Bodmin breakout: New hope for abandoned ponies

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Bodmin pony Bracken is among those brought to Blue Cross in an operation late last year.
Bodmin pony Bracken is among those brought to Blue Cross in an operation late last year. © Blue Cross

More than two dozen unclaimed and neglected ponies on Cornwall’s Bodmin Moor in Britain have been taken in by animal welfare charity Blue Cross for rehabilitation and rehoming.

Blue Cross is  supporting a practical initiative led by the Bodmin Moor Commons Council and Redwings Horse Sanctuary, helping project organisers to round up, identify and match ponies with owners in the East Moor area.

Bodmin Moor in Cornwall is classified as common land and has been used for the summer grazing of livestock for hundreds of years. Ponies used to be an important part of the farming process because the only practical way to manage livestock over such a vast area was on horseback. Currently it is estimated that around 500 to 600 ponies are running free on some areas of the Moor. Indiscriminate breeding is causing their numbers to increase, with many ponies suffering and struggling to survive over the cold winter months when grass is in short supply.

While some owners who retain grazing rights monitor their own ponies on the Moor, a lack of formal identification of horses and a lack of enforcement of identification laws has led to other ponies being abandoned or illegally grazed. Subsequent overcrowding, coupled with poor grazing, has made life very tough for them.

Ponies from Bodmin Moor, now with Redwings from a previous operation.
Ponies from Bodmin Moor, now with Redwings from a previous operation. © Redwings

Redwings has been striving to ensure the future welfare of these ponies for several years, working with charities and agencies including Bodmin Moor Commons Council, the Animal Health and Plant Agency (APHA), Blue Cross, Bransby Horses, the British Horse Society, the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare.

In the autumn of 2016 Blue Cross helped to round up, health check, microchip and provide passports for 169 semi-feral ponies on the East Moor area of Bodmin. Owners were traced wherever possible and the ponies that were left unclaimed were provided with adequate identification for a safer future. Colts and stallions were housed separately to help prevent further indiscriminate breeding.

Sadly more than 100 ponies, including in-foal mares, foals and youngsters, many of which were in a pitiful state of health, remained unclaimed. Blue Cross has taken in 26 of the most needy cases, with Redwings taking 16, the Mare and Foal Sanctuary taking 23, and World Horse Welfare and RSPCA also pledging homes.

Nicolas de Brauwere, Head of Welfare & Behaviour at Redwings, who led the operation, said: “This was a huge task but one with a real impact as the ponies now remaining on that part of the Moor are all microchipped, health checked and most importantly they all have an owner who is responsible for their care. Meanwhile those that were abandoned to their fate will not have to go through yet another winter without the proper care and management they need. We are so thankful to the Bodmin Moor Commons Council, Blue Cross and all the charities, both those who assisted with the operation itself and those who have offered homes to these poor ponies.”

Conker and Bracken are looking for new homes, having left Bodmin Moor.
Conker is looking for a new home after leaving Bodmin Moor, along with his pal Bracken. © Blue Cross

“The ponies were in a dreadful state when they arrived,” said Vicki Alford, Horse Manager at Blue Cross, Burford. “Most were very weak and underweight and terrified. We put them all in one large field as a group for a couple of weeks, to give them security and stability within their own herd before moving them into stables for castration, microchipping and passports.”

Gradually the ponies were introduced to feed and very soon they started coming to the field gate when the grooms arrived. Eventually it was possible to split them into smaller groups and start their training in mobile round pens using a combination of negative and positive reinforcement.

Bracken, a distinctively spotty legged five-year-old gelding, was the most fearful of them all when he arrived.  Now, three months on he will walk straight up to his trainer and eat from her hand while she strokes his neck.

“Once we have made a positive association with touch then training becomes a much nicer experience for these poor ponies,” Alford said.

“Luckily for the ponies we admitted they are only frightened because they have never ever had interactions with humans, not because they have had bad handling or scary experiences. This makes our training so much easier.”

Conker, another young gelding, is also progressing well. He is beginning to enjoy wither and neck scratches and is confident to eat from a bucket. Bracken and Conker will soon be ready for experienced new homes where their training can continue. In time both should make good riding ponies.

To find out more about how you can help support Blue Cross or to apply to give Bracken or Conker a home, visit www.bluecross.org.uk.

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