Life on the outside: Detective work sets “mud bath” ponies free


Detective work and persistence by rescuers has paid off for two pony mares who were living in a small walled urban garden in Britain.

The pair were living in a garden which was “a dustbowl” in summer and “a mud bath” in winter. There was no grass to eat, the ponies could barely see over the wall and they never went out of the enclosure. They were, however, being provided with food and water by their owner and had a small shelter so their very basic needs for existence were being met meaning that legally, there were no immediate grounds to remove the ponies.

As concern over the ponies grew earlier this year, a piece of clever detective work by Penny Baker, a field officer with World Horse Welfare, led to the breakthrough that meant the ponies could be removed from the site and taken to somewhere they could be looked after properly.

Baker said the owner refused to enter into any communication. “In my 16 years of working on the welfare front I have never come across an owner who simply refuses to speak to me.

“There was no way I could discuss the ponies’ situation with him, to work with him to improve their welfare and I knew the offers of help locals had offered over the years had similarly been rejected. This left us in a very difficult position, so we started doing some investigations.”

The ponies’ weights were increasing as they were unable to exercise sufficiently putting them at increased risk of ill health. It was believed that the walled garden belonged to the owner of the ponies but Baker decided to check, which she was able to do quickly and easily, and discovered that the land was owned by someone else. Having contacted the landowners it became clear that they were worried about the ponies and had tried several avenues to ensure that the owner removed them from the land, without success.

Once they learned of the Control of Horses Act, which enables a landowner to seize horses that are on their land without permission, they placed the necessary notices and fulfilled other requirements of the act. As the animals hadn’t been removed by their owner as requested, just four working days later, the landowners legally took ownership of them. The landowners were then able to sign the ponies over to World Horse Welfare and they were removed from the site and taken to Glenda Spooner Farm in Somerset in late February.

Mary, pictured, and Poppins were living in a walled garden area, a “dustbowl” in summer and a “mud bath” in winter.
Mary, pictured, and Poppins were living in a walled garden area, a “dustbowl” in summer and a “mud bath” in winter. © World Horse Welfare

Beautiful bay 14-year-old Mary and four-year-old skewbald Poppins are getting used to life outside their small walled enclosure and can now enjoy the freedom, care and variety in their lives that they deserve. Watching them explore and play in a paddock for the first time was an emotional moment for Penny and the World Horse Welfare team.

The long-term aim for them is to rehome them but before that they will need a period of intense care to help them reach an ideal weight, ensure they are healthy and help them become used to the things that will be expected of them, such as being groomed, led and exercised.

Poppins, left, and Mary with field officer Penny Baker.
Poppins, left, and Mary with field officer Penny Baker. © World Horse Welfare

The skilled and dedicated work the teams do at Glenda Spooner Farm, and the three other World Horse Welfare centres in Aberdeenshire, Lancashire and Norfolk for about 300 horses and ponies each year is not possible without public support. Even while the charity’s visitor centres were closed last year because of the pandemic, staff at the centres continued to take in, care for and rehabilitate horses like Mary and Poppins.

“Please consider sponsoring one of the four stable yards at World Horse Welfare to enable us to give ponies like Mary and Poppins the best chance of finally being placed into a loving home for the rest of their lives,” Baker said.

“Your donations make such a difference.”

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