The Queen’s Highland ponies to help raise vital funds for grass sickness

  • Highland ponies belonging to The Queen are among those due to star in a charity calendar raising vital funds for and awareness of grass sickness.

    Heald Town Highland Pony Stud, owned by Carolyn and Melody Ashcroft, is creating its annual calendar in aid of the Moredun Foundation Equine Grass Sickness Fund (EGSF), for which they raised over £4,200 last year.

    The 2021 calendar will feature Heald Town stallions seven-year-old Ghamjon Ernie and four-year-old Glenmuick of Coynach, and some of the stud’s foals. It will also again feature some of The Queen’s Highland ponies from Balmoral Stud, managed by Sylvia Ormiston.

    “If lockdown allows, the plan is I will spend five days at Balmoral at the end of the month taking photographs of the ponies in their natural environment and doing the job they were bred to do on the hills,” Melody told H&H.

    Heald Town Luna

    “Highlands are an absolute pleasure to photograph. Their temperament really comes through, they are so strong and powerful, but such kind ponies with what I would describe as old souls.”

    Melody said she was “over the moon” about the amount of money raised last year and was delighted to be supporting the charity again.

    “People still don’t know enough about grass sickness, so doing the calendars isn’t just about the money, it’s about raising awareness of the disease and helping people to understand what it is,” she said.

    “Last year when the calendars went on sale we had so many people get in touch asking us about the disease and asking for advice so it’s nice to be able to point them to the right people at EGSF for help.”

    Melody said grass sickness has a huge impact on so many in the equestrian community. A gelding bred by Melody, Heald Town Drumlin owned by Samantha Kay, was lost to the disease in 2019 and two of Balmoral Stud’s stallions, Lord and Hercules, were put down in 2018.

    “We still don’t know what causes it and there are still so many cases that go unreported or unconfirmed,” she said.

    Balmoral Archer and Balmoral Sonny

    “After the loss of Drumlin, and the Balmoral ponies, we really wanted to pay tribute to them and give something back by contributing towards finding a cure one day.”

    A public vote will decide which photographs will star in the calendar, opening on Heald Town’s Facebook page on 1 August.

    “We really like engaging with the public on the calendar. This is the sixth year we’ve done it, the third for EGSF, and people get really excited about it,” said Melody.

    “We hope to start selling the calendars on 1 October and they will remain at £12 including postage.”

    Article continued below…

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    Kate Thomson, of EGSF, said : “I am delighted to work with Melody again on the calendar, last year’s was an incredible success. The Highland pony breed has had some terrible losses to grass sickness, including very valuable breeding stock, and it is fitting that we can work together on this project.

    “We hope to soon appoint an ‘equine grass sickness fellow’ to work here at Moredun. The fellow will take a systematic look at all the research done to date to establish exactly what is known to date, and will work with experts across all scientific disciplines to shed new light on the disease. The proceeds from the calendar will be absolutely critical in supporting this new project.

    The calendars will be available to buy online from Heald Town Stud and the EGSF website or from Edinburgh’s Royal Dick Vet and the Balmoral Castle gift shop.

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