The public has been reassured not to be concerned about the welfare of Exmoor ponies grazing in Cleadon Hills.

The Moorland Mousie Trust has been contacted numerous times this winter by people concerned that the ponies were unable to cope in the freezing conditions.

“We’ve had a huge problem this winter,” said Juliet Rogers, trustee of the charity which works to protect the endangered breed.

“On the sites where the public have lots of access, like the Clevedon Hills, people want them to be fed, they want them to have stables and rugs.

“They don’t need these things. They are used to surviving in all weathers and are out on 200-plus acres — they move around to eat and keep warm.”

Credit: Sylvia Beaumont

Ms Rogers said horse owners are as much as a problem as the non-equestrian public.

“Interestingly some of the worst offenders have been horsey,” she said. “They want the ponies to be treated like their own horses, given hay and stabled.

“I’ve had really nice people saying they have been kept up at night worrying about them.”

Ms Rogers added that the ponies are protected against laminitis if their weight is allowed to drop over the winter.

“If they lose weight over the winter, they’re not carrying too much into the summer,” she said.

“These ponies are incredibly lucky. They would be dead if they weren’t used in conservation.”

There has also been concern over the Exmoor ponies grazing in Prestwick Carr.

“There is lots of dry ground but the ponies like wading in the wet areas as there’s lots of grass that’s still green in those areas,” Ms Rogers said.

“They are perfectly capable of coming out of the water if they want to.”

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Ms Rogers urged visitors to not feed the ponies.

“People feel they should feed them carrots anywhere there is public access and then the ponies start to mug the public,” she said.

“We tend to be careful which ponies we put where. We have the wilder ones in the public areas so they keep away.

“The other problem is a lot of people feed them completely unsuitable foods, like potatoes, onions and cabbages.”