Autumn spectacle as Exmoor ponies are gathered
Autumn is the time when the semi-feral Exmoor pony herds are gathered from their moorland enclosures and herded to their owners' farms, for inspection, sorting and selling.
The gathering on Winsford Hill is as much a part of the changing seasons as rising early morning mists and grass heavily laden with dew. Every year, it sees the world's largest herd of Exmoor ponies – the Anchor herd – clattering down to the farm fields at Ashwick, as they have every year since 1797, when Sir Thomas Ackland was warden of the Royal Forest.
Like the annual fall of the russet coloured leaves, the familiar mealy muzzled Exmoor ponies meander across the hills following in the hoof prints of their ancestors, who have carried the same Anchor brand for over 200 years.
"Time and tradition on Exmoor have different measures to the outside world," said Emma Wallace, who today manages the Anchor herd of approximately 100 head of ponies with her husband David.
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"Its been the same for generations and the Exmoor pony has evolved to cope with the harsh cold, wet, inclement weather up here."
On this autumn's gathering of ponies she added: "They all looked incredibly well as they came off the hill, even though we've had such a wet summer – it goes to show their coat and breed features do their job."
Once back at the farm, Emma says the ponies will rest up before being inspected by the Exmoor Pony Society (EPS).
"The foals will then be weaned and their mothers returned to the hill," she explains.
Fillies remain on the farm over the winter as they wait for DNA confirmation from the EPS. "This is to ensure we are keeping the right bloodlines and that the strength and balance of the herd is kept correct," explains Emma.
Some may be sold in the spring and those kept are shown during the summer months and then return to the hill in the autumn. "We always try and make a representation at the breed show in August and the foal show in November," added Emma who has already earmarked a colt and filly that will be prepared for this year's show.
The Wallaces usually keep back three or four colt foals as prospective stallions for the future; the remainder are sold privately or go to the Moorland Mousie Trust as conservation grazers or for pony trekking. "We're particularly excited about one yearling colt we have," she said.
"We hope he will be our next stallion, providing he doesn't have his grandmother's temperament – Anchor Lemon was very spiteful on the hill and never wanted to come in, she'd always have a stand-off with whoever was trying to round her up! But on the other hand they've got to have the spirit to survive and pass it down the generations."