3 September 1999

Courageous & calm

– those spotted ponies

SPOTTED ponies have been part of the British equine scene for a very long time. For centuries, in fact, as is evident from old paintings and ancient books.

There are those who believe they are an indigenous breed. There are also those who believe they may have been brought from abroad – at the time of the Crusades, for example – but whoever is right, the Spotted Pony Breed Society of Great Britain is intent on ensuring that ponies on its register are truly British.

"We are very, very strict about the use of foreign blood," says Mary Bassett, chairman of the society which traces its origins back more than 50 years to the formation of the British Spotted Horse and Pony Society in 1947. In 1977 this society divided into separate organisations for horses and ponies. The Spotted Pony Breed Society (GB) was founded in 1996 when most of the membership and council, including the majority of the principal breeders, left the British Spotted Pony Society to form a fresh society that permitted out-crossing spotted ponies to native pony breeds but not to Arab or Thoroughbred horses.

Out-crossing to native British pony breeds – principally Shetland and Welsh – is acceptable to improve conformation which is the societys foremost consideration. Colour is the secondary consideration. Regist-ration rules permit four colour markings: Leopard, blanket, snowflake and mottled. Leopard is the preferred marking and native British ponies with the other markings will usually become leopard spotted in the course of time.

Many spotted ponies are a plain colour when they are born but develop spots within the first five years. Others may never develop spots but may pass the spotting gene on to offspring. These ponies are recorded on a separate register.

Besides distinguishing colour the spotted pony has black and white striped hooves. Its eye has a distinctive white sclera and its skin is mottled.

&#42 Export trade

A brisk export trade was one of the factors that had severely reduced the UK spotted pony population by the 1970s but today the breed flourishes here. The Spotted Pony Breed Society (GB) currently has 1000 breeding animals on its register and about 200 new registrations are made annually.

The principal event on the societys calendar is the National Breed Show held at the Three Counties Showground, Malvern, Worcs, an event which includes ridden, driven and even photo and fancy dress classes as well as in-hand ones. In-hand classes are divided into two sections: Ponies under 42in and those above. The champion and reserve from both sections then compete for the national championship.

This years national champion was the top tiny – Tony and Jane Denniss Kerswell Spiro, a three year old leopard-spotted stallion just 36in high.

As well as producing spotted ponies Mr and Mrs Dennis breed Shetlands and miniature donkeys at Forke Farm, Pennymoor, near Tiverton, Devon where, says Mrs Dennis, "They have to earn their keep, and they do. With specialised horses or ponies you can keep surviving – and survival is the name of the game." When Mr Dennis retired, after 25 years as a jockey, the couple bred Thoroughbreds and hunters, but in recent years turned their attention to smaller stock.

Reserve national champion was the winner of the 42in and over championship, Brian and Diane Taylors Broomells Midwinter, an elegant yearling filly of about 13hh. The Taylors, of Byfleet, Surrey, bought their first spotted pony as a companion for a riding horse but are now dedicated to the spotted breed.

&#42 Society chairman

Broomells Midwinter was bred by the societys chairman, Mrs Bassett, who currently runs about 100 spotted ponies at Newmead Farm, Hittisleigh, Devon.

Her daughters Karen Bassett and Pippa Thomas are renowned whips, having won carriage driving championships at home and abroad. As youngsters they had great success with a team of skewbald ponies. When these were retired Mrs Bassett looked for something equally spectacular and the spotted pony filled the bill.

Karen made her name with a team of spotted pony stallions. "Courageous and calm," is how Mrs Bassett describes them and she says that having four stallions together was "no trouble at all".

Mrs Bassetts retired stallions and old brood mares are "with me for life," she says, but she is holding a reduction sale of 45 spotted ponies through Thimbleby and Shorland on Oct 13.

Inquiries to breed secretary and registrar Mrs Julie Allen, Hollygate House, Ridlington, Oakham, Rutland (01572-821781).