The Welsh Assembly Government has rejected calls to introduce a welfare disposal scheme to cull unwanted semi-feral ponies.

Fearing a welfare crisis for hill ponies this winter, Welsh Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs Brynle Williams last week asked the government urgently to consider offering a one-off opportunity for owners to send foals to slaughter free of charge.

He told H&H: “I’ve had many letters and complaints from people about abandoned colts and conversations with equine charities about the problem.”

He said colts are at risk because their low value makes castration (costing over £100), microchipping and passporting (over £50) unfeasible before next month’s sales.

Mr Williams, who is also a Welsh Pony and Cob Society (WPCS) judge, breeder and farmer, said hay prices have risen to between £5 and £9 for a bale.

“Some farmers are breeding less, but a lot don’t realise how much feed will cost this winter,” he said. “A disposal scheme is distasteful, but we have a very serious situation.”

Mr Williams’ calls are backed by breeders and the Hill Pony Improvement Society (HPIS).

Former WPCS president and pony breeder Elwyn Davis of Eppynt Stud in the Brecon Beacons is taking 18 ponies to the sales next month.

“I don’t have a clue how much we’ll get for them — there may be no bidders at all,” he said.
“They say it costs £90 to kill a pony, so some hill farmers would very nearly give them away.”

In 2009, the HPIS obtained a derogation from European passports legislation for registered section A semi-feral Welsh mountain ponies from designated areas of the country.

Under the derogation, ponies do not need passports until they are moved and can be taken to a sale or slaughterhouse with only a completed passport application and rump sticker.

But HPIS secretary Colin Thomas said it only applies to a small number of ponies.

“I sympathise with breeders outside the derogation and fully support calls for a disposal scheme — a pony carcass is only worth £10,” he said.

“But I can foresee many problems as it would require a change in the law [to allow other foals to be taken to slaughter without a passport].”

A spokesman for the Welsh Assembly Government told H&H that it has no plans to introduce a cull scheme.

“We endorse the appeal that breeders of equines should act responsibly and plan to produce a lesser number of foals to reduce the possibility of future welfare problems,” he said.

This article was first published in Horse & Hound (16 September, ’10)