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. Lady Luna
, 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