Thursday, 5 December 2013

Moorland Exmoor foal project

Exmoor foal

As I mentioned in the last blog, the Exmoor pony is an endangered breed, which is really sad, as they are so beautiful and adaptable, and make wonderful riding ponies.

It would be easy to think that they are endangered because there are not enough of them left to breed in significant numbers, but this is not the case.  Unfortunately, quite a few of those born each year are culled.  How could such a terrible situation arise ?
Quote from
"Because of strict grazing quotas and the breeding programmes, most foals, especially colts, must leave the moors each year and find good homes. Sadly, those that do not manage to find good homes are often sent for meat"

"Up until now, there has been a communication gap between the moorland farmers and potential homes that has resulted in a significant number of foals being culled, when there may well have been better opportunities for them. It is clear that more help is needed to promote and market the availability of the foals and the moorland herds - in addition to all the good work that is already being done.

There is also the fact that more good homes may be available if some of the foals can be socialised and handled to make them more appealing to potential owners. When the existing pony organisations are up to capacity, there are still plenty of foals that need a helping hand to make the successful transition from the moor to domestic life."

Foal running back to his mum

Is there anything being done about this ?  Thankfully, yes.

This year Holtball Exmoor Pony Stud / Exmoor Pony Club is running the Moorland Exmoor Foal Project to help support and promote the moorland farmers of Exmoor and their ponies.  Here is how Nick and Dawn Westcott are helping (taken from their Facebook page)

So this year, we are buying some moorland foals and giving them their initial socialisation and training, after which we will be looking for good homes for them. The ponies will come to Holt Ball after inspection and be socialised using positive, trust based training.

In our first year of running this scheme, there is no funding or support and the price we will be able to achieve for the ponies after their initial training will not even begin to cover the project costs. So we are welcoming sponsorship, support, donations - large or small, in whatever form - to help fund this project.

We do not want to pitch this as a 'rescue project'. This is a project run by Exmoor farmers for Exmoor farmers to support, promote and manage the moorland foals who need to come off the moor and try to find them good jobs and good homes, rather than culling them. The Exmoor pony is an Endangered Breed and too many of our genuine moorbred ponies are being wasted through lack of viable opportunities. We want to help change that.

If you'd like to get involved to help with the care and management of the ponies, visit us to observe some of their training, generally lend a hand, or become a sponsor, or make a donation - then please get in touch with us.

Beautiful Exmoor foal

If there is anything you feel you can do to help these beautiful Exmoor ponies please get in touch with Nick and Dawn Westcott Here .  Please help secure the future of this wonderful British native breed, and help save these lovely foals.

 Few months old foal


Friday, 15 November 2013

Camo ponies

 When we first arrived at the Exmoor National park we drove through some pretty villages, and then we went over a cattle grid, so we knew we were into the open part of the park and that the Exmoor ponies would be somewhere - but it's a huge area and there are only small numbers of ponies, so we had to drive really slowly and look very carefully.  The Exmoor ponies are very camouflaged amongst the colours of the moor.

Thankfully, due to my well tuned 'pony radar' I spotted something moving in the bracken.  We slowed down and spotted a few more dotted around.  It was a herd of ponies.  I was so pleased as we had come a long way for these ponies !

 Exmoor ponies

As you can see from the photos the Exmoor pony is well fitting for their environment.  Their colouring falls within a limited range of bay, brown or dun, with black points (with no white markings) and as such they blend in very well against their native background of heather, grass and bracken.  They should have mealy markings on the muzzle and around the eyes.

Exmoor pony

It's not just their colouring that is suited to the environment - they are very well adapted to survive out on the open and sometimes very bleak moors.  The ponies are very stocky and strong, with deep chests and large girths, the large capacity of the digestive system is important in winter as they consume large quantities of rough material which provides them with internal warmth.

The prominent flesh around the eye provides a defence system against harsh weather, and is known as a "toad eye" .

The ponies have neat, hard feet, and their legs are short.   They have well laid back shoulders and a deep chest. The ribs should be long, deep, well-sprung and wide apart, with a broad back and level across the loins.

In summer their coat is close, hard and bright, but in winter they grow a coat in two layers - the hairs next to the skin are quite fine in texture and form a layer of insulation; the outer hairs are coarser and greasy giving waterproof protection.

The tail is neatly set in and the fan of short hairs near the root of the tail is called a snow chute . The mane, forelock and tail are thick and full, and also shed water efficiently.

Exmoor pony

It's sad to think that these amazing British native ponies, who are so adapted to our environment, are so rare and are on the rare breeds list as endangered.  And what's even more tragic, is that many of the foals born on Exmoor are unwanted - no one wants to buy them and many end up as zoo food !  Thank fully many of the breeders and a charity called moorland mousie trust are working hard to change this.  More about that in my next blog, so be sure to check back soon.

Please click on the photos to see them larger.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

An ancient breed

Last month we took a really long drive down to the South of England, to the county of Devon. In Devon are the large areas of wild and bleak moors called Exmoor and Dartmoor.  Both of these areas are home to large numbers of wild roaming ponies - the Dartmoor pony and the Exmoor pony - both completely separate breeds.

First I will write about the Exmoor ponies, as they are the oldest of the two breeds.  They are actually a very ancient breed - they have descended from the indigenous British Hill type pony, without too much inter breeding with other breeds.  You can see they have a very ancient look about them:

 Exmoor pony

They were first domesticated by the Celts when they came to Britain, and they trained them to pull their chariots. The first written records of ponies on Exmoor are in the Doomsday book, when Exmoor was designated a royal forest.  From the Doomsday Book onwards there is little written evidence of the Exmoor Pony but records from the 1500s onwards reveal that the equine population of the moor varied in numbers rising to as many as a thousand at times. The moors, as part of the Royal Forest, were controlled by wardens who ran native stallions there but it is known that non-Exmoor mares were sometimes allowed to roam with these herds.

Wild Exmoor pony

In 1818 the forest was sold and one of the wardens, Sir Thomas Acland took 30 ponies and founded the Acland herd (now known as the Anchor herd running on Winsford hill - which is where I spent the day photographing).  A few other farmers also took a few ponies and founded herds, some of which also still exist.

In 1921 the Exmoor pony society was founded to keep the breed pure and promote them.  For a while the ponies did really well, and were used as children's ponies, helping with shepherding, ploughing and grazing the commons, but during and after the war years the ponies had a rough time due to absent owners, moorland gates left open, trigger happy troops and butchers using them for a meat source during rationing.  In 1946 only about 50 ponies remained and only 6 pure-bred filly foals were registered for the whole of Exmoor.

Exmoor mum and baby

Thankfully Mary Etherington, a keen supporter of the breed, and a few other dedicated breeders saved the breed - cattle grids gradually replaced the gates and the boundaries to the commons were secured and the numbers gradually grew.  The numbers are still increasing,  now stand at around 3000 ponies worldwide.  This might sound a lot, but they are still on the Rare breeds survival trust's watch list as 'endangered' - only one up from 'critical'.  

Shy Exmoor yearling

Please click on any of the photos to see them larger.

And please go here to see prints for sale:

Friday, 11 October 2013

The Queen's favourite

Highland ponies

The Highland pony is an ancient breed, although there have at times been other breeds introduced into their breeding - including Arab, Clydesdale and Percheron to make them larger and stronger.  They have had many roles throughout history, including logging, carrying stags for the shooting parties and going to war.  

Yellow dun Highland pony

They have also been favoured by the Royal families down through the years: 

Queen Victoria talks about riding Highland ponies.  In "Life in the Highlands" the Queen describes a September day in 1842 when she and Prince Albert were the guests of the Duke of Atholl at Blair Castle: "We set off on ponies to go up one of the hills, Albert riding the dun pony and I the grey, attended only by Sandy McAra in the Highland dress. We went out the back way across the ford, Sandy leading my pony and Albert following closely, the water reaching above Sandy's knees" 

Queen Elizabeth II is patron of the Highland pony society and In 2007 she opened a full-time Highland pony stud at Balmoral.  One of her ponies won its class at the Royal Highland show in 2010.  She is also often seen riding Highland ponies around the estate.

 Mouse dun Highland pony

However even after all their popularity and hard work they are still on the watch list of British native pony breeds - they are listed as 'at risk'

 Dark grey Highland pony

Hopefully their popularity may come back and people will realise how adaptable and fun to ride they are, even for adults, and they will be able to come off the rare breeds watch list.

White Highland pony

 Scottish Highland pony

*Please click on the photos to see them larger

Friday, 23 August 2013

What is the difference between dun and buckskin ?

Back in April of this year, we went to stay for a long weekend up near Aviemore in the Highlands.  While we were there I wanted to see if I could find any Highland ponies living feral to photograph for my British native pony project.

We found some information from various people saying they had spotted ponies on the Loch Ericht Estate, near Dalwhinnie.  The ponies are wintered out on the estates vast land, but are quite often seen near Loch Pattack.  As with all of these large estates, people are welcome to walk, cycle and horse ride on their land because of the Scottish right to roam laws, which is great.

The land where the Highland ponies might be, and Loch Pattack are at least 7 miles from any public roads, so we decided to take our mountain bikes and ride up to the area along a track.  Even though it was the middle of April, it was freezing, and there was still snow on the higher ground - we were having extremely cold weather for that time of year !

We wrapped up with lots of layers and I put all my camera equipment in my rucksack and off we set.  It was a lovely ride, the scenery was beautiful and while we were cycling I was warm enough, but as soon as we stopped I started getting cold.  Unfortunately, I only managed to shoot for about an hour before I was frozen and I had to give up, but I got a few really nice photos.

The Highland ponies when we first spotted them

As you can see there were four of them, and some really pretty colours - a dark mouse dun, a yellow dun, a very dark dapple grey and a white one.

Two of them were very inquisitive and decided to come over and see what we were up to.

Dark dapple grey Highland pony

Look at the highlights on this one - women pay lots of money to have hair like that !

Yellow dun Highland pony

This brings me to a very interesting question - What is the difference between a dun and a buckskin ? (my Icelandic is called buckskin on her passport, but she looks the same as this Highland pony)  Highlands are never classed as buckskin, only dun - so are they the same thing?  Actually, no, even though they can often look very similar.  It's all down to genetics.

Both dun & buckskin can be a golden/yellow/creamy coloured body with a black mane, tail and legs.  The body colour can range from a light, creamy colour to a deep, rich yellow or gold.  But they are different because each of them come from a different dilution gene on a bay base.

Buckskin comes from a cream dilution gene on a bay horse.

Dun comes from a dun dilution gene on a bay horse.

Dun horses also always have at least one primitive characteristic – a dorsal stripe, striping on their shoulders, legs and/or forehead.
For a more detailed explanation, with pictures to help, see this article:
You can just see his dorsal stripe in this photo.

Yellow dun pony bum

Please click on any of the photos to see them larger.

Friday, 26 July 2013

The Highland ponies lovely colours

There were only 3 ponies at this location a very dark bay, a bright bay and white, so these ones weren't that unusual.  Some Highland ponies come in very unusual colours, and many of them have a dorsal stripe and zebra markings on their legs showing how closely related they are to the ancient breed.

Here is what the breed description says about the colours: 

 "A range of duns-mouse, yellow, grey, cream. Also grey, brown, black and occasionally bay and liver chestnut with silver mane and tail. Many ponies have a dorsal stripe and some show zebra markings on legs. Shoulder stripe often present. A small star is acceptable but other white markings are discouraged. Foal coat often changes and many ponies change colour gradually as they grow older, especially those with grey hairs interspersed with the original colour. Others show a slight seasonal change in colour between winter and summer coats. Broken colours are not allowed"

Dark Highland pony

Bay Highland pony

White Highland pony

I will be putting up more photos of different Highlands in different colours from our other photographing trip in Dalwhinnie, so be sure to check back soon.

 White pony in black and white

White pony in sepia

Many of these and other images are available to purchase in my Etsy shop

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Highland ponies and deer stalking

 Native highland ponies

 The highland ponies we saw at Glen Feshie were very large and chunky for a pony, as you can see from the photos - they are more like a draft horse build.

 Highland pony

 They have been intentionally bred to be like this, so that they could be used for their many jobs in the Highlands of Scotland.

Their strength and size would have made them a suitable mount as a war horse, as far back as the days of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. It is said that Robert the Bruce faced the attack of the army of King Edward II, sat astride a Highland pony.

Other jobs they have had over were as pack ponies, transporting goods in large wicker panniers attached to a wooden pack saddle. They were used on farms, where the crofters used them for ploughing, forestry, and haulage. In later years, Country Estates found the Highland pony useful for bringing game and deer down from the hills.  The ponies handlers are often called ghillies and the ponies are called garrons.

This is a job some of them still do - as was mentioned in my last blog 
The ponies of Glen Feshie

Their size ranges from 13hh - 14.2hh (132cms - 148cms) but they are very very strong for their size.  It is said they can carry up to 17stone.  A full grown stag could easily weigh that much and they carry these across the hills after a days hunting.

White Highland pony

If you want, you can pay lots of money to one of the large Scottish estates in the Highlands and try this for yourself ( not the carrying of the stag - but joining a shooting party ! )


I would just like to mention that although deer stalking is regarded by many as a necessary part of Scottish life, I do not personally endorse it - I am against all blood sport.

Beautiful Highland pony

Please click on any of the photos to see them larger.

If you want to purchase my horse prints, many of them are available to buy from my website or my etsy shop

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Spot the ponies...

So, I'm back on track with the British native pony blog.  I have been away a bit too long, but I'm planning on writing more regularly now.  I have lots of lovely horse and pony photos to share.

Highland ponies are next on my list.  I have a few from a trip we made to Loch Ericht Estate, near Dalwhinnie, back in April.  We also went away last weekend to the Glenfeshie Estate near Aviemore.

There are no Highland ponies in the wild any more, so the only way to really see them roaming free in their native environments (not in paddocks) is to go to one of the large Scottish estates where they keep Highland ponies.  Most of these estates still have the tradition of deer shooting during the hunting season.  A lot of them invite their shooting parties to stay and go hunting for sport.  Many of them still keep Highland ponies for carrying the deer back to the house.  When they are not being used during the hunting season, they are often turned out to live semi feral out on the Highlands.  The estates own 1000's acres of land covering mountains, glens, moors and lochs.

We had researched and found that there are usually Highland ponies living out semi feral on the Glenfeshie estate near Aviemore.  There is a long glen (valley) with a wide river running through the middle.  Usually the ponies are to be seen on the East side of the river so that's where we decide to look for them.

The Glen is private land so you can only go in on foot or bike.  We were walking.  We parked the car and started our walk along the river.  The day was lovely and sunny and great for photos so I hoped we would find the ponies.  It is very scenic and it was a very nice walk, but we had to walk for over 5 miles before we got to the end of the glen, and we still hadn't seen the ponies.  Then we spotted them...but, they were the other side of the river.

Spot the ponies...

The river is quite wide, and very cold so we didn't fancy crossing.  There should be a bridge about 1 mile back, but it had been washed away a few years ago, so there was no way to get to the ponies.  How frustrating.  The only thing we could do was walk all the way back and try again the next day, but on the other side of the river, so we walked all 5 miles back along the river.

Typically, the next day the weather was dull, and overcast - not great for photos, but we decided to go anyway and hope it cleared up.  We walked the 5 miles the other side of the river to the grassy spot where the horses had been the day before, but they weren't there.  They had walked down to the river.  Thank fully they hadn't actually crossed back over, but they were standing in the stony dry river bed, which isn't as photogenic as the lovely bit they had been in the day  before.

Anyway I did my best and took some photos.  It was just really frustrating that the day before they had been in a much nicer place and the weather and light had been way nicer - but that's what being a photographer is all about !
Here are two photos of the ponies - more to come soon.

Bay Highland pony

Highland ponies

*You can click on any of my photos to see them larger.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

The many jobs of the Fell pony

The Fell ponies have an interesting history, and have had many jobs through the years.   They are native to the fells of North West England, and it's thought that the breed was established as far back as the Roman times, when they would have been caught and tamed from their natural habitat, and would have been used by the Romans for transportation of materials to build Hadrian's wall.

About Hadrians wall 

 Fell ponies on the fell

In the winter of 1492-93, 11 Kendal traders made a total of 14 journeys to Southampton with pack horses carrying loads of cloth - a journey of about 300 miles, which even on today's modern roads would be a tough journey !

 Fell ponies were even used for transporting the deceased to graveyards (they are still used today, by undertakers who conduct traditional horse drawn funerals).

Over the years the Fell pony's more domestic duty would have been as a pack pony, transporting minerals from the mines and corn to the mills. They would also have been used on farms for general duties such as harvesting, haymaking and carrying a shepherd across steep terrain.   They were also used to hunt wolves that might have been a threat to the sheep on the fells.

matching fell ponies

It is said that during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Cumbrian smugglers would have used Fell ponies for transporting their contraband from the coast.   

The Post Office also used the Fell pony to deliver the mail to the most remote areas. 
During the late 1800s, trotting races grew in popularity at social events such as shepherds meets and fairs. Many Fell ponies excelled at this sport, with some Fell ponies even attracting local fame.

 Mum and baby


ps - if you click on the photos you can see them larger (and better) :-)

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Grey Fell ponies

I have now learnt something very interesting about Fell ponies - I had always thought Fell ponies only came in black, but while up on the Fells I noticed quite a few of the ponies were grey - there were a few that were very dark steel grey and a few that were light grey.

Dark grey Fell pony

I asked the owners of the ponies if they were all Fells and they told me that they were, and that Fell ponies come in brown, black, bay and grey.  Black is the predominant colour, although dark brown used to be the predominant colour many years ago.  They also mentioned that the grey used to be quite rare, but they are now becoming more common.  They own a grey stallion.

Light grey Fell mare

It was interesting to hear about their herd and how they manage the ponies that live on the Fells.  Carole told me

"We have approx. 16 breeding mares on the fell together with young females who will in time be bred from as the older mares cease to breed.  There  are also one or two geldings which we offer for sale. The stallions (2) are  kept down at the farm as there are bridle paths across the common and it would not be safe for riders to encounter stallions and also we want to be sure  which mares are mated with which stallions.  The herd stays on the fell for most of the year.  The mares are brought down to foal in May / June and to be covered again by the stallion, after which they are returned to the fell until late October, when they are brought down in order for the foals to be weaned.  The mares are returned to the fell and the filly foals are wintered inside for the first winter.  Colt foals  (apart from any being kept as future stallions) are sold at the Fell Pony sale at the end of October at Penrith."

Grey Fell pony

Some of you readers might not have read my older posts, where I mentioned that many of the British native breeds of pony are on the 'Rare breeds survival trust' watch list.  This is a list of the breeds of British ponies that are at various stages of being endangered.  It goes from 'critical' to 'at risk'.  The fell pony is on the watch list as 'at risk', which isn't as bad as some of the British breeds, but is still not very many - it means there are only 900-1500 breeding mares in the world.  This isn't really a huge amount, so its good to see that there are several studs like Lunesdale  still breeding and promoting this lovely breed, as well as a breed society

The Fell pony society

Hopefully one day these beautiful ponies will be off of the list all together.

The RBST equine watchlist

Beautiful grey Fell pony

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Finding the Fell ponies

2 beautiful Fell ponies

Shawn and I decided at short notice to have a week in the lovely lake district in Cumbria, as it's only 2 hours drive from where we now live, and we hadn't been there before.  This is the area that the beautiful Fell ponies originate from.  I couldn't visit that area and not try to find some feral ponies to photograph, so I did a quick bit of research to see where I might be able to find some.

I emailed the owners of Lunesdale Fell pony stud - they are Fell pony breeders that have grazing rights on Roundthwaite common, and asked if there were any Fells out on the common that I could photograph.  They said there was, and I was welcome to go to the common and look for the ponies, but they also mentioned that they may be hard to find.  What I hadn't realised was the common is really large - over 6 miles long and quite wide, including many hills and valleys.  They normally go out on a quad bike to find them and even then it can take hours !

The huge area where the Fells roam

Well, I really wanted to see them so Shawn and I (it was me really) decided to go for a drive around the area and see if we could find a way up to the common and decide if it was worth looking for them.  We drove to the area through some country lanes and into a little village.
I looked up onto the hills ahead, and guess what - I spotted some tiny black dots on the horizon.  Shawn thought they might be cows, but I was convinced they were ponies.

We stopped and asked a farmer if we could get up to where they were, and he said the best way was to go back down the road, and then up through some fields onto the ridge, and then to walk along the ridge.  So we parked the van, near the place he had pointed out and got ready to walk up.  Just then a cross looking man came out of his house and asked what we were doing, he then said the way we wanted to go up would involve walking through his field, and he told us he would not allow us to go through his land !  We were a bit disappointed, and headed back towards the first farmer.  He very kindly took us to one of his fields further along and showed us another way up to the ridge.  The field was really, really steep, and I was a bit worried as he said there was a bull in the field somewhere !

After about 1/2 hour climbing up the hill we got to the stone wall around the common and climbed over.  The ponies were right there :-)  I felt so lucky that I had found them.

I very quietly took a few photos from a distance, as I didn't know how tame they were.  They tolerated me but as soon as I tried going closer they ran away.  So I took a few more photos from a distance, then this time got closer and closer very slowly.  They let me get quite close, and I just watched them and took photos for ages.  After a while they realised I was no threat, and got quite inquisitive - quite a few of them, including some foals, came right up to me and sniffed and nuzzled me.  It was such a lovely feeling that they felt that safe with me.

 Fell pony saying hello

 Inquisitive Fell pony foal

I had a lovely time being with these beautiful native ponies, and it is great to see them in their natural setting, looking healthy and as nature intended.

Please look back for the next blog as I have lots more lovely photos, and I will be writing about Fell ponies, and their origins, characters etc

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Happy new year

Happy new year to you all - I hope you had a good time over the holidays.  

I really must get back to the blog now.  I have lots to catch up on - I already have the Fell ponies and New Forest ponies to write about, and this year I would like to visit Shetland or the Highlands to photograph them, and I also want to go to Yorkshire to photograph the Dales ponies.  Then that just leaves the Exmoor and Dartmoor ponies.  I'm not sure whether to include the Irish Connemara ponies in this project as I'm not sure whether they are British ( as far as I know they only roam feral in Southern Ireland, although they would have once been all over Ireland, and Northern Ireland is British ! )  What do you think - please leave your thoughts in the comments as I would love to hear your opinions on this. 

Just one last blog with photos on the Carneddau Welsh mountain ponies:

White Welsh pony mare

The wild Welsh mountain ponies might have an uncertain future, but the section A Welsh ponies, which are the closest  to the wild mountain ponies, are very popular.  There are also 3 other types of Welsh pony categories ranging in size from under 12hh to exceeding 13.2hh with no upper limit.

The Welsh Stud Book contains registration details of four "types" of Welsh Ponies and Cobs.  These types include the Section A Welsh Mountain Pony, Section B Welsh Pony, Section C Welsh Pony (Cob type) and Section D Welsh Cob.  Each Section, or type, has specific characteristics, but all retain the pony character, versatility and excellent temperament of the Welsh breeds.

Because these ponies were the hill farmers' main means of transport, herding sheep and wild ponies over rough and mountainous country, they had to be hardy, balanced and fast.  This ensured that only the best were bred from. These qualities, combined with a natural jumping ability, and the temperament of their Welsh Mountain Pony forebears make the Welsh ponies and cobs really great riding ponies and all rounders.

You can read about the breed standard and characteristics on the Welsh pony and cob website

I think this Welsh mountain stallion is beautiful and even though he is wild and a bit unkempt he really shows  where the different types of Welshies get their looks from.

Welsh mountain pony stallion

Some last photos from Carneddau - they seem to be very itchy ponies !!

You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours

Little foal in the middle wants a scratch too

Its my turn
 The stallion has to scratch his own bum !

Just one last photo - what do you think of this ?  It was an experiment, but I think I like it :-)

Welsh pony in pink

I'm really looking forward to writing the next blog - it will be about the beautiful Fells of Cumbria.  I have some great photos of them, so please come back to read it.