Dedicated to the wild ponies on Bodmin, Dartmoor and Exmoor
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Lack of proper herd management has led to inbreeding problems on Dartmoor. Some cases are reported to local charities because foals are suffering out on moorland. Other foals with problems and deformities turn up at markets. Problems include physical deformities, mis-shapen heads, undershot jaws and blindness. As this continues, ponies out on the moor suffer unnecessarily, and the quality of the breeding herds is reduced.




Exmoor ponies

This Exmoor colt was entered at Bampton market in 2010. He was a fully branded colt, with the diamond mark on his shoulder, the symbol used to show that he is a registered Exmoor pony...BUT he was not a registered pony. Despite being branded after inspection, he was now an unregistered pony with a pink passport to denote his "X registered" status. When enquiries were made as to why he was unregistered, it was stated that the DNA results had not been able to conclusively prove his parentage.

This colt comes from a moorland herd where this is a known problem. The breeder has stated that "...Technically the ponies were all related to each other. So we were getting very similar DNA results for different animals".

Breeders of Exmoor ponies are actively encouraged to "line breed" their ponies to keep them true to type. This means that they are encouraged to breed from one line of descent, so for example, they would choose to breed animals with common grandparents. It seems worrying that this has been carried out to the extent that it is not always possible to differentiate between ponies using DNA results.

Exmoor ponies have a reputation for being an ancient species "fashioned" by nature, rather than by humans; but now that humans have become involved and are controlling the breeding of Exmoor ponies, natural evolution has been undermined. Exmoor ponies are bred primarily for showing. With breeders concerned about fashions and what will gain the best results in the showring, is this really best for the future of Exmoors? The "Widgebeast" traditional Exmoor type is rarely seen in the showring.

With ponies failing inspection because of undershot jaws, overshot jaws and poor conformation, and with more problems becoming apparent in ponies, such as sweetitch, rainscald and hoof problems, it should be questioned as to whether humans really are making the right decisions for these ponies. It would be tragic if this ancient breed is ruined, through the same mistakes humans have made with other breeds and species.

It has already been decided that any ponies with white hairs, or white hoof markings, are to be excluded from being registered as a "pure" Exmoor pony. This is a fairly fashionable idea in terms of farm animal breeding and showing - that "no white hairs"="pure", but with 78% (of a sample of 358 ponies that failed inspections between 1985 and 2003) failing inspection due to white hairs in manes, white hairs in tails, white soles/feet, or white marks after years of selective breeding from ponies without these qualities, perhaps these qualities are a natural part of a native Exmoor pony?

Photographs of the Acland herd from 1900 show 2 distinctive "grey" (the equine term for white), wild, Exmoor pony individuals in the herd. Early registration records show that "grey" ponies were accepted as fully registered Exmoor ponies...the listed breeding of one of these grey ponies stated that the dam, grand-dam and great-grand-dam were pure Exmoor. It seems that "grey" was considered a legitimate variety of Exmoor pony at the turn of the 20th century. A record about the Acland herd from 1896 talks about the brown-mouse colour of Exmoors, and also the rare occurance of black or grey individuals.

The question is, who determines "purity" - Exmoor ponies/nature (which was the case for thousands of years)...or people? In just over 100 years, true white and black Exmoor ponies have become extinct...because of the choices of humans.

Are things too focused on the human ideas of genetics, type, and "purity", set at one point in time, rather than on a breeding programme that continues the long-term natural evolution of the Exmoor pony?


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