Ancient Exmoor colouring in danger?

  • By Dawn Westcott
  • 19 Nov, 2016

Are we endangering the dun & reddish-coloured Exmoor ponies? Herd 23 owner thinks yes.

They are a sight to behold running on both Withypool and Anstey Commons and the oldest-family-owned herd of Exmoor ponies in the world. The Milton family recently gathered in Herd 23 to wean and inspect the foals.

The Exmoor pony breed is endangered, with only about 2000 worldwide and a few hundred on Exmoor. Herd 23 ponies are particularly important due to their ancient bloodlines and unique dun, reddish and bright bay colouring, which has become a rarity and something Rex Milton is pushing hard to retain. But he’s frustrated with the Exmoor Pony Society’s interpretation of the ‘no white markings’ rule, which rejects foals with paler (under) soles.

“This is a misconstrued rule that is endangering these lines. The duns have almost gone because they nearly always had paler soles, and duns and reds have paler pigmentation,” says Rex, “In the past, some of the best ponies in the show ring had pale soles.”

This year the best filly foal from Withypool Common, with beautiful red colouring, failed inspection for having a paler sole. Rex is nevertheless keeping her in the herd and is holding out for a rule change, which the Moorland Exmoor Pony Breeders Group, of which Rex Milton is a founder member, is currently negotiating with the Exmoor Pony Society.

With regard to foal sales, Rex Milton acknowledges that the equine market is experiencing harder times, but points out, “The Exmoor is a hardy, lower maintenance pony and more affordable to keep. They make excellent companions, riding, driving and showing ponies.”

The answer is not to stop breeding and Rex explains why. “The whole ecology of the moor is affected if the herds don’t breed and it’s not straightforward. You can take stallions off and have some older non-breeding mares to help keep the herds together and control numbers, but mares in season can break out to find a stallion despite best efforts. Getting the numbers right is a fine balance. You don’t want to produce too many, but if you don’t breed enough you can’t supply a market, or pick the best, and the breed demises. Through generations of good farming, Exmoors have evolved by survival of the fittest and keeping the best ponies.

“Herd 23 needs support because these traditional rare ponies will be lost unless we can get more of them out there and into the show ring. Now is the time for people to come and choose because foals ideally need to be bought fairly quickly after weaning - and we have some lovely ones this year.”

Please contact Rex Milton on 01398 341217 email partridgearmsfarm@gmail.com and see www.exmoorponyclub.co.uk .

This article appears in the Western Morning News Fri 11 Nov in Western Morning News Horses: http://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/ancient-exmoor-colours-on-show-at-herd-23-gathering/story-29886734-d...

Dawn Westcott's Blog

By Dawn Westcott 04 Sep, 2017
Sometimes you run a pony workshop with a group of people whose individual and collective energy is just amazing - and the ponies respond accordingly. Today was one of those days. A truly lovely group of ladies attended our Discovering Exmoor Ponies/Wild Pony Whispering workshop this weekend. 

They'd come to meet the herds and find out more about why Exmoor ponies are so special and  how we are evolving their management, environment and training to better suit their needs and wellbeing. We looked at four herds, ponies from around ten different herds - including some well known characters such as Monsieur Chapeau, Imperial Topaz, Lady Stumpkin Pumpkin and of course, stallion Bear -  and we had some amazing interactions when the big herd when they decided to come and mingle with everyone. 

Many thanks to Millie Ker for her help in running the workshop and to everyone who brought their amazing, positive energy to Holt Ball for the afternoon. 
By Dawn Westcott 31 Aug, 2017
Some lovely footage of the Exmoor ponies helps to explain what new Wild Herd Whispering is all about - and it's the ponies that do the talking in this book. It's arriving in October and I'm excited to launch a book where the ponies themselves can reveal something of what's in their hearts and minds, how they learn - and what they really want, from us. Yes, it's controversial as this is about listening rather than dictating, it's about enabling two-way communication and considering the feelings and needs of the ponies themselves within the remit of what we want to achieve with and from them. To build trust and understanding - and allow them to reach their full potential. 

Anyway - here's a taster of Wild Herd Whispering in this short video  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8o2H4p2vtg

By Dawn Westcott 31 Jul, 2017
After a few years of promoting Exmoor ponies from other herds and helping to safeguard the future of various ponies who've found themselves in a tight spot - we've recently found a little time to focus on our own ponies. Beautiful Holtball Princess Khaleesi is the three year old daughter of Monty (son of Bear) and she made her showing debut at Holnicote Show on Exmoor on 23 July. Her father Monty accompanied her and we could not have asked more of her. She achieved a credible 2nd place in the Exmoor pony class (about 10 entries) and won the MEPBG Exmoor pony class (5 entries). 

A week later, at Porlock Horse Show, she won her Exmoor youngstock class and went on to stand Champion Exmoor.
Both she and Monty (2nd in the senior Exmoor class) were a joy to show. Princess Khaleesi has beautiful movement, a very generous and engaging temperament - and a wonderful ability to connect and respond. 

I'm very grateful to Nick and also Millie Ker and Alyson Govier for their help. And to Gareth Latham for his lovely pictures!

It was particularly poignant to win the lovely Porlock Horse Show Exmoor trophy, because Princess Khaleesi's grandfather Bear, and father Monty, have also won it. 

By Dawn Westcott 26 Jul, 2017
Wild Herd Whispering, by   Dawn Westcott - Author , will be published this October and we will be taking pre-orders for author-signed copies soon.  

Wild Herd Whispering is about the incredible Exmoor ponies as they reveal their true natures through the world of herd energy and dynamics. 
Starting with the dramatic winter arrival from the moor of a tiny five week old wild-born foal who faces the bleakest future, it is the big herd at Holt Ball Farm that decides how she will survive and thrive. The book follows the adventures of the ponies, revealing characters and behaviours that take you on a heart-rending, thought-provoking and enriching journey of equine enlightenment. This is an opportunity to catch up with adorable orphan Monsieur Chapeau and his friends and majestic stallion Bear, as their lives evolve and entwine with the wild herds of Exmoor. It follows the endearing, exciting and at times perilous experiences of the ponies – including unwelcome night time adventures, the quest to find foals lost in the wilderness and an entire moorland herd in jeopardy. With an expanding herd and challenges to face, author Dawn Westcott looks to the ponies themselves for help and inspiration: they in turn respond in a way that offers magical insights into what is going on in their hearts and minds. 

This book is an invaluable reference for people interested in better understanding and winning the trust and friendship of ponies. It also highlights the challenges of safeguarding the endangered Exmoor ponies of Exmoor National Park.

"A captivating, must-read book of interwoven stories that reveal much about herd dynamics and how ponies think and learn - thoroughly enjoyable!" Jo Browne, Editor, HORSE MAGAZINE

Wild Herd Whispering follows on from Dawn Westcott's previous two equestrian best-sellers,  Wild Pony Whispering  and  Wild Stallion Whispering .

More info at  www.WildPonyWhispering.co.uk

If you'd like to register your interest in pre-ordering an author-signed copy of Wild Herd Whispering then please email dawnwestcott@hotmail.com
By Dawn Westcott 07 Jun, 2017
Exmoor ponies inspire fine art

This week we met twenty three of Great Britain's top equestrian artists, when members of Society of Equestrian Artists visited Holtball Herd 11 and our  Exmoor Pony Project to study good conformation and equine body language.
The artists are on Exmoor for their Porlock Residential Week at Porlock Vale House, painting under the guidance of expert tutors.

Braving the most awful windy and pelting wet weather, their afternoon with Exmoor ponies included a demonstration of good Exmoor pony conformation with multi-champion stallion Bear and his brood mares. I then called in the Holtball Herd 11 Exmoor ponies from the pasture and they responded with gusto, cantering into the covered area, which gave the artists the opportunity to observe the ponies in movement. They then studied the equine behaviour, expressions and body language of the herd, at close hand - photographing and sketching the ponies while we chatted about the interactions. The ponies were engaging and friendly and some firm friendships were made!

"It was a fascinating afternoon with a lovely group of people and an amazing level of talent and we hope that the information gleened will be reflected in more paintings of our endangered breed and iconic Exmoor ponies," said Dawn Westcott. 

Organiser Jennifer Bell said, "“The Society of Equestrian Artists has been holding a residential Summer School at Porlock Vale for a few years now - a week of painting and studying horses with tutors Malcolm Coward and Colin Allbrook (this year’s was the biggest group so far with quite a few local artists coming to paint with us on day visits.) Artists of all standards are encouraged to come, but all share a common passion.

Exmoor is a fantastic place for equestrian artists to work - a sort of horse painter’s heaven - and local horse owners and Exmoor Pony specialists have been very, very welcoming. We hope to be back next year!”

This event forms part of the Moorland Exmoor Pony Breeders Group (MEPBG) and Exmoor Pony Project's Heritage Exmoor Pony Festival which this year runs from May to November. The calendar of events is evolving and can be found on the  www.mepbg.co.uk  website.

A few days before the visit, we had to make the heart-breaking decision to put to sleep our treasured foundation mare, Maisie. It was therefore extremely poignant when artist Rebecca de Mendonca presented us with her beautiful painting of Maisie with her last (2016) foal Holtball Kilimanjaro, which we will also treasure. 

Pictured: Top picture - Dawn Westcott, artist Gillian Melville, Nick Westcott and artist Rebecca de Mendonca
Pictured: Artist Katie Scorgie with her new friend, Imperial Topaz, and a lovely sketch of Lady Stumpkin Pumpkin
Pictured: Below - the awesome painting of Maisie and Kilimanjaro by Rebecca de Mendonca
Pictured: Below - Article about the visit in the West Somerset Free Press (visit www.wsfp.co.uk  for digital subscriptions) 

By Dawn Westcott 12 Apr, 2017
Last year, Emma Massingale spent some time at our farm meeting our Exmoor pony herd. She was putting together a pioneering liberty team of British Native ponies and wanted to find an Exmoor pony to join them. Four year old filly, Farleywater Annie Ridd, was the pony who stepped forward to make kind of connection that Emma was looking for and, after much discussion, I agreed that Annie could become part of Emma's new family. 

Emma recently came to collect Annie and although it was a wrench to see her disappear down the drive in the lorry, we were delighted to see Annie immediately settling in with her new friends. Emma's Shetlands, Albert and Ernie, took a huge shine to her and it was heartening to see Annie enjoying turnout and company, and her first interactions with Emma - looking relaxed, happy and interested. 

Emma's initial work with the native team is already showing some amazing results, as you can see here from this Facebook picture with them all lined up - and Annie second from left. 

We're delighted that Emma chose one of our Exmoors and we also adore Annie, who is intelligent and beautiful and who will be a wonderful ambassador for the Exmoor pony breed on Emma's team. It's been hard to let her go, but thrilling to see her thriving in her new environment - where she has an important job to do in showing everyone just how fabulous Exmoor ponies can be - and indeed British Natives - with the right approach. 

Very much looking forward to following the progress of Emma Massingale's Native Pony Team. You can find Emma on Facebook at www.facebook.com/EmmaMassingale.
By Dawn Westcott 22 Mar, 2017
I'm very excited to let you know that, following on from best-selling Wild Pony Whispering and Wild Stallion Whispering, my new book Wild Herd Whispering will complete the trilogy. It's going to be out in hardback later this year! I'll let you have more details and how to reserve a first edition signed copy as soon as possible. I can't wait to bring you this book :)
By Dawn Westcott 23 Dec, 2016
This week the Western Morning News put out a call for festive horsey pictures and Monsieur Chapeau rose to the challenge! There wasn't much time and he had a quick brush over to see off the worst of his carefully acquired mud, before facing a pile of tinsel and some Reindeer antlers. 

Staring quizzically at the tinsel as the thick strands were wrapped around his neck, he stood stoically while it was wound around his head collar. A handful of delicious pony nuts provided motivation to stand beautifully and strike the required pose. 

The Western Morning News liked the resulting picture and it's in the paper's WMN Horses section today, Friday 23 December. 

Well done promoting Exmoor ponies Monsieur Chapeau! 


By Dawn Westcott 18 Dec, 2016
Wishing all of the friends and supporters of the Exmoor Pony Project a very Merry Christmas and Happy New year!

This year the Moorland Exmoor Foal Project has grown and expanded to embrace moorbred and non-moorbred Exmoor pony foals and older ponies - and we are working with and helping breeders, owners and enthusiasts on Exmoor, across the UK and overseas. We are also working with authorities and organisations to improve welfare, management and understanding of the Exmoor pony breed.

What we do involves hands on socialisation and training of ponies, placing and homing ponies, stud work, herd management, moorland management, knowledge transfer & communication, PR, promotion and finding good opportunities for ponies.

Both of the Wild Pony Whispering and Wild Stallion Whispering books explain, through their compelling real-life stories, much about our work with Exmoor ponies and how to better understand, handle and train them.

We are very grateful to the organisations and individuals who embrace and support our work. As well as the small team of dedicated volunteers who lend a hand to help make it all possible. We’d like to wish you all the very best for 2017.

More information about the Exmoor Pony Project, Wild Pony Whispering, Wild Stallion Whispering and our own Holtball Herd 11 Exmoor ponies can be found on this website -  www.wildponywhispering.co.uk .

More information about the Moorland Exmoor Pony Breeders Group can be found at www.mepbg.co.uk .
By Dawn Westcott 11 Dec, 2016
It's been a busy week at the Exmoor Pony Project . Last weekend we had a stand at the Westcountry Christmas Equine Fair at Exeter, which entailed a busy two days promoting the Moorland Exmoor Pony Breeders Group, Exmoor Pony Project (Moorland Exmoor Foal Project) and Wild Pony Whispering and Wild Stallion Whispering.

It was heartening to meet so many people who have read and enjoyed Wild Pony Whispering and looking forward to reading Wild Stallion Whispering . Readers ranged from children to grandparents and what really came across this year was people's desire to build more trust with their horses and ponies - appreciating the value of making a good connection on the ground. They're also putting more thought into the environment their ponies live in and looking after their wellbeing. It was exciting to meet so many people interested in the breed, with some potentially becoming Exmoor pony owners. The event was buzzing all weekend. 

Early this week we received news that a very special moorland mare and her foal had been gathered in the recent Tippbarlake round-up and we whizzed over to Farleywater Farm to see them. This resulted in both of them coming back with us to Holt Ball where the colt foal will be gradually weaned from his mother. We are all looking forward to confirming his parentage with DNA testing.

We've also been continuing the socialisation of our other foals, as well as working with the youngstock and older ponies - there is literally not time to stop from dawn until well after dark. 

This week we're taking Monsieur Chapeau and Lady Stumpkin Pumpkin to the Exmoor Christmas Market , which is taking place at Tesco's in Minehead , in the car park on Wed 14 Dec. There'll be local produce, carol singing, a band and the opportunity to meet the Exmoor ponies, so come along if you can - it starts at 11am. 


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