• Kathryn Hulland

Dartmoor Pony Training Centre - The Beginnings

I enjoy looking at forums, it is great to read about other people’s experiences and they can be invaluable for advice and ideas, one day in September 2005 a post appeared on the Equineworld forum asking if anyone was interested in helping with a Dartmoor Pony Rescue Centre that was about to be set up. I checked to see if it was local and to my excitement they were in Devon. I PM’d (that’s private messaged to those not in the know) “Natbabs” expressing my interest. From there we arranged to meet at Exeter Library to discuss matters and I never looked back. On first meeting Natalie she was late, I was sat on the bench outside the library in my lunch hour thinking what am I doing? I am sat here waiting to meet a complete stranger and I don’t even know what she looks like! We were due to meet at 1pm and by 1.20pm I had already stared out 5 different girls whilst I wondered if I should ask them if they were Natalie. In particular one was stood outside the library for 10 minutes and I had just about got the bottle to walk up to her when Natalie turned up, phew I didn’t embarrass myself this time!

We went for lunch and talked ponies, she told me about the plight of the Dartmoors, how many were unsold after market and that they could well end up dead and that she hoped to set up a centre which took on those ponies which were unsold with the aim of handling them and then re-homing them in to permanent loan homes. I thought it sounded like a great idea but knew very little about Dartmoor ponies and knew nothing about training wild ones! Natalie was also volunteering for the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust. She had trained some of their ponies and put together a sponsorship scheme to help raise funds. We would be allowed to keep any ponies we took on at the same farm so land wasn’t an issue. Natalie went to the first October pony market in Tavistock and came home with Socks, Star, Basil and Reggie, they were all unsold colt foals and the first of our herd. They were put in with some of the ponies kept on the farm, it was a sorry sight They were 4 forlorn looking figures moping around the field in a state of shock, they latched on to the one mare and her foal that were in the field with them and never settled just followed her around wherever she went in single file. The comparison to how our new arrivals cope now is incredible, most will spend a couple of days stuck by each other’s sides looking very low and depressed, we do have to keep them separate for a little while sadly due to the risk of strangles, something we have suffered once before and so we are extremely wary, it is a shame as the sooner we can get these ponies in to the herd the better but it’s not worth risking the health and well being of every pony, so after 2 weeks they are moved in to the herd, they spend a couple of days unsure but are normally more settled by then and are soon playing and interacting with the other youngsters. Merry is very good and trying to get them to join in, he seems to love new friends to play with! Training these 4 was a bit hit and miss, it was the first time we had attempted this and we had a lot to learn along the way and these four plus the following 4 would be our teachers! On one of my first visits Nicky came with me and we sat in the field for 3 hours watching the foals and trying to get them used to our presence, it poured with rain non stop and was freezing!

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