People 4 Ponies, based in north Devon, rehabilitates “traumatised” Exmoor ponies.
The group says that now microchipping is compulsory, hot branding is unnecessary and “inconsistent with animal welfare in the 21st century”.
“We have seen the permanent, emotional trauma that is caused by these procedures,” said Cilla King from People 4 Ponies.
“Moorland ponies need to be easy to handle so microchips can be read, feet trimmed and medical attention given if necessary, without further stress to the pony.”
But the Exmoor Pony Society insists brands are necessary.
“This lasting, visible means of identification will ensure the welfare of that pony and help preserve the breed for many years,” said a society spokesman.
“Hot branding prevents theft and allows a semi-feral pony to roam, free from direct contact.”
She added that handlers who brand the ponies all undergo a strict three-year training programme, and said the method is invaluable in helping to identify the parentage of foals to ensure they can be registered in the stud book.
But the RSPCA and some vets believe hot branding is outdated.
President of the British Equine Veterinary Association Chris House told H&H: “In this modern era inflicting burns is not acceptable. There are better ways of identification — microchipping is far superior.”
An RSPCA spokesman said branding should be phased out.
But added: “We recognise being able to identify moor-kept animals quickly and from a distance may be important.”
This article was first published in Horse & Hound (12 November, ’09)