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 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.
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 identification for a safer future. Colts and stallions were housed separately to help prevent further indiscriminate breeding.
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 micro-chipped, 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.”
“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, micro-chipping 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.
It has been a costly project for Blue Cross to help the Bodmin Moor ponies.