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Betsy Carter’s Horse Scene: Dartmoor ponies’ fate remains dicey
The Dartmoor ponies in England have run wild on the moorlands for over 3,000 years. Officially, they are defined as ponies that have been bred by dams and sires from the herd that roams the moors. They vary in color and type but have long been popular as riding and cart ponies for their hardiness and good temperament.
In the 1950s, there were approximately 30,000 Dartmoor ponies; today, there are only about 850.
For centuries, the ponies have been herded up and the foals sold off each fall. This year, the numbers of foals sold has declined significantly, and it has people worried about the ponies’ future. At the annual Chagford horse market, foals did not sell, even when offered at 10 pounds.
Income generated by the sale goes to the pony keepers, the farmers who maintain the practice of having the ponies graze on the moorlands.
It is important to keep the ponies at a manageable level because they help maintain the ecological balance of the moorland for themselves and other animals that live there since the ponies graze only selectively. The ponies are also a tourist attraction.
Friends of the Dartmoor Hill Pony, a charitable organization, has suggested that the stallions be gelded, or moved from the enclosed commons. Another proposal is to give the mares long-term contraceptives. Some fear that the foals may be sent to slaughter.
Betsy Carter can be reached at The Free Lance–Star, 616 Amelia St., Fredericksburg, Va. 22401; or by fax at 540/373-8455.