Wow - it's been a busy week here at the Exmoor Pony Project!
Late last week we received the surprise news that the existing exhibition was finishing early and leaving Toucan Wholefoods in Minehead. This left a gap between now and Christmas and some bare walls, so after chatting with Toucan's enthusiastic team, it was decided to pull together a Celebration of Exmoor Ponies Exhibition
- in a few short days. And yesterday, we pressed the green light on the new Exmoor Pony Project Calendar
, which is a fundraiser for the ponies in our project.
Celebration of Exmoor Ponies Exhibition at Toucan in Minehead
This is an important time of year for Exmoor ponies in Exmoor National Park, as herd owners try their best to find good homes and opportunities for the small number of foals leaving the moors. We're doing pretty well this year but there is still a way to go. So promoting awareness of gorgeous Exmoor ponies from the walls of Toucan is important.
Fortunately, some fantastic artists and photographers felt the same and yesterday a team met up at Toucan to set up the exhibition. German wild horse film-maker Marc Lubetzki
and artist Andy Thomas
both agreed to feature exhibits, Geoff Baylis
brought his amazing photo-art, Rebecca de Mendonca
selected some of her stunning pastel paintings (she's been nominated for an Artist of the Year Award for the second year running!), wildlife photographer Jamie Waters
brought some of his amazing photographs, canvasses and prints - and I put together a selection of my canvasses and art. Millie Ker and Nick Westcott came to help and we set about creating an exhibition.
The Toucan cafe has a lovely atmosphere and a few hours later, the exhibits were all up on the walls and receiving much enthusiasm from the Toucan team and customers. Various of the exhibits are for sale, along with a selection of A3 and A4 mounted prints. So please do go along and help us to Celebrate Exmoor Ponies. The exhibition runs from today until early January.
Both the Moorland Exmoor Pony Breeders Group and the Exmoor Pony Project are promoted through the exhibition.
The new Exmoor Pony Project 2018 Calendar! After some persistent requests to please produce an Exmoor Pony Calendar, yesterday saw the creation of our first one! Featuring some favourite characters from the Exmoor Pony Project and Herd 11, including Monsieur Chapeau, stallion Bear, Lady Stumpkin Pumpkin, Imperial Topaz and Dazzler, along with their moorland counterparts - we pressed the green light. We are expecting delivery by 29 November and will be shipping them out shortly after that. Priced at £12, it's a limited print run and the calendars are helping to raise funds for the project - so please consider ordering them for yourself and your friends and family - thank you for your support!
It was incredibly heartening to see a packed Methodist Church Hall of West Somerset National Trust Association members and others, for my Exmoor Pony Project Talk in Minehead yesterday. Nick came along too and we met a lovely group of people with much interest in and enthusiasm for the wellbeing and survival of the Exmoor ponies of Exmoor National Park.
Plenty of books were sold afterwards and the signing gave us the opportunity to chat to lots of new people. The event was very well organised by David Beach. A fun afternoon.
Busy sweeping up a seemingly endless supply of acorns to stop the ponies eating them yesterday, an email alert announced that my new bookWild Herd Whisperinghad arrived at my pubishers, Halsgrove! I'd only been expecting an advance copy so this was great news.
After a quick reorganisation of our planned work for the day, Nick and I jumped in the truck and headed to Halsgrove's offices in Wellington to pick up some copies of the book. My first sighting of it was in the foyer display and even though this is my third book and I know it inside out and have seen the running sheets, there's always a jolt when you set eyes on the book itself. Finally, it's real.
Halsgrove's efficient warehouse manager, Les, had already separated our copies from the main delivery, along with some cardboard T's and bubblewrap and we were soon on our way home again. I am hugely grateful to the Halsgrove team for the work they do - from helping me to polish the initial concept, through to their fantastic design and editing, and getting the book to the printers. Then their marketing, publicity, sales and distribution team swings into action and when you realise the extent of that, on a national - and international - level, this is when you truly appreciate having the help of a publisher. The enthusiasm from the Halsgrove team for this project is incredibly encouraging and heartening and I can't wait to get this book out there.
In Wild Herd Whispering
, the amazing Exmoor ponies have the opportunity to reveal insights into how they think and feel - through a series of interwoven real-life stories and my aim with this book is to help give them - and ponies generally - a voice. They've shaped this book with their adventures, actions and responses - and I feel like their messenger.
I had always envisaged Wild Herd Whispering
as completing this trilogy and it's been the most involved to write - this book has literally been burning inside me. The charismatic characters from my first two books, Monsieur Chapeau and stallion Bear, find their lives entwined and evolving alongside the free-living herds of Exmoor National Park. Once again, it's an emotional roller-coaster as we share their experiences and get to understand them better.
The equestrian world is changing - for the better
- with more and more people laying aside their whips, restrictive, painful tack and punishment-based training methods - and taking a long, hard look at the way they interact with horses and ponies. It takes a degree of courage and management of ego for an experienced horse person to say, 'Hold on, I can do this better.' And when you start listening to the animals themselves, you realise that sometimes, they are treated more like captives who are there simply to do our bidding - with all kinds of equipment designed to enforce that will. But there's more - much more - in the relationships we can build with horses and ponies, if we start asking rather than telling, and give them a chance to express how they feel. Walking through that door is not easy because for some, it's easier to issue orders than it is to achieve a willing partnership. But striving for willing partnership brings a whole new level of satisfaction and fulfilment - to horses and ponies and people. It's a good road to be on and many people are choosing to travel that way.
Five years ago was not the time to write Wild Herd Whispering
. However, with the growing popularity of open pasture/shelter systems; equines allowed to live in sociable groups and herds; more people choosing bitless and barefoot; the laying aside of whips and violent handling; the walking away from punishment-based training methods; and the emergence of trust-based liberty activities - now Wild Herd Whispering
has its place and perhaps the collective voice of these Exmoor ponies will be heard and listened to. We'll see.
So here it is - Wild Herd Whispering
. I hope you enjoy it.
If you'd like to purchase author-signed copies of Wild Herd Whispering
here, then please visit my Book Store
. Copies purchased here help us to fund the Exmoor Pony Project
- thank you
When we discovered newly orphaned wild-born foal Lady Luna on 6 Sept we had not anticipated taking on another pony at our farm at that time. We are already what you can describe as 'full', which requires careful resource planning and some creative thinking. But there she was, nestled into the bracken, next to her dead mother, in one of the most remote parts of Exmoor National Park - the Hoaroak Valley - adjacent to Cheriton Ridge and Brendon Common.
Nick and I were taking part in the Heritage Exmoor Pony Festival Exmoor Pony Walk
, led by Exmoor National Park Authority's Conservation Manager, Rob Wilson-North - and accompanied by Exmoor ponies, Monsieur Chapeau (led by Millie) and Monty, along with our friend Kate Hele and the other walkers. As we neared the ruins of Hoaroak Cottage, we came across the foal and her mother, who had died only that morning. Later veterinary examination confirmed that the mare's injuries were consistent with having been hung up in the fencing and it was likely that she had eventually freed herself on the wrong side of Brendon Common, in the Hoaroak Valley. Whether accidentally, or on purpose, the mare had managed to die in a highly visible place on the remote footpath traversing the valley, giving her little foal the best chance of being discovered by people. Literally anywhere else in that remote area, and they may not have been spotted at all.
, as she came to be called because of the full moon at that time, had turned to eating unsuitable things like bracken, and rooting in the soil for anything she could find, trying to sustain herself as her mother had deteriorated. She was thin and growing weaker. It is a fact that Exmoor moorland farming is a tough business and difficult to sustain, with tight margins and resource, and as Lady Luna did not look more than a month old and was already in fairly poor condition - her prospects were not good at all.
After discussing things with the Floyd family, owners of the Tippbarlake Herd
of Exmoor ponies running on the Brendon Commons, it was decided that, if it was possible to catch Lady Luna, then she should join our Exmoor Pony Project, to see if we could successfully rehabilitate and rear her. After taking our own ponies home, we returned to the moor early that evening to meet up with the Floyd family and rescue the foal. Not accessible by road, we headed out on quad bikes, with Nigel and Marie Floyd (and Taylor Floyd) taking their gator - the only vehicle that could cope with the terrain and also transport a foal. The mission was successful. Everyone agreed that the time and resource involved would require some additional help, so we decided to see if crowdfunding could provide the solution.
How Crowdfunding helped... With Lady Luna successfully rescued and safely back at Holt Ball, we set up a crowdfunding page with @JustGiving to see if people would respond. Our Exmoor Pony Project supporters were amazing, and donations started to come in. The local press - West Somerset Free Press and the Western Morning News - both embraced the situation and ran multiple features about Lady Luna. Local radio BBC Somerset (Matt Faulkner) and AppleFM (Luke Knight) both invited me onto their shows to talk about Lady Luna, and gave welcome social media support. On Twitter @aPonyHour promoted her appeal throughout a whole week - and ITV Westcountry also ran an online feature. Friends, acquaintances and complete strangers rallied for Lady Luna, with both support and donations. This included Clare Wheeler going to the trouble of ordering a bag of foal creep pellets and having them delivered to our local feed store. Peter Hotchkiss not only made a generous donation but also brought carrots to the farm for the ponies!
While all this was happening, Lady Luna required round the clock attention for the first few weeks. She had acquired a gripey tummy from eating the wrong things, including munching on poisonous bracken, and without Nick's farming expertise, I'm not sure she'd have made it. Along with veterinary consultations, he knew when to give her things like a Life Aid drench, to provide vital glucose and dextrose, etc, and how to painstakingly get her to drink some mare replacement milk - day and night. Soon, she started to show an interest in the foal creep pellets, which was great - but we also knew that a crucial part of Lady Luna's recovery would be the company of other ponies.
Lady Luna's rehabilitation... Monsieur Chapeau and Monty started off as her companions and did a great job. While she was weak and recovering from the worst of her tummy troubles, this contact took place over the gate to her barn enclosure, progressing to supervised interactions in the barn and corral area. We then brought in one of our homebred mares, Jenny, who was still feeding her two year old daughter - and Monsieur Chapeau returned to the big herd. With Princess Cristal well integrated into the big herd, it was a good time to wean her for a while and see if Jenny would befriend Lady Luna. Not so keen at first, Jenny nevertheless allowed Lady Luna to have a couple of suckles a day, in exchange for some feed. This progressed to Lady Luna being able to spend some time with Jenny and Monty and then, have some much needed turnout. Monty then returned to the big herd, where his two daughters were very pleased to see him, and young Lady Molly was brought to meet Lady Luna and help Jenny in looking after her. This system worked fairly well for a while with Lady Luna being very careful to adhere to the stringent rules of engagement set out by Jenny and Lady Molly! Nick had set up a foal creep gate so Lady Luna always had access to her own area and her feed. She used this area daily to also take a rest and found it a great comfort. Although still a little grudging of her new job, when Lady Luna was resting, Jenny could often be found standing nearby, waiting patiently for her to wake up.
The logistics of giving Lady Luna a suitable area of barn, corral and turnout to integrate her successfully, meant that the group of ponies in training had to return to the big herd for the time being - as we needed that space. It has required a compromise here and I hope to catch up with that training and development in due course.
Lady Luna's new friend... At the end of September, we were blessed with the arrival of a beautiful colt foal from Anstey Princess - one of the loveliest colts we have bred. Being the grandson of the legendary moorland stallion, The Highwayman, it was only fitting that he be called Dick Turpin. As Anstey Princess approached her foal heat, it was time to move them and introduce them to Jenny, Lady Molly and Lady Luna. Over the past couple of weeks, the group has been slowly integrating and the foals are getting to know each other. At first, Anstey Princess was incredibly foal proud and would not allow any of the other ponies near Dick Turpin, but she has gradually relaxed and he has grown in confidence - and it looks like a wonderful friendship is developing. Although not the easiest to feed, Lady Luna is responding well to her care programme and enjoying that all important 24/7 access to company and turnout, where she can evolve and mature as a normal pony, rather than an orphan who becomes too dependent on people. It looks promising.
Success with the crowdfunding... During this time, we have seen the crowdfunding appeal reach its target and taking into account the JustGiving fees, with the addition of some private donations, we have just topped our target of £2000, which is fantastic. It has already required significant time and resource to get Lady Luna this far, and without the help of crowdfunding, it is not possible for projects like ours to operate. It is important for supporters to see what their money is being spent on, so we will ensure that crowdfunding for this project will be for specific projects and ponies - as and when additional help is essential to getting the job done.
Most people have been fantastic about the Lady Luna project and without fail, wherever we go, people ask after her with warmth and concern. There is no doubt that she has reached people's hearts and minds and through that, is doing her own bit to promote the moorland ponies of Exmoor and highlight that sometimes, they need a helping hand to survive and thrive.
Trolling and abuse... Because the @JustGiving page was public and promoted so extensively, many, many people have kept up to date with Lady Luna's progress through there. And many people also saw the horrible way we were trolled on it. For a few days, the page was relentlessly targeted by a group of people involved in Exmoor ponies, and their relatives, who sought to tear our reputations apart and target me personally with the most vindictive and puerile abuse. @JustGiving thankfully realised the extent of the abuse and removed the comments and closed the mechanism for people to comment on our @JustGiving page. Of course, this also removed the lovely, supportive comments and prevented our supporters from interacting on the page - which is a very great shame.
While it was naturally distressing to see the appeal attacked and potentially compromised in this way, and to see lies and filth written about me, including by people I have never met - it also provided a platform to demonstrate how relentlessly this 'gang' of people has targeted and abused us since Nick and I stood up against the multiple hot branding of Exmoor pony foals in 2009. This 'gang' succeeded in having us (completely unfairly in the opinion of us and many others) thrown out of the Exmoor Pony Society, in a public and horrible way, in 2014 - to which we have had no recourse or recompense. The Exmoor Pony Society refuses to engage in discussion about it and allows their members and officers and trustees to continue the abuse and denigration of ourselves. This means we are prevented from exhibiting our ponies at EPS shows and have to endure vastly increased 'non-member charges' to register our ponies. Along with being ostracised and cut off from interacting with the breed society. This has unfortunately severely compromised our breeding programme and Exmoor pony stud. I wonder what Nick's great grandfather would think of this behaviour, after being a founding committee member of the Exmoor Pony Society in 1921? Not a lot would be my guess.
One good thing that came out of the latest behaviour of this 'gang' on Lady Luna's @JustGiving appeal page, is that it really was in the public eye, and so many more people are now aware of what we have been putting up with. Many have expressed their horror at this treatment, who have not seen examples of it before. With new social media trolling rules and the 'criminalisation' of abusive social media behaviour - we hope that this 'gang' of people can be encouraged to stop and instead find something more positive to do with their lives - rather than trying to further damage ours, and that of our ponies - and the ponies we try to help. An apology from them and from the Exmoor Pony Society would perhaps be a good step forwards. I will leave it there.
A heartfelt thank you... To all those who have supported Lady Luna and appreciate what it means for her to have this lifeline and opportunity - and who feel as joyful as us to see her cavorting and playing with her new chum, Dick Turpin, thank you. Without you, we could not have given her this chance. It was a leap of faith, at a time of being already stretched with the commitments of the Exmoor Pony Project, to take the decision to help her - and hope that crowdfunding would work. Well it did - and it gives us great heart to know that there are so many people standing with us to help work with and promote awareness of the Exmoor ponies. Whether pedigree, purebred or crossbred. They are all valued and they are all important - and they all have their place in this world.
We are also immensely heartened by the commitment and enthusiasm of the herd and land owning members of the Moorland Exmoor Pony Breeders Group
, which is growing in both the number of members and in the proactive way everyone is working together to safeguard the ponies and look for the best opportunities for them. On balance, although there are still various barriers to overcome - and it is not easy to find good homes for wild-born foals - new owners are emerging who value and embrace how special these ponies are, and want to help to safeguard their future. We just need more of them.
So to all of you taking an interest in Lady Luna, in our pony project and in the breed generally - a heartfelt thank you. :)
Some video clips of Lady Luna and Holtball Dick Turpin
Yesterday surpassed all expectations! I'd been invited to give a Wild Pony Whispering & Exmoor Ponies
talk at Appledore Book Festival
and arrived to find that all tickets had been sold and the Blue Lights Hall was going to be packed out! The Appledore Book Festival team are amazing and nothing is too much trouble for them. Miche Tompkins
and her team made us feel so welcome at what has become a seriously good annual event.
The talk went well and was followed by a busy book signing for Wild Pony Whispering
and Wild Stallion Whispering
- with plenty of interest in my new book Wild Herd Whispering
(out in October) - all brilliantly handled by Waterstones Barnstaple.
We were then treated to some amazing Appledore Book Festival hospitality, before exploring this gorgeous North Devon village, with its higgledy piggledy streets and fabulously painted cottages, with spectacular views over the estuary. Nick wanted to show me the beach at Westward Ho and I wasn't disappointed - the sun was out and everything sparkled in the way that reminds you of childhood excitement of the seaside!
We returned to Appledore to attend a fascinating and entertaining evening interview of Penny Junor
about her book The Duchess
, by David Fitzgerald
The day was rounded off with a beautiful meal at The Boathouse
Pictured below: A packed out talk; my books on display in the Waterstones Barnstaple pop up bookstore; my husband Nick on the beach at Westward Ho; the ponies grazing alongside sheep and mingling with visitors and the golf course between Appledore and Westward Ho.
Sometimes you run a pony workshop with a group of people whose individual and collective energy is just amazing - and the ponies respond accordingly. Today was one of those days. A truly lovely group of ladies attended our Discovering Exmoor Ponies/Wild Pony Whispering workshop this weekend.
They'd come to meet the herds and find out more about why Exmoor ponies are so special and how we are evolving their management, environment and training to better suit their needs and wellbeing. We looked at four herds, ponies from around ten different herds - including some well known characters such as Monsieur Chapeau, Imperial Topaz, Lady Stumpkin Pumpkin and of course, stallion Bear - and we had some amazing interactions when the big herd when they decided to come and mingle with everyone.
Many thanks to Millie Ker for her help in running the workshop and to everyone who brought their amazing, positive energy to Holt Ball for the afternoon.
Some lovely footage of the Exmoor ponies helps to explain what new Wild Herd Whispering
is all about - and it's the ponies that do the talking in this book. It's arriving in October and I'm excited to launch a book where the ponies themselves can reveal something of what's in their hearts and minds, how they learn - and what they really want, from us. Yes, it's controversial as this is about listening rather than dictating, it's about enabling two-way communication and considering the feelings and needs of the ponies themselves within the remit of what we want to achieve with and from them. To build trust and understanding - and allow them to reach their full potential.
After a few years of promoting Exmoor ponies from other herds and helping to safeguard the future of various ponies who've found themselves in a tight spot - we've recently found a little time to focus on our own ponies. Beautiful Holtball Princess Khaleesi is the three year old daughter of Monty (son of Bear) and she made her showing debut at Holnicote Show on Exmoor on 23 July. Her father Monty accompanied her and we could not have asked more of her. She achieved a credible 2nd place in the Exmoor pony class (about 10 entries) and won the MEPBG Exmoor pony class (5 entries).
A week later, at Porlock Horse Show, she won her Exmoor youngstock class and went on to stand Champion Exmoor. Both she and Monty (2nd in the senior Exmoor class) were a joy to show. Princess Khaleesi has beautiful movement, a very generous and engaging temperament - and a wonderful ability to connect and respond.
I'm very grateful to Nick and also Millie Ker and Alyson Govier for their help. And to Gareth Latham for his lovely pictures!
It was particularly poignant to win the lovely Porlock Horse Show Exmoor trophy, because Princess Khaleesi's grandfather Bear, and father Monty, have also won it.
Wild Herd Whispering, byDawn Westcott - Author, will be published this October and we will be taking pre-orders for author-signed copies soon.
Wild Herd Whispering
is about the incredible Exmoor ponies as they reveal their true natures through the world of herd energy and dynamics. Starting with the dramatic winter arrival from the moor of a tiny five week old wild-born foal who faces the bleakest future, it is the big herd at Holt Ball Farm that decides how she will survive and thrive. The book follows the adventures of the ponies, revealing characters and behaviours that take you on a heart-rending, thought-provoking and enriching journey of equine enlightenment. This is an opportunity to catch up with adorable orphan Monsieur Chapeau and his friends and majestic stallion Bear, as their lives evolve and entwine with the wild herds of Exmoor. It follows the endearing, exciting and at times perilous experiences of the ponies – including unwelcome night time adventures, the quest to find foals lost in the wilderness and an entire moorland herd in jeopardy. With an expanding herd and challenges to face, author Dawn Westcott looks to the ponies themselves for help and inspiration: they in turn respond in a way that offers magical insights into what is going on in their hearts and minds.
This book is an invaluable reference for people interested in better understanding and winning the trust and friendship of ponies. It also highlights the challenges of safeguarding the endangered Exmoor ponies of Exmoor National Park.
"A captivating, must-read book of interwoven stories that reveal much about herd dynamics and how ponies think and learn - thoroughly enjoyable!"Jo Browne, Editor, HORSE MAGAZINE
This week we met twenty three of Great Britain's top equestrian artists, when members of Society of Equestrian Artists visited Holtball Herd 11 and our Exmoor Pony Project to study good conformation and equine body language.
The artists are on Exmoor for their Porlock Residential Week at Porlock Vale House, painting under the guidance of expert tutors.
Braving the most awful windy and pelting wet weather, their afternoon with Exmoor ponies included a demonstration of good Exmoor pony conformation with multi-champion stallion Bear and his brood mares. I then called in the Holtball Herd 11 Exmoor ponies from the pasture and they responded with gusto, cantering into the covered area, which gave the artists the opportunity to observe the ponies in movement. They then studied the equine behaviour, expressions and body language of the herd, at close hand - photographing and sketching the ponies while we chatted about the interactions. The ponies were engaging and friendly and some firm friendships were made!
"It was a fascinating afternoon with a lovely group of people and an amazing level of talent and we hope that the information gleened will be reflected in more paintings of our endangered breed and iconic Exmoor ponies," said Dawn Westcott.
Organiser Jennifer Bell said, "“The Society of Equestrian Artists has been holding a residential Summer School at Porlock Vale for a few years now - a week of painting and studying horses with tutors Malcolm Coward and Colin Allbrook (this year’s was the biggest group so far with quite a few local artists coming to paint with us on day visits.) Artists of all standards are encouraged to come, but all share a common passion.
Exmoor is a fantastic place for equestrian artists to work - a sort of horse painter’s heaven - and local horse owners and Exmoor Pony specialists have been very, very welcoming. We hope to be back next year!”
This event forms part of the Moorland Exmoor Pony Breeders Group (MEPBG) and Exmoor Pony Project's Heritage Exmoor Pony Festival which this year runs from May to November. The calendar of events is evolving and can be found on the www.mepbg.co.uk
A few days before the visit, we had to make the heart-breaking decision to put to sleep our treasured foundation mare, Maisie. It was therefore extremely poignant when artist Rebecca de Mendonca presented us with her beautiful painting of Maisie with her last (2016) foal Holtball Kilimanjaro, which we will also treasure.
Pictured: Top picture - Dawn Westcott, artist Gillian Melville, Nick Westcott and artist Rebecca de Mendonca Pictured: Artist Katie Scorgie with her new friend, Imperial Topaz, and a lovely sketch of Lady Stumpkin Pumpkin
Pictured: Below - the awesome painting of Maisie and Kilimanjaro by Rebecca de Mendonca
Pictured: Below - Article about the visit in the West Somerset Free Press (visit www.wsfp.co.uk
for digital subscriptions)