Ancient Exmoor colouring in danger?

  • By Dawn Westcott
  • 19 Nov, 2016

Are we endangering the dun & reddish-coloured Exmoor ponies? Herd 23 owner thinks yes.

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 partridgearmsfarm@gmail.com 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...

Dawn Westcott's Blog

By Dawn Westcott 07 Jun, 2017
Exmoor ponies inspire fine art

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  website.

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) 

By Dawn Westcott 12 Apr, 2017
Last year, Emma Massingale spent some time at our farm meeting our Exmoor pony herd. She was putting together a pioneering liberty team of British Native ponies and wanted to find an Exmoor pony to join them. Four year old filly, Farleywater Annie Ridd, was the pony who stepped forward to make kind of connection that Emma was looking for and, after much discussion, I agreed that Annie could become part of Emma's new family. 

Emma recently came to collect Annie and although it was a wrench to see her disappear down the drive in the lorry, we were delighted to see Annie immediately settling in with her new friends. Emma's Shetlands, Albert and Ernie, took a huge shine to her and it was heartening to see Annie enjoying turnout and company, and her first interactions with Emma - looking relaxed, happy and interested. 

Emma's initial work with the native team is already showing some amazing results, as you can see here from this Facebook picture with them all lined up - and Annie second from left. 

We're delighted that Emma chose one of our Exmoors and we also adore Annie, who is intelligent and beautiful and who will be a wonderful ambassador for the Exmoor pony breed on Emma's team. It's been hard to let her go, but thrilling to see her thriving in her new environment - where she has an important job to do in showing everyone just how fabulous Exmoor ponies can be - and indeed British Natives - with the right approach. 

Very much looking forward to following the progress of Emma Massingale's Native Pony Team. You can find Emma on Facebook at www.facebook.com/EmmaMassingale.
By Dawn Westcott 22 Mar, 2017
I'm very excited to let you know that, following on from best-selling Wild Pony Whispering and Wild Stallion Whispering, my new book Wild Herd Whispering will complete the trilogy. It's going to be out in hardback later this year! I'll let you have more details and how to reserve a first edition signed copy as soon as possible. I can't wait to bring you this book :)
By Dawn Westcott 23 Dec, 2016
This week the Western Morning News put out a call for festive horsey pictures and Monsieur Chapeau rose to the challenge! There wasn't much time and he had a quick brush over to see off the worst of his carefully acquired mud, before facing a pile of tinsel and some Reindeer antlers. 

Staring quizzically at the tinsel as the thick strands were wrapped around his neck, he stood stoically while it was wound around his head collar. A handful of delicious pony nuts provided motivation to stand beautifully and strike the required pose. 

The Western Morning News liked the resulting picture and it's in the paper's WMN Horses section today, Friday 23 December. 

Well done promoting Exmoor ponies Monsieur Chapeau! 


By Dawn Westcott 18 Dec, 2016
Wishing all of the friends and supporters of the Exmoor Pony Project a very Merry Christmas and Happy New year!

This year the Moorland Exmoor Foal Project has grown and expanded to embrace moorbred and non-moorbred Exmoor pony foals and older ponies - and we are working with and helping breeders, owners and enthusiasts on Exmoor, across the UK and overseas. We are also working with authorities and organisations to improve welfare, management and understanding of the Exmoor pony breed.

What we do involves hands on socialisation and training of ponies, placing and homing ponies, stud work, herd management, moorland management, knowledge transfer & communication, PR, promotion and finding good opportunities for ponies.

Both of the Wild Pony Whispering and Wild Stallion Whispering books explain, through their compelling real-life stories, much about our work with Exmoor ponies and how to better understand, handle and train them.

We are very grateful to the organisations and individuals who embrace and support our work. As well as the small team of dedicated volunteers who lend a hand to help make it all possible. We’d like to wish you all the very best for 2017.

More information about the Exmoor Pony Project, Wild Pony Whispering, Wild Stallion Whispering and our own Holtball Herd 11 Exmoor ponies can be found on this website -  www.wildponywhispering.co.uk .

More information about the Moorland Exmoor Pony Breeders Group can be found at www.mepbg.co.uk .
By Dawn Westcott 11 Dec, 2016
It's been a busy week at the Exmoor Pony Project . Last weekend we had a stand at the Westcountry Christmas Equine Fair at Exeter, which entailed a busy two days promoting the Moorland Exmoor Pony Breeders Group, Exmoor Pony Project (Moorland Exmoor Foal Project) and Wild Pony Whispering and Wild Stallion Whispering.

It was heartening to meet so many people who have read and enjoyed Wild Pony Whispering and looking forward to reading Wild Stallion Whispering . Readers ranged from children to grandparents and what really came across this year was people's desire to build more trust with their horses and ponies - appreciating the value of making a good connection on the ground. They're also putting more thought into the environment their ponies live in and looking after their wellbeing. It was exciting to meet so many people interested in the breed, with some potentially becoming Exmoor pony owners. The event was buzzing all weekend. 

Early this week we received news that a very special moorland mare and her foal had been gathered in the recent Tippbarlake round-up and we whizzed over to Farleywater Farm to see them. This resulted in both of them coming back with us to Holt Ball where the colt foal will be gradually weaned from his mother. We are all looking forward to confirming his parentage with DNA testing.

We've also been continuing the socialisation of our other foals, as well as working with the youngstock and older ponies - there is literally not time to stop from dawn until well after dark. 

This week we're taking Monsieur Chapeau and Lady Stumpkin Pumpkin to the Exmoor Christmas Market , which is taking place at Tesco's in Minehead , in the car park on Wed 14 Dec. There'll be local produce, carol singing, a band and the opportunity to meet the Exmoor ponies, so come along if you can - it starts at 11am. 


By Dawn Westcott 01 Dec, 2016
Southern parts of the United Kingdom are currently experiencing quite a freeze, with temperatures diving below freezing at night. With this closely following a period of intense rain and wind, many horse owners would be forgiven for rushing out to rug their ponies. But ask the ponies themselves and they have other ideas!

When it grows colder, horses grow a coat to match. The Exmoor ponies, having evolved in the wilds of the Exmoor National Park uplands, with it's harsh weather and terrain, grow the most amazingly thick winter coats. A soft downy insulating layer is topped with a thick, long, greasy topcoat that keeps them warm and dry. Even when severely tested during the worst of the winter. 

If we rug the ponies during the winter, the coats are flattened and can't do their jobs properly. When unrugged, the hairs rise up, trapping air between the hairs, to keep the animal warmer - and the coat thickens according to what's needed. 

So currently, our Exmoors are growing beautifully fluffy, thick velvety winter coats. You can see from the image above, that when the sodden top layer is lifted, the soft, downy coat underneath is dry. 

Of course, the management system of unrugged ponies is important too. Part of keeping warm is to keep moving, so shutting the ponies in small stables for the night prevents them moving around properly and they can get stiff and cold like the rest of us, particularly if there are freezing draughts blowing through. They also need to fuel themselves with access to ad lib forage. If the ponies are shod, a cold metal shoe between them and the ground, raising the frog off the ground, also makes it more difficult to power their circulation and keep warm. A group of ponies together can also generate more warmth.

When the ponies are barefoot, their hooves can expand and contract as nature intended, as they move, allowing the frog to reach the ground. The movement (concussion generated) helps to pump blood up and down the legs and around the body, enabling the circulation to work effectively and keep the ponies warmer.

So the most effective way to help ponies during the worst of the winter is to allow them to live in herds, with free access to migrate in and out from dry, sheltered areas to the pasture. Leaving them barefoot and rugless and with access to good forage and grazing 24/7. It can be surprising when and for how long they migrate in and out. Sometimes, they will be in the barn all lying down together or feeding - and at other times, they can choose to be outside again in the pelting rain or driving wind. The important thing is that they have the choice to regulate and manage their own movement, rest, shelter and food intake. The result is a herd of happy ponies, even in the worst of the weather. 

Copyright: Dawn Westcott


By Dawn Westcott 19 Nov, 2016
The Moorland Exmoor Foal Project was founded by Nick and Dawn Westcott in 2013 to help give some of the free-born Moorland Exmoor foals a good start in life and to support, encourage and promote the Moorland breeders and herds of Exmoor National Park who share like-minded objectives in wanting to safeguard the future of pedigree, purebred and cross-bred Exmoor ponies.

Since then, the Exmoor foals we have taken into the project are maturing and we are helping both foals and older ponies. We are also working with both moorbred and non-moorbred Exmoor ponies, and breeders, owners and enthusiasts on Exmoor, across the UK and overseas. What started with helping some moorland foals has become the Exmoor Pony Project .

At Holt Ball, we care for and offer good opportunities to 25+ Exmoor ponies - born both on the moor, off the moor and within our own small breeding programme. The Exmoor ponies live naturally in mixed herds with ages ranging from orphaned foals to veterans. They have access to barns and shelter, corrals and pasture 24/7 all year round. We use a positive, trust-based horsemanship approach, based on two-way communication and using liberty and agility play to build trust and friendship with the ponies. We also work closely with other dedicated moorland farmers to help with management, marketing, promotion and finding good opportunities for ponies.
 
We are not a charity. Our remit is to help Exmoor ponies and encourage kinder, more understanding ways of handling them and to find good opportunities for them.

HOW YOU CAN HELP:-

1) SPONSOR AN EXMOOR PONY
If you would like to Sponsor An Exmoor Pony then you can find more information and purchase a Sponsorship Package here: http://www.exmoorponyclub.co.uk/index.php?/store/p.. .

2) DONATIONS
If you would like to make Donation to support out work then you are welcome to do this via PAYPAL using ExmoorPonyClub@Hotmail.co.uk as a reference. Donations are entirely at your discretion and we appreciate your support:

3) @Just-Giving Appeal for the Moorland Exmoor Foal Project:-
Help us raise £2000 to help with costs this winter. Please #donate on @justgiving and RT. Thanks! https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/moorland-exmoor-foal-project?utm_id=60&utm_term=9585RYez...

Thank you for your support!

Visits and Events at the Exmoor Pony Project:-
If you would like to arrange a tailored visit to the Exmoor Pony Project, please email dawnwestcott@hotmail.com. This is a working farm so we are not open to the public. However we can make arrangements for special visits/tour of ponies when possible, and at a reasonable cost. Proceeds help with the running of the project.
By Dawn Westcott 19 Nov, 2016
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 partridgearmsfarm@gmail.com 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...
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