thousands of years.  The breed known as the Scottish Highland pony is descended from the Eriskay type, but has had other breeds introduced which makes it larger.  It has been suggested that many types of other breed have been bred with, and influenced the Highland pony, including Arab, Percheron, Clydesdale, Dales and Fell, but the Erisky pony remains pure.  The reason for this is because of the Islands remote location.  The Outer Hebrides - Uist, Eriskay, Barra, and the other small Islands were very cut off from the mainland until recently.  In the olden days people living on the Islands would of had to row or sail to get to the Islands !

When we visited the Islands we went over a bridge from the mainland to get to Skye, then a ferry to get to North Uist - North Uist is connected to South Uist by a bridge, then we crossed another bridge ( only built very recently ) to get to Eriskay.  To get to Barra is another ferry.  

The bridge between South Uist and Eriskay

There were once many of these ponies throughout Scotland - particularly in the crofting areas, where they helped people with many jobs like carrying peat, working the land, transporting kids to school.  They are very good all-rounders.

There is an interesting story of one very good use the Islanders found for the pony.  In 1941 the cargo ship the  SS Politician foundered off the Eriskay coast, and the islanders, using the Eriskay ponies, carried away the cargo of 250,000 bottles of whisky !

Unfortunately, because of the invention of cars and tractors, and other modern 'conveniences' the pony started to decline in numbers.  In 1971 it was realised that there were hardly any left, and no one knew of any stallions, so the breed was faced with extinction.

Read the next blog to find out how an exciting discovery of a horse named Eric saved the day :-)

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

My first blog !

Hi, I'm Mitch ( female in case you wondered )  I sell prints and take photos of pets and horses and their people.

my website

At last I have got round to writing the first post in my new blog !  I have had plans to do it for a long time, but have been so busy.

Please bear with me as I get used to writing - it seems a bit weird at the moment as there are no followers yet, so it seems like I am talking to myself :-)

Any way this is my plan -

I am going to travel the length and breadth of Britain to photograph all the British native ponies in their native environment.  I don't want photos of them in owner's fields, paddocks, etc - they have to be where they are supposed to be - so I will have to travel as far North as the Shetland Isles to see the Shetland ponies, and as far South as Dartmoor and Exmoor in Devon to photograph the ponies there.

I am also going to research the history and background of each of the pony breeds, as well as their different characters.  Many of the British native breeds are declining, in the wild and domestically - some are even on the rare and endangered breeds list, which is very sad.   I want to make people aware of this and show why we should look after the ponies and not let them disappear - they are a part of our heritage.

Here is a chart showing which horse and ponies are on the equine watch list provided by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust

Sadly there are some British ponies that have already become extinct:  the Cushendale, Goonhilly, Tiree and Longmynd pony.  I hope this never happens to any of the others.  Sadly, I have never even heard of these.

I have already been to the Outer Hebrides and the Island Eriskay to photograph the wonderful, friendly and inquisitive Eriskay ponies

Eriskay pony

And the Carneddau area of Snowdonia National park in North Wales to photograph the beautiful, wild, and rugged Welsh Mountain ponies

Welsh Carneddau pony

But I still have the rest to see and I can't wait to meet them all.

If you are interested in native ponies then please follow my blog to see more photos and interesting facts about the native ponies of Britain - I will be starting with the Eriskay ponies that I visited in March and got some lovely photos of.

Also many of the photos are for sale in my Etsy shop