The Pony Cull

UPDATE: I’ve added a second post here with a historical perspective on ponies on the moor.

A tip off about the mass culling of Dartmoor Hill ponies appeared on Horse and Hound On-Line yesterday, and appears to have been taken up by “Daily Mail Reporter”:

Over 700 Dartmoor hill ponies have been killed in the last 12 months as breeders attempt to reduce their herds.

In 1980, the population was estimated at around 30,000, but this figure has steadily dwindled to around 1,500 this year.

My little pony: But the problem for ponies on Dartmoor is that not enough people want, or can afford them. Around 700 of the ponies have been shot in the last 12 months – 100 of which were healthy foals that had not been sold at market due to the recession

Around 700 of the ponies have been shot in the last 12 months – 100 of which were healthy foals that had not been sold at market due to the recession.

The others were older ponies rounded up for slaughter by breeders who were ordered to reduce the numbers in their herds to help the market recover.

Frankly, I don’t think it’s really about the recession, as this report suggests. The Daily Mail itself ran a similar report in 2001, which prompted Georgina Andrews to write a piece for them about rescuing five foals. At the time there was no global recession, and yet the Dartmoor Hill Ponies were selling for 50p a time.

The breeders of the ponies who end up in these sales can’t get good meat money for them any more as the market is flooded – by other breeders like themselves. If they don’t immediately go for slaughter, the ponies have to be chipped and passported, which of course costs far more money than a slipshod pony breeder is prepared to spend, and much more than the market value of a worm-ridden, unbroke and feral pony foal or its carcass.

This new cull is grim news but perhaps will save a section of a few future generations of Darties from being bred indiscriminately by owners who aren’t prepared to put the time, money and effort into keeping them healthy and making them an attractive proposition to buyers who want riding ponies, rather than handbags (as suggested by Equine Rescue France, who noticed tiny spotted British ponies being sold for unfeasibly large sums in France, very possibly for the fashion trade in Italy). However, how long will it last?

I’m sure there are responsible breeders of Dartmoor Hill Ponies out there, but they’re being let down by others who appear to think that it’s more important to have a lot of uncared-for, shonky foals on the hills than to step up and manage the herds properly. I’m pretty certain that deer on the moors are better managed than some of these ponies. Perhaps their breeders could take a leaf out of the gamekeeper’s book, or, above all, stop passing the buck to the general public and the kill buyer (as at this Brecon semi-feral hill pony sale), and just refrain from breeding foals that they can’t care for. You don’t have to cull foals that don’t exist.


Edited to add: and here’s a 1998 Independent story about “the bottom dropping out of the Dartmoor pony market”. It’s not like they haven’t had notice…

Published by Susanna Forrest

Writer Amazons of Paris, The Age of the Horse and If Wishes Were Horses.

Join the Conversation


  1. Like you Susanna, we don’t believe that the current financial crisis is the root cause although it has clearly exacerbated the problem. Responsible breeding across all areas of the equine industry is essential if we are to curb the trafficking of equines across Europe, as well as stronger transportation laws preventing the live transportation of equines to slaughter. The ponies we witnessed were in very poor condition and it is likely that they would now go onto Italy without a break. It would have been much better for them to have been slaughtered locally than endure the journey they had clearly been on already and still had to come.

  2. Absolutely. There’s been a campaign against the live export of horses for over a hundred years now, to no avail.

    I spent some time with the Norfolk Wildlife Trust last year, learning how they manage the “wild” herds of horses they keep for conservation grazing. The horses weren’t wormed, but they did have a team of veterinary students studying their worm burdens and the youngsters had been gelded. They were checked on a regular basis for condition and general health. The stallion in the band I saw had also been vasectomised because they felt they’d had enough foals from him. This meant that the herd still had the dynamics of a harem band, but with no extra foals. I’ve also herd of the use of contraceptives on mares in mustang herds.

    I think they need to decide what they’re breeding these ponies for. As riding ponies? OK, handle them, worm them and break them in. For conservation? OK, but manage them. For zoo meat? OK, but make sure there’s a market. For ponyskin? If you must, but for the love of God, don’t flog them all the way to Italy alive.

    I keep being told that ponyskin handbags and shoes are actually “faux” so perhaps consumer distaste accounts for the under the radar stuff.

  3. I saw the article in the paper this afternoon. It said both that there was an overpopulation of Dartmoor ponies – and that the breed is rare and in danger of becoming exinct if the culling goes ahead.
    The ponies in the picture was generally very common-looking animals and clearly not pure Dartmoors, except maybe for one.

    Many of the herds clearly need to be better managed, and the owners encouraged to invest in breeding decent quality Dartmoors, and in training them.

  4. Oh i also thought i would put this information up
    Thank you for your wonderful offer of support, I hope you will be repaid many times over by the experience of taking a pony from WILD , having been told by its elders that humans are not good news, even a bucket is down right dangerous and you don’t take food from strangers,TO WONDERFUL. I still get a lump in my throat when I think how these ponies decide you are ok and give you so much.
    What I am tryng to say is these ponies are wild, completely unhandled, just so you know what you are taking on. I can send you advice on how to head collar train ponies and
    I apologise for this round robin reply to your kindness in offering a home to one or more of these wonderful ponies following the press coverage. I have decided that if I have everyones names and addresses and what they are looking for then I can put together a plan of action as I have to get the ponies mcrochipped and passported before they leave Dartmoor and we have a specially designed system to handle the wild ponies here for chipping. If people wish to share the transport cost it would work better so once I have an idea of numbers and where they are going we can discuss it..
    The idea is that we will organise routes across the country to each person who has offered, the day before the ponies will be delivered to the Dartmoor Pony Centre checked by the vet and micro chipped. The ponies will then head up country a thier destination, an agreed donation for delivery of ponies to cover cost of transport and £30 for passport and microchip. I am trying to get some help with transport as it seems to be a lot of money. Passport application form must be signed and I will send it off to Pet ID and the passport will come back in your name.
    Address(please give post code)
    How many ponies do you want?
    Please specify preference of filly or colt.
    (colts are harder to get homes for and there are more of them of course.)
    Most are 6 to 8 month old foals, if you want an older pony let me know, but these are also wild and need very experienced handling as a rule of thumb to get it right.
    What size would you like ponies to make?
    Do you have preferred colour?
    Any other points you wish me to consider when finding your ponies.
    Are you able to fetch ponies your selves?
    For my peace of mind information on where ponies will live is important.
    Please can I have the telephone number of your vet as a reference?
    Can you make sure fencing is secure and there is a fresh supply of water and can be checked at least once a day to make sure they are happy and well.
    When your ponies arrive they really need to be stabled for at least a week until they know you and about eating food from a bucket, here we start them on dengie alpha a with Oil and gradually add course mix until they realise it is yummy. We put water buckets in old car tyres to start with as they tip them over endlessly until they work it out. If you want some one to head collar train your ponies we can find some one local to you who can help or we will come and help you get started. We usually start them here but we are full to bursting at the moment.
    (IF YOU WISH WE HAVE INFORMATION SHEETS AVAILABLE ON VARIOUS ASPECTS OF TRAINING YOUR PONY and WE ALSO HAVE ADVISORS WHO WOULD BE DELIGHTED TO ASSIST YOU or find someone who can.) Sarah Western has also written a very good book on training semi feral ponies.
    Worming is recommended as soon as you feel they have got over the trauma of leaving Dartmoor and establish a regular programme thereafter.
    Keep your passport safely you will need to produce it for vetinary treatment or to sell the pony.
    We wish you all the best with your pony and may you have as much enjoyment as we have from these amazing custodians of Dartmoor, we will add as a final note, please beware of the temptation to overfeed. These ponies are used to walking 20 miles for their breakfast, if overfed can lead to digestive and laminitic problems.
    with the compliments of The Friends of the Dartmoor Hill Pony
    Suporting and promoting all ponies on Dartmoor

  5. Hello again, Simon.

    Of course there are other uses for these ponies, but someone’s still gotta put in the cash to make it happen, and until that happens, I don’t think “spare” ponies should be bred.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: