SURVIVAL SCHEME IS HONOURED
ANOTHER Dartmoor pony show takes place tomorrow (Sat, Sept 2). Thats the 5th Dartmoor Pony Moorland Show*. It is, says Colin Sturmer, deputy land steward for the Duchy of Cornwall, a celebration of the Dartmoor Pony Moorland Scheme which was set up to ensure the survival of the indigenous ponies.
Colin was among those who explained the scheme to international convention delegates who are more used to pedigree Dartmoors bred and raised in sheltered conditons. They drove out onto the moors on the second day of the convention to visit enclosed areas where small herds of selected mares and their foals were running with stallions in the breeds natural habitat.
Ponies are a traditional part of Dartmoor farming. As many as 30,000 were kept on the moor during the 1950s but numbers have declined over the years to around 3,000 today.
Fashions and fancy encouraged farmers to run stallions of other breeds with their mares to produce eye-catching offspring and higher sale ring prices, but too often the resulting stock was not hardy enough to stand up to the rigours of life on the moors, especially during hard winters.
The welfare of moorland ponies was an increasing matter of public concern in the mid 1980s and as a result two independent schemes were set up to remedy the situation. They are the Dartmoor Pony Support Scheme run by the Dartmoor National Park Authority and the Dartmoor Commoners Council, and the Dartmoor Pony Moorland Scheme formulated by the Duchy of Cornwall with the Dartmoor Pony Society, Dartmoor National Park Authority and MAFFs veterinary service. The former involves 100s of Dartmoor and Dartmoor type ponies and is primarily concerned with their welfare, and the latter is a breeding programme which aims to increase the number of hardy Dartmoor mares and to improve the blood lines of ponies living on the moor.
It involves a much smaller number of animals and is administered by the Dartmoor Pony Society and funded by the society and the Duchy of Cornwall. Owners of ponies living on Dartmoor are invited to submit their mares for approval by the societys inspectors. Those accepted as of a true Dartmoor type are then entered in the societys supplementary register and accommodated in an enclosed area of moorland free of charge from May 1 to Oct 1. Here they run with a licenced pedigree Dartmoor stallion.
The Duchy of Cornwall pays a subsidy of £30 a mare to owners of ponies accepted into the scheme and a headage payment to the tenant farmers on whose land they are run. The Dartmoor Pony Society sponsors the stallions at £300 a stallion a year out of its grant from the Horse Race Betting Levy Board.
The scheme began with one enclosure containing 17 mares from seven owners in 1988, and has grown steadily. The enclosure known as Huccaby Newtake was added the following year and a third, Dunnabridge Newtake, for 1991.
The fillies are inspected from 12 months of age. Those which pass the inspection are then eligible for registration in the Dartmoor Pony Societys supplementary register 2. To encourage owners to keep them for three years with a view to bringing them into the breeding programme, an over-wintering arrangement has been made with the help of the National Trust to provide lowland winter grazing in Cornwall.
The committee of 10 who run the scheme wants to see selected colts retained as well to provide hardy indigenous Dartmoor type stallions to replace many of the cross-bred stallions used on the moor.
Tourism is an important industry in the area and the moorland ponies one of the attractions. Notices have been put up to explain the Dartmoor Pony Moorland Scheme to the visitors. They also learn about it when taken out on the guided walks arranged by the National Parks Authority: "The public is very ignorant about all things horse on the moors," comments Colin Sturmer. He admits that some of the criticism of the 80s was right but says there has been a vast improvement over the years.
Colin is secretary of the Dartmoor Pony Moorland Show for registered ponies and those in the moorland or support schemes. The event is popular for its traditional simplicity, and is proving a good shop window. "It is seemed to us to be a way to get across to the country that this is a unique breed," he says.
*Dartmoor Moorland Pony Show is held in Princetown annually on the first Saturday in September. The 1995 event takes place on Sept 2 commencing at 10.30am.