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Welsh hill ponies under threat

Welsh Mountain pony enthusiasts believe that the future of ponies living in their native habitat could be in jeopardy unless funds are found to enable current breed improvement initiatives to continue.

The ancient breed was added to the Rare Breed Survival Trust’s (RBST) “at risk” register after the Welsh Pony & Cob Society’s census in 2000 found there were less than 800 broodmares on the hills.

Colin Thomas of the Dowlais Welsh Hill Pony Improvement Society, one of around 20 regional hill pony improvement societies within Wales, explained to HHO why it is so important that the ponies remain on the Welsh hills.

“I believe it is vital for ponies to run on the hills if the breed is to maintain its hardiness, characteristics and type,” he says. “As well as being part of the area’s history, the ponies play a vital environmental role. The ecological balance of the area would completely change without the ponies grazing on the harsh landscape.”

Colin believes that the decline in the numbers of ponies on the hills has been stabilised in recent years, primarily thanks to improvement society breeding initiatives, which have been funded by the Horseracing Levy Board.

“Around two years ago we introduced a scheme whereby owners of filly foals which were returned to the hills received a financial bonus. Ultimately, when those foals reached four years of age and become registered broodmares, the owners would receive an additional financial bonus.

“We are extremely grateful for the funding which we have received from the Levy Board over the years, but that funding is now in jeopardy and without it recent improvements to breed quality and numbers may be lost.”

The new passports legislation, which is currently awaiting approval by the Welsh Assembly, is also a cause for concern. The legislation for England includes an exception for “feral” ponies, such as New Forest and Dartmoor, until the ponies leave their grazing land. Colin is hopeful that Welsh hill ponies will receive a similar exception from the Welsh Assembly.

“It will be very difficult for owners to complete passport application forms accurately while the ponies are running on the hills, so we are very hopeful that the Welsh Assembly will give Welsh hill ponies a similar exception to that offered to the Dartmoors,” he says.

To find out more about Welsh Mountain ponies visit the Welsh Pony & Cob Society’s website: www.wpcs.uk.com

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