Growing up in England, and learning to ride and going to shows there, it always seemed to me that there no shortage of native ponies, or Mountain and Moorlands. The first pony I had a lesson on was a Shetland and at my first show, (in the Leading Rein class at age 10) many of the other competitors were mounted on New Forest ponies, or Dartmoors or Highland ponies. The Mountain and Moorland showing classes always seemed well attended. However, while doing research for my monthly series of Breed Profiles, I noticed some disturbing facts.
While ponies like the Shetland, the Welsh and the New Forest are prospering and are being bred in stud farms all over the world, some of the native breeds are in danger of disappearing altogether. For example, there are now only three breeding groups of Exmoor ponies on the moor. And while breeding efforts are being carried out away from the moor, ponies bred away from the moor tend to lose type. The Suffolk, one of the draught breeds, is in even more imminent danger, with only 70 breeding mares in existence. The majority of ponies in the UK are in fact crossbred, while the original native types are in danger of dying out.
And of course, with the draft breeds, it was mechanisation that was the main threat. In the village where I was raised was a farm which, until the early 50's, still used Suffolk Punches to plough the fields. When the old horse keeper died, the stables were turned into garages, the horses sold off and that was the last of the Suffolks in Laleham. The area is now housing developments and Thames Valley Rose Growers.
Then I read about the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. This organization has been in existence in England for 25 years now, and was formed to save any more breeds of farm livestock, including horses and ponies, from extinction. Prior to this time it was only the forethought of a few individuals who saved small groups of breeding stock that saved these breeds.
According to an article by Richard Lutwyche, the Rare Breeds Survival Trust is addressing the following problems:
- The cost of passports required for all registered horses and ponies is overly expensive when compared to the value of many native breed foals. This discourages breeders from breeding pure.
- Changes in modes of transportation and agriculture over the last 60 years have meant that many native breeds no longer have a specific use, which has held back their development.
- If there is a ban on hunting in the UK, as has been proposed, it will mean a major decline in the demand for hunters, which are often thoroughbreds crossed with one of the rarer breeds, such as the Cleveland Bay or Irish Draught.
- As I witnessed in my home village, the fate of many heavy horses depends on younger people being willing to take over where the older horse keepers leave off.
The following are lists of the horses and ponies on the Trust's Priority List:
- Cleveland Bay
- Irish Draught
You may contact the Trust at the address below for information on how you can become a member of the trust or make a donation to the fund.
Rare Breeds Survival Trust
Warwickshire CV8 2BR
Tel: 01203 696551
Fax: 01203 696706