Semi-wild pony drift sales put in jeopardy by new DEFRA legislation

This year’s drift sale of Dartmoor Hill Ponies has gone ahead despite being under threat from new DEFRA legislation.

Charlotte Faulkner from Friends of the Dartmoor Hill Pony had said she feared up to 250 foals could be shot if the annual event on 11 October was cancelled and the ponies weren’t able to be placed with new owners.

Legislation released by DEFRA on 1 October stipulated that the ponies could only leave the auction if they had passports, but the practicalities of issuing full documentation on site to semi-feral ponies were prohibitive.

At short notice, the organisation was able to come up with an innovative way to fulfil temporary ID requirements and allow the auction to go ahead.

“We had a system that worked very well before, but DEFRA tried to replace the system with a semi-passport that needed to be issued between the sale ring and the trailer,” Charlotte explained. “They required that we get vets to draw up and sign a silhouette of each pony, but there weren’t enough hours or vets to go around to make that possible.

“In order to get around it, we built a photobox — which is basically a Perspex box that can keep a foal still enough — and we were able to take photos of the ponies on all four sides.”

The photos enabled silhouettes to be drawn up and signed off by vets, so that a full passport could be issued in the days following the sale.

“We did it to the best of our ability, in pouring rain and difficult circumstances and with 50 volunteers who were able to make it happen,” she added, “but wild ponies having to go through this is ridiculous.”

DEFRA also said that ponies were allowed to leave the sale with rump stickers rather than microchips — a move that Charlotte said most people linked to the ponies were against.

“It takes away traceability completely — the pony doesn’t have pocket it can put a passport in,” she said. “We were adamant they were not going to leave Dartmoor without being chipped.”

Charlotte criticised DEFRA’s lack of consultation over the changes, saying although the organisation claimed to have engaged with the relevant bodies, there had been no contact.

“I tried to contact them for two years asking to hold discussions, but have been ignored,” she said. “They said they’d consulted but they haven’t spoken to our auctioneers [Rendells], the auctioneers in the New Forest, Trading Standards who police it, or our passport-issuing authority either.

“We knew nothing about what the legislation would contain until it was released on 1 October.”

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Charlotte said she hoped that DEFRA would consult and introduce further changes before next year.

“We have these incredibly precious ponies that have survived the ice age, Roman invasion, civil war, World War II and living with humans in between, and now they might not be able to survive this bit of legislation,” she added.

DEFRA’s legislation changes have come as Brexit looms and European regulations have to be incorporated into British law. The new laws regarding horse ID were released at the beginning of this month and included the ruling that all horses must be microchipped and have passports — excluding the semi-wild moorland and New Forest herds.

A Defra spokesman said an “open and public” consultation ran from 16 May to 5 April 2017 on equine ID, which had 230 responses from some 446,000 horse owners in the country.

“We have worked closely with the Dartmoor Hill Pony Association to ensure a smooth transition into our new equine identification regulations,” he said. “We are pleased to hear the association will adhere to [these rules], and ensure high standards of welfare for the hill ponies.”

A version of this news story was first published on p12 of Horse & Hound magazine, 25 October 2018 issue

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