Crisis talk examines the future of threatened Dartmoor ponies
The precarious future of Dartmoor hill ponies is being urgently discussed as the annual drift sales of this year's foals draw closer.
The Dartmoor Society's annual debate will ask "what future for ponies on Dartmoor?" at the Jubilee Hall in Chagford on October 5.
The debate, bringing together many different people involved with the ponies on Dartmoor, comes as commoners prepare to bring a stampede of foals off the moor, for the "drift sales" in Tavistock and Chagford on October 4 and 10.
Many of the unschooled ponies are expected to be to end up as meat for zoo animals, because no one will pay good prices to rear them as riding ponies.
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A sale at Chagford last Saturday saw yearlings bought at last year's drift sales, and broken in by their owners as children's ponies, fail to find good homes.
This has compounded fears that the ponies have no future on the moor – with no financial incentive for their owners, commoners who own land on the moor, to keep them.
"Ponies have roamed Dartmoor for thousands of years – their hoofprints were found in a ditch on Shaugh Moor dating to the mid-second millennium BC," said Dr Tom Greeves, chairman of the Dartmoor Society. "But their future hangs in the balance – numbers are declining, prices paid at market often barely cover the cost of bringing them there, and added costs are required by vets or for 'passports'.
"There are few incentives to be a pony keeper other than tradition. And yet the pony is the creature best adapted to Dartmoor's harsh environment and vegetation, and is essential for the ecological wellbeing of the moor. Moreover, they have an ideal temperament as children's ponies."
Among the speakers at the event, open to all, is Charlotte Faulkner, who runs the Friends of the Dartmoor Hill Pony. She is calling on tourists to give £1 to the charity each time they take a photo of a pony, in support of a project administering contraceptive injections to hill pony mares.
This "family planning" is intended to prevent a glut of low value animals, and thus allow pony farmers to raise better prices for the ponies they do keep.
Mrs Faulkner described the failure of the ponies to reach good prices at last Saturday's sale as "heartbreaking". "These ponies need a market to continue their place on Dartmoor," she said.
Visit www.dartmoorsociety.com. See the WMN Equestrian section tomorrow for a special report on Dartmoor hill ponies.