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Comunity rallies round to find missing ponies after gates left open

The mother of two young children whose Shetland ponies escaped their field when the gate was deliberately left open has praised the efforts of police and the local community in helping to find them.

Nicky Cleaver’s children Noah, five, who has autism, and Vesper, 6, were distraught when they found their ponies Paddington and Pepsi were missing last Tuesday evening (17 March).

Neighbours in Battisford, near Stowmarket, Suffolk, rallied round to help search for the ponies, who were discovered a few miles away the following morning.

It was the second time since Christmas that Nicky had discovered a gate to the paddock had been left open.

“I recently found out that at Christmas a neighbour of ours had all five of her horses let out of their stables and the farmer next door found them on the road,” she said. “Around the same period, someone let mine out but luckily a delivery driver spotted them on the driveway and ushered them into the back paddock.”

This time, Nicky said, someone had gone round the back way to her field and opened three five-bar gates to set the ponies loose.

“It was a real panic when we found them missing,” she said. “I had the children with me and they were totally distraught, especially Noah. My daughter was also in tears and saying ‘Mummy, will we find them?’ I had to take them home and get them settled and then co-ordinate how we were going to get the ponies back.

“We thought perhaps it was just some kids who did it and didn’t realise the ramifications,” she added. “It may have seemed like a harmless prank but they could easily have eaten something poisonous, fallen into a ditch or caused a car accident.”

Nicky said the response from Suffolk’s rural policing team was “brilliant”, with two officers attending and staying for more than an hour. They then handed over to their colleague Sgt Brian Calver, who “arrived within 20 minutes with thermal imaging cameras and stayed until midnight”.

“We had a lot of volunteers helping,” she said. “We had people out with tractors and Land Rover Defenders with their floodlights on, everyone rallied round. I had text messages from more than 15 people I didn’t know offering to help.”

Nicky called off the search at midnight but started again at 4.30am the next morning. She eventually spotted Pepsi, seven, and Paddington, a six-year-old Redwings rescue, at around 6.45am.

The ponies initially ran off but were captured and secured by local farmer Martin Knock and Battisford resident Tracey Cutting.

“We found them three miles away in the next village, they had a lovely adventure,” Nicky said. “A friend of mine got the trailer to collect them and after they walked back to the paddock they went in and laid down. They’ve been so lazy ever since, they must have had a real night on the tiles.”

She said that the children had been “so excited” to be reunited with their friends when they got home from school.

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“I’ve felt very lucky to be part of this community,” added Nicky, who used to own Arabs but now just keeps the children’s ponies. “My husband and I moved here from London seven years ago and it was a bit of a shock to the system at first, when you’re used to people in London ignoring you. It’s very close-knit.”

Nicky has now stepped up security, with “chains and locks and padlocks on everything”.

“It’s a real shame as we’ve never had to do that before,” she said. “It’s had a lot of local publicity, so we’re hoping that dog walkers and people on footpaths will be extra vigilant.”

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