Hundreds enjoyed the first ever Exmoor Pony Festival held at Exmoor National Park recently. The festival has been established by local breeders and volunteers supported by Heritage Lottery Funding from the Heart of Exmoor scheme.
Jason Ball, Heart of Exmoor scheme manager, said: “With safaris, country rides and world class horse agility, everyone had a great time, enchanted by Exmoor Ponies in the moorland landscape. People took beautiful photographs and they also took home a deeper appreciation of Exmoor Ponies.”
“Events showed the Exmoor Pony to be very intelligent, a popular breed for riding and responsive to trust-based horsemanship. On the moorland safaris, local farmers explained that these ponies are perfectly suited to life roaming free on the moors and how it is essential to conserve these original herds.”
Over 100 visitors spent an afternoon with a herd of Exmoor Ponies owned by Victoria and Chris Eveleigh (author and illustrator of the Katy’s Ponies Trilogy) at their traditional moorland farm near Lynton. The family fun day included meeting mares and foals, pony stories, games, farm tours and a presentation by Exmoor Pony expert Dr Sue Baker (who appeared on BBC Autumnwatch last year).
Over 60 came to watch ‘Bear’ a horse agility world champion Exmoor Pony stallion who gave a captivating demonstration of his skills with owner Dawn Westcott, at Holt Ball Farm near Minehead. Far from being a circus act, the workshop was all about understanding equine instincts and working with them to develop a cooperative partnership with a pony. Gold medal winning Bear – whose full name is ‘Hawkwell Versuvius’ – was a big hit with the crowd.
Dawn said, “The positive energy from such an interested and enthusiastic crowd was really picked up on by Bear, who was genuinely interested in them and went along the front row, stretching out to greet people, one by one, until he reached the end.”
“He’s becoming a true partner to work with in situations like this and understands that he’s got an important job to do in showing people how we train for Horse Agility.”
There were three Exmoor Pony Photo Safaris with Experience Exmoor, run by Neil and Christel Osmond. Passengers toured the dramatic moors and coast, photographed ponies at close quarters, and learned about the ponies from Sarah Eveleigh, Gill Langdon and Exmoor National Park ranger Richard Eales.
A pleasure ride with the Exmoor Pony Society rounded off the festival – a convoy of riders traversed Dunkery Beacon, the highest point on Exmoor, with views to the sea. Sue McGeever commented, “The Exmoor Pony Society was delighted to be involved in organising and promoting the festival and look forward to next year’s event. EPS members from around the country expressed a great deal of interest in coming to Exmoor with their ponies for next year’s ride although my thoughts turn now to autumn gatherings and inspections.”
Mr Ball said, “We are very grateful the Heritage Lottery Fund and to all who made this festival come to life, particularly the farmers and volunteers. The Exmoor Pony Festival gave people a chance to see the beautiful ponies in their native landscape and meet some of the people who look after the moorland herds.”
Find photos online and watch for details of the 2013 Exmoor Pony Festival on Facebook or at exmoorponyfestival.wordpress.com – the festival blog.