Our Exmoors on ITV This Morning

What was it like taking Exmoor Ponies on ITV's This Morning programme in London? The Low-Down...

After Wild Pony Whispering was featured in the Daily Mail and The Times last week, we were thrilled to be invited onto ITV's This Morning programme on Thursday 12 November for Monsieur Chapeau to meet Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby.

This was a fantastic opportunity to promote awareness of endangered-breed Exmoor ponies and particularly, the moorbred foals of Exmoor National Park, some of whom are currently looking for good homes after weaning this autumn. But an appearance on national television would involve a trip to central London and for the ponies to cope with the drama of being filmed on live television inside a TV studio. We realised that there were certain ‘logistics’ to deal with to make it all happen - and we only had a few days to organise things!

It was decided that Monsieur Chapeauwould appreciate a companion on the trip and his special girlfriend Farleywater Lady Stumpkin Pumpkinseemed the obvious choice to accompany him.

First of all, with over 25 ponies to look after, we needed to see who was available to help. Thankfully June Eckhart offered to hold the fort at Holt Ball on the day, and Kate Hele rearranged her work schedule to be able to lend a hand on the trip.

ITV very kindly arranged lorry transportation with Nags On The Move, so the ponies could travel to London in comfort. All we had to do was think about the kind of environment and experiences they would be facing and prepare them as best we could.

Monsieur Chapeau and Lady Stumpkin Pumpkinrun in a large herd and are used to migrating in and out from the pasture to the corral areas and barns as they wish, and this means that they are not used to being shut in stables or indeed, even wearing headcollars every day. So to prepare them for the show, we needed to ensure that they were happy to:

  • Stand in contained and small spaces
  • Cope with the hustle and bustle of the busy Central London ITV Television Centre
  • Cope with lots of people around them who may not be familiar with horses
  • Deal with myriad spooky objects, narrow spaces and unexpected stimulus including bright colours, strange shapes, sudden movement and noises
  • Cope with lots of bright lights
  • Cope with being indoors and having large TV cameras pointing at them.

We decided to use the barn that we’d held the MEPBG Meet The Moorland Farmers event in during the Heritage Exmoor Pony Festival as an ‘indoor’ training environment. It had tables and chairs, other furniture, big pictures, a clumpy wooden floor and steps leading up to it. Here, there was an opportunity to get them used to the whole ‘indoor’ feeling, bright lights, unexpected objects and the sensation of walking on a ‘noisy’ wooden floor, as well as standing on carpet. We could also get them used to navigating narrow spaces around and through chairs and tables.

Monsieur Chapeau checks out the refreshments on the table

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So each day, Monsieur Chapeau and Lady Stumpkin Pumpkinleft their herd, had a groom and went for a walk. On their return, they went up the steps into our practice ‘TV Studio’, meeting bright spotlights, white astro-turf carpet and all the furniture. Here they enjoyed a small feed and pondered the fact the humans were quite mad!

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Nevertheless, over a few short sessions, they both became used to unexpected stimulus. It became dramatically windy at the start of the week and there was pallet of horse bedding on the farm site that had a loose white plastic covering, which cracked like gun shots and moved about alarmingly as the gusts caught at it. Both MC and Pumpkin walked past it without batting an eyelid and even showed an interest in sniffing at it.

Two days before we left for London, the ITVteam mentioned that the ponies would have to go in a lift in order to reach the TV studio and that did cause me to pause for a minute! So we practised loading and standing inside the trailer, getting the ponies used to standing in small, contained spaces.

The day before the trip, both MC and Pumpkinhad a good groom and spruce up with manes and tails washed and a special area created for them with a lovely fluffy Verdobed. That morning, quite a few of the other ponies had chosen to play in the mud wallow and thankfully neither of them had completely covered themselves in mud like Dazzlerand Tom Faggus,who looked like little hippos! Although MC had managed to get mud up to his belly. Dealing with this involved the hose and lots of warm water, which they took in good part.

Slightly nonplussed at spending the night in the barn rather than with their herd, MCand Pumpkinwere even more surprised to see us at about 3am for some more grooming. ‘Have the humans really lost it?’ said Pumpkinto MCas we put on their head collars and whizzed around sorting out their kit for the trip.

At about 3.30am, Emma Overton arrived from Nags On The Movewith her very smart transport and soon MC and Pumpkin were inside, on a comfy sawdust topped with straw bed, with some slices of hay to enjoy on the journey. We’d decided to travel them loose in their accommodation which meant they could stand up, lie down, eat hay or come and say hello through the viewing window - as they wished. In the event, MC quickly worked out that appearing at the viewing window sometimes resulted in the feeding of a delicious and refreshing Waitress mini-carrot and reassuring nose sniff.

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It was a pretty long journey along the M5 and M4 and we made good progress, reaching London with plenty of time to spare to navigate the city and reach the ITV London Television Centre. However, we hadn’t realised that Mr Modi, the Prime Minister of India was also visiting and this resulted in somewhat of a ‘lockdown’ around Westminster with plenty of roads closed, as well as the very bridge we’d hoped to cross. The traffic was in gridlock and time began to tick.

The gridlock went on for some time. Gradually we were able to make our way to Vauxhall Bridge where we discovered the traffic was also in gridlock on the South Bank. ITV were on the phone asking our whereabouts, preparation time was disappearing and it soon became apparent that we were in danger of losing our slot on the This Morningprogramme….

Everyone stayed cool. The traffic gradually moved. It was all progressing. Our slot was delayed for 30 minutes, buying us a little more time. My brother telephoned at just the right moment and was able to give us some very useful location instructions when the sat nav didn’t want to work due to the tall buildings. We finally arrived at the ITV Television Centrewith about 20 minutes to spare before our live slot. That gave us very little time to unload and prep the ponies, and get them up to the TV Studio, which required them to travel in the lift. But at least we had arrived!

Everyone swung into action and we were hugely grateful for the calm help of both Kate Heleand Emma Overton. Lady Stumpkin Pumpkinwas rather sweaty after the stop-start-stop-gridlock of crossing London, yet she held her composure. We walked the ponies up and down in the area outside the studio. And then realised we were actually walking up and down past X-Factor winner, Ben Haenowand his team. Crumbs. We really were at ITV!

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Then a Hair & Make-Up lady appeared and amid brushing Monsieur Chapeau, I suddenly enjoyed some touching up to my own face.

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Far too soon, it was time to make our way indoors and up to the This Morningstudio. This involved taking Monsieur Chapeauand Lady Stumpkin Pumpkinthrough some rather busy and narrow areas to the lift. It was decided that they should go up one at a time and Monsieur Chapeauwent first. Lady Stumpkin Pumpkinappeared a few minutes later after choosing to consider why on earth she should enter a small space that only a minute beforehand had actually eaten Monsieur Chapeau- and there was no sign of him. This was entirely reasonable.

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Nevertheless she did choose to ride in the lift and they were soon both together again in the corridor outside the studio. Here Monsieur Chapeauwas enjoying much attention from the ITV Team, which included some delicious carrots and a lot of Hand-To-Muzzle greetings.This was particularly lovely as, rather than approaching him abruptly or patting him, the staff had all taken the time to understand how to approach young ponies, especially ones born wild and free, and say hello without alarming them. So MC felt surrounded by new friends and behaved accordingly. Lady Stumpkin Pumpkintook his lead and also accepted carrots and greetings.

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Soon it was time to go into the famous This Morningstudio, where Phillip Schofieldand Holly Willoughbywere sitting on their sofa, against a magnificent backdrop of the River Thames through the windows. And lots of people, cameras and bright lights. A special carpet had been provided for the ponies to stand on and the director showed us where he wanted us to stand. Nickheld Lady Stumpkin Pumpkinwhile I stayed with Monsieur Chapeau,who was fascinated by the boats motoring up and down the Thames.

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We were going to be interviewed on live TV so it was rather a relief when Lady Stumpkin Pumpkindecided to have the longest pee ever seen, right on the carpet, a few minutes before it started - rather than during our slot! I have to say that the ITV team took it all in good part as everyone gazed at what appeared to be a new lake in the studio….

Pumpkin!

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Phillip and Hollycame over and were incredibly friendly, putting us all at ease, and suddenly the cameras were rolling. Both MC and Pumpkin behaved very well and MC especially liked the Hand-To-Muzzle greeting offered by Phillip. He also showed a keen interest in the Wild Pony Whisperingbook and stretched his nose to sniff at the book when the camera panned in for a close up.

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Phillip and Hollyasked some excellent questions about the Exmoor pony breed and Monsieur Chapeau’sstory, and enabled some wonderful promotion of these endangered ponies on national television.

Afterwards, Lady Stumpkin Pumpkinwas first to go down in the lift and then it was Monsieur Chapeau’sturn. As the doors opened, we came face to face with the stunning Nicole Scherzinger,waiting with her team to go up in the lift for her interview on This Morning.

With me somewhat starstruck, Monsieur Chapeauwas keen to greet Nicolewho he could clearly see was a horsewoman and they immediately struck up a friendship. Pictures were taken - and we later saw their meeting had been mentioned on the programme with a picture of MC and Nicole. Amazing!

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Outside, we walked Monsieur Chapeauand Lady Stumpkin Pumpkinaround for a while and offered them some refreshments, before loading them for the long journey home. During this time people had their pictures taken with MC, which he found very interesting and appeared to enjoy enormously!

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Both Kateand Emmawere a huge help - and we were soon loaded up and ready to start the journey home. London was easier to navigate this time and we made good progress, arriving home in the early evening. Both MC and Pumpkin travelled well, and were glad to rejoin their herd and go out to the pasture to stretch their legs and enjoy some grass. June Eckharthad been a fantastic help and kept everything in order at home. A small party ensued! When I checked on the ponies last thing at night, they’d come into the barn and were lying down with the other ponies all around them. A serene herd with everyone looking after Monsieur Chapeauand Lady Stumpkin Pumpkinafter their big day.

Their calm behaviour and ability to cope with the most challenging environment, and the hustle and bustle of Central London, amazed and delighted us. Not once had they spooked or panicked and although understandably a little unsure of things like narrow indoor corridors and lifts, they’d both decided to trust us that it was safe. They were happy to greet new people, deal with lights, cameras and behave well in a live TV situation. We take our hats off to Monsieur Chapeau and Lady Stumpkin Pumpkin!

And huge thanks to ITV This Morningand Phillip Schofield, Holly Willoughbyand their team for giving us this wonderful opportunity to promote Wild Pony Whisperingand the Exmoor pony breed on national television. It was a day to remember and a memory to treasure.

Watch the ITV This Morning Programme with the Exmoor ponies here: http://www.itv.com/thismorning/hot-topics/meet-the-pony-whisperer-dawn-westcott-monsieur-chapeau

Copyright: Dawn Westcott

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