For many it is a very tough time. For charities it is also a very scary time, for some their income has dried up. Over the coming weeks I will be sharing stories that will warm your heart, make you smile and maybe have you reaching for the tissues.
Thank you, Pauline, for this opportunity to spotlight a charity which is very dear to my heart – it is based in North Devon, on Exmoor, and is the Moorland Mousie Trust at the Exmoor Pony Centre
Situated in the heart of the beautiful Exmoor National Park, the Exmoor Pony Centre is a small charity run business, owned by the Moorland Mousie Trust. Founded in 2000 by Val Sherwin and Sue Wingate the Trust works to promote and protect the endangered rare-breed Exmoor Pony. Named after ‘Moorland Mousie’, written by Golden Gorse in 1929, the book is a story about the life of an Exmoor Pony called Mousie, and was read by Val as a child (and by me! I still have my copy!) On a visit to Exmoor to purchase an Exmoor pony, Val became aware that many of the foals, mostly colts, would go to the meat market for slaughter. Although she originally intended on buying one filly foal, when realising what might happen to it's friend she bought him too. They were named Abbi and Yorrick. It was from this experience that an idea was born. When the charity was founded the aim was to ensure that no more foals would leave their mothers on the moor to go for meat. Since those early days, the work of the trust has moved on to encompass all aspects of Exmoor Pony welfare.
The Centre was opened to the public in 2006. It provides a permanent and specialised base for the foals when they arrive straight off the moor and is the home to twenty permanent residents.
What they do:
The primary aim is to promote and protect the Exmoor Pony, with the main work focussing on providing a future for the excess foals that are removed from the moor each year during the annual autumn pony herd gathering. Staff and volunteers work with each foal, using natural horsemanship techniques, to familiarise the youngsters with human handling, wearing a headcollar and being led. After completing 'foal school' they look for a new home for them, either with a foster home or on a conservation grazing scheme. Whilst in their care all foals are wormed and the colt foals are castrated.
To date the charity has helped secure the future of over 500 Exmoor ponies.
One of whom – Wendigo – grazes in my fields, fostered from the centree by us. Although I must admit... I’m not sure which one of these three she is! (They all look too much alike!)
Exmoor ponies have also appeared in one of my Sea Witch Voyages – this scene is somewhat typical of these cheeky little monkeys!
Excerpt On The Account the Fifth Sea Witch Voyage
(not yet republished in its new edition ... available very soon!)
It had occurred to Carter Trevithick that he was possibly being an idiot after riding five miles. After ten, the possibility became fact. The pony was an Exmoor, a hardy, sturdy and solid little breed that, despite the small height could easily carry a man, especially over the rugged terrain of the moors. But the breed was also single-minded, stubborn and strong. The pony wanted to eat grass; Carter’s arms felt like they had been wrenched out of their sockets through yanking the animal’s head up from repeated attempts to graze.
Carter’s rise of temper and the stupid spat with Rue had soon cooled. For both of them, anger had been fuelled by concern, and after a few tots of brandy and dozing before the fire in the parlour, sense had started to get the upper hand for Carter. But approaching sunup a headache and frustration had crept back in, and on visiting the outside privy, awake and already cold, Carter had taken bridle and saddle and borrowed one of Tawford Barton’s mounts. Initially, he had been intent on riding all the way to Bristol, but a stubborn pony, and the lure of Porlock and the daily Bristol Flyer coach had soon become a preferred option.
The morning air was cold, but bright and clear, the sunshine sparkling on the frost – heavier set once he reached the higher ground of the moors. With the glistening frost, the rimed trees and shrubs, everything was crisp and white and clean. A red deer stag bounded away, its breath snorting in clouds of vapour as he ran with purposeful ease across the glimmering expanse of last year’s heather and bracken, the magnificent creature as much a part of the moors as the wind and the rain – and the frost. Lord and monarch of Exmoor, his coat gleamed, and head still crowned with his full array of branching antlers, not yet lost to the spring shedding. Had he his musket with him, Carter would have been admiring the chance of acquiring fresh venison, not the living animal, but even if he’d had a weapon, the irksome pony would have alerted the stag to the presence of danger long ago.
The only track was clearly defined, no sign of a coach having passed for the iced puddles were unbroken, the frosted ruts undisturbed. He urged the pony to go faster, but yet again the animal refused to canter, breaking only – and reluctantly – into a jerky trot, which ended abruptly after a few yards with a sudden halt and the shaggy head shooting downward for another mouthful of winter-weary grass. Carter’s legs were aching from the constant kick-kick to keep the wretched beast moving, and then the last straw. The pony decided he’d had enough of this irritating burden, so when splashing across a shallow but fast-flowing stream, he stopped and began pawing at the water.
Too late, Carter discovered what the animal had in mind… He leapt from the saddle with a shrill, angry cry, hauling at the reins, but he was too slow, the pony’s legs were gracefully buckling and he was down, rolling in the cold water. The girth snapped. Bliss to get rid of rider, saddle and the itch of a winter-shedding coat.
“Get up, you little...! Get up!” Carter was knee deep in ice-cold water, and getting wetter from the pony’s thrashing about. He hauled on the bridle – another mistake. The pony did get up, but with Carter heaving on the straps the bridle slipped neatly over the pony’s ears. As agile as the stag, and as free, the Exmoor was up and away.
A string of expletives followed him.
*laugh* although maybe that excerpt does not shed the best light on an Exmoor Pony! They are bright, intelligent animals, a breed that is said to go back over 2,000 years. They can be little so-and-sos – adept at getting out of a field (or a stable!) to get to where they want to go, they are loyal, friendly and trustworthy. I would never be without my Exmoors
The Moorland Mousie book, which had been out of print for many years, was re-published by the Trust in 2011. The hardback book, with a foreword from HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, is available from the Centre, from our on-line shop (where you will also find other gift ideas!)
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Main Blog: www.ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.com
Amazon Author Page (Universal Link) http://viewauthor.at/HelenHollick
If you would like to share your story and the charity you support, please contact me. In the meantime, please come back for more inspiring stories.
I hope the sun is shining on your face and in your heart.