Sales prices of Dartmoor ponies, rounded up in the annual drifts, are up from last year and the animals are reported to be in excellent condition despite the hot summer.
Two sales of Dartmoor ponies take place each year: the Tavistock sale was held on 3 October and the Chagford one was held last Thursday (9 October).
Paddy Newton, Animal Welfare Officer for the Dartmoor Commoners’ Council, who attended the Chagford sale says: “The prices were better than last year. The Commoners’ Council has had several meetings through the year with the National Parks authorities and, as we did last year, we set a minimum price of eight guineas per pony.
“The prices of spotted and coloured ponies just went through the roof, with some fetching up to 190 or 200 guineas. The Dartmoor-type ponies were generally fetching 10 to 25 guineas and I only saw two ponies withdrawn at Chagford because they did not make eight guineas.
“The ponies were in super condition compared to previous years. They probably looked the best I can remember in 30 years. When it gets hot, they just retreat higher and higher up the moor so it doesn’t really affect them.”
Inevitably, the subject of annual drift passports was raised again. The Commoners’ Council held a public meeting last Wednesday at which attendants voted in favour of the listing scheme made possible by the derogation that DEFRA has granted the Dartmoor, Exmoor and New Forest ponies.
On Dartmoor, this means the Commoners’ Council will keep a register of all the ponies on the moor and they will not require passports as long as they remain within Dartmoor’s boundaries. The National Park authorities are helping fund the scheme.
Paddy says: “Each pony keeper will have to request forms for each pony and the forms will then be returned to the Commoners’ Council, who will keep all the forms. We will hopefully then have a full register of the ponies, although of course you can never pin down all of them.
“We’re sending out the forms at the start of next week and we’ve made them as simple as possible. It is free to register the ponies, although, if the forms are filled in wrongly, there will be a £6 charge to replace them.”
The ponies will require a passport as soon as they leave the moor for any reason, whether that is to be sold, to go to the owner’s holding for veterinary treatment or to be slaughtered.
“Some of the pony keepers will get them passports anyway,” explains Paddy. “I expect in five years or so most of them will have passports.”
The New Forest Verderers will be responsible for keeping the pony listing in the New Forest. Richard Manley of the New Forest Commoners Defence Association is worried about the timescale of the scheme.
He says: “We’ve only been at the consultation stage up until now, and now we’ve got the go ahead the listings have to be in place by 31 December. That is simply not going to happen, it is physically impossible.
“We need at least six months to implement this. My personal view is that this won’t do anything for the welfare of ponies anyway. There are still lots of people who don’t have a clue what you’re talking about if you mention pony passports. The government has been very bad about getting the message across to the public.
“We’re hoping the listing scheme will be free in the New Forest. At a conservative estimate, it costs the commoners £60 to keep each pony per year already and the importance of their work is simply not recognised.
“The animals are paramount to the Forest, there is a £100million tourist industry resting on them. It will be confirmed on Wednesday that the listing scheme will be free for the commoners, although there is likely to be an admin charge if the forms are filled in wrongly and we do support the Verderers in that.”
Richard attributes the success of the New Forest sales this year largely to the facilities at the rebuilt sales yard at Beaulieu Road, a project undertaken by the New Forest Livestock Society with funding from Europe.
“There is a superb sales ring at Beaulieu Road which was built in consultation with the welfare organisations, and you can look at the ponies very easily without going into the yard.”
He also credits the work of the Pony Publicity Group who organised a sale of in-hand foals this year, with some foals going for 250 to 300 guineas.
“The sales have been extremely successful this year, but really we’re only back where we ought to be. There’s a lot more work to do,” says Richard.
“There are still two more sales to go this year and we’d love to see some new buyers, as it’s the buyers who keep the prices up. You don’t need me to tell you about the adaptability of New Forest ponies and their usefulness in so many different spheres.”