Britain’s unsung equine heroes: the rescue pony described as ‘the best I have ever had by a million miles’

  • Every day, our horses work for us tirelessly, teaching riding skills, providing therapy and promoting equestrianism. In this series, we meet some of the horses and ponies who are Britain’s unsung heroes, such as Storm Cloud, the Dartmoor Hill Pony who is helping to promote the work of the Mare and Foal Sanctuary

    Founded in 1988, The Mare and Foal Sanctuary is now the largest horse and pony rescue charity in the south west, working to rescue, rehabilitate and rehome horses and ponies. It owns 667 equines, and at its five sanctuaries in Devon they have a large number of Dartmoor ponies in their care. The charity works to educate as well as rescue, and has a growing education and therapy programme to promote the connection between horses, ponies and people.

    “Many of the horses and ponies who come to us have had a terrible start in life,” says communications manager Jo Walmsley. “We have a lot of foals who have been abandoned or orphaned on the moors, some of them are close to starvation when we take them in.

    “Little Storm Cloud, a 12.1hh Dartmoor Hill Pony, came to us in a very poor state in 2010 as a foal at foot with his mum, and it took a lot of care and commitment on our part to bring him back to full health. When the time was right, we eventually trained him to be ridden. We only ever loan our horses and ponies out, never sell them — that means that if people have a change in circumstances those horses will always be assured of a home. In our care, Storm Cloud had turned into a nice little pony, so we started to look around for a loan home for him where he’d get to do a job and be loved and appreciated.”

    At the same time the Sanctuary thought Storm Cloud (pictured throughout) was ready for rehoming, experienced horse owner Kerry Carruthers was looking for a pony for her autistic eight-year-old daughter, Lucia. They met Storm Cloud at the sanctuary and Lucia fell in love with him.

    “At that point, all we wanted was a pony for Lucia to enjoy, and we really weren’t expecting much from Storm Cloud, other than that he’d be a nice family pony,” says Kerry. “I particularly wanted a rescue pony, as there so many out there looking for good homes and that’s exactly what I felt we could offer.

    “The sanctuary gave us a lot of detail about his training and his likes and dislikes, but there’s one thing they couldn’t tell us because they didn’t know about it — Storm Cloud is a natural-born show pony. We discovered that more or less by accident, but now he and Lucia have won more than 60 rosettes and numerous trophies at shows all over Cornwall. He’s really intelligent and bold, and he’s developed such a strong bond with Lucia, who is visually impaired. As long as you’re with him, giving him reassurance, he totally trusts you and takes it all in his stride, and he takes great care of Lucia. We thought we’d have to take things steadily, but he’s absolutely loved everything we’ve shown him and soaks up new experiences like a sponge. We’ve taken him for hacks, crossed rivers and ridden on the beach.

    “Storm Cloud and Lucia have picked up in-hand awards wherever they go at shows including reserve, champion and supreme champion. He always causes a stir wherever he goes, and we’ve had a number of offers to buy him, even from the judges! He’s a credit to the staff at the sanctuary.”

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    Sally Burton, who is head of equine at the sanctuary, says that hearing about great partnerships, such as that between Storm Cloud and Lucia, is what makes the job worthwhile.

    “People wrongly think rescue ponies have little to no potential, but we spend months training them and, in the right hands, they have lots to offer. We have ponies out there doing everything from agility to in-hand showing, jumping to dressage. It makes all the hard work worth it.”

    “I’m often approached at shows by people interested in Storm Cloud,” says Kerry. “Everyone is really surprised when I tell them he’s a rescue pony. One judge recently asked me if there was anything he couldn’t turn his hoof to – I think the answer is probably ‘no’! I’ve been around horses all my life and he’s the best pony I have ever had by a million miles. We feel like we’ve won the lottery.”

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