They are a sight to behold running on both Withypool and Anstey Commons and the oldest-family-owned herd of Exmoor ponies in the world. The Milton family recently gathered in Herd 23 to wean and inspect the foals.
The Exmoor pony breed is endangered, with only about 2000 worldwide and a few hundred on Exmoor. Herd 23 ponies are particularly important due to their ancient bloodlines and unique dun, reddish and bright bay colouring, which has become a rarity and something Rex Milton is pushing hard to retain. But he’s frustrated with the Exmoor Pony Society’s interpretation of the ‘no white markings’ rule, which rejects foals with paler (under) soles.
“This is a misconstrued rule that is endangering these lines. The duns have almost gone because they nearly always had paler soles, and duns and reds have paler pigmentation,” says Rex, “In the past, some of the best ponies in the show ring had pale soles.”
This year the best filly foal from Withypool Common, with beautiful red colouring, failed inspection for having a paler sole. Rex is nevertheless keeping her in the herd and is holding out for a rule change, which the Moorland Exmoor Pony Breeders Group, of which Rex Milton is a founder member, is currently negotiating with the Exmoor Pony Society.
With regard to foal sales, Rex Milton acknowledges that the equine market is experiencing harder times, but points out, “The Exmoor is a hardy, lower maintenance pony and more affordable to keep. They make excellent companions, riding, driving and showing ponies.”
The answer is not to stop breeding and Rex explains why. “The whole ecology of the moor is affected if the herds don’t breed and it’s not straightforward. You can take stallions off and have some older non-breeding mares to help keep the herds together and control numbers, but mares in season can break out to find a stallion despite best efforts. Getting the numbers right is a fine balance. You don’t want to produce too many, but if you don’t breed enough you can’t supply a market, or pick the best, and the breed demises. Through generations of good farming, Exmoors have evolved by survival of the fittest and keeping the best ponies.
“Herd 23 needs support because these traditional rare ponies will be lost unless we can get more of them out there and into the show ring. Now is the time for people to come and choose because foals ideally need to be bought fairly quickly after weaning - and we have some lovely ones this year.”
Please contact Rex Milton on 01398 341217 email firstname.lastname@example.org and see www.exmoorponyclub.co.uk
This article appears in the Western Morning News Fri 11 Nov in Western Morning News Horses: http://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/ancient-exmoor-colours-on-show-at-herd-23-gathering/story-29886734-d...