A COMPLETE overhaul of the current system in registering Exmoor ponies is needed to ensure their survival and stop needless slaughtering, according to an Exmoor herd owner.

Dawn Westcott and her husband, Nick, own Holtball Exmoor Pony Stud and founded the Exmoor Pony Club last summer.

Dawn believes ‘red tape’ used by the Exmoor Pony Society for testing the DNA, inspection and registration of Exmoor ponies is causing many to be culled due to costs for farmers.

Dawn and Nick have launched the Moorland Exmoor Foal Project to give the foals a lifeline and show that with patience, handling and socialisation, there is a market for them in the wider equestrian world.

Last week, the County Gazette reported on one of the suggestions made by some herd owners in vet Peter Green’s report that Exmoor ponies could be farmed for meat for sale to local businesses.

But a horrified Dawn says the suggestion is not an option which acts in the welfare interests of Exmoor ponies.

She said: “The suggestion to farm free-living Exmoor ponies for the meat trade is madness.

“The UK is not a horsemeat eating nation and our research concludes that people are largely sickened at the prospect of visiting Exmoor to see the wild ponies and then going to the local pub to eat them.

“Look how cattle have changed throughout time because farmers have bred them to have certain muscle – it would be the same with the ponies.It’s just wrong.”

The ‘red tape’ means it is difficult and can be costly for moorland herd breeders to sell young stock.

Previously, herds were brought in off the moors and inspected and DNA-tested in one go.

But the new system means they are only DNAtested after gathering and the foals have to be kept on the farm before they are inspected.

This can take weeks, forcing some owners to cull rather than face the cost of keeping the foals.

The couple have already taken ten uninspected foals from the Farleywater H67 herd into the project.

It has benefited 15 foals so far, nine of which have already been rehomed.

Dawn said: “If we hadn’t taken them all they would have been culled as no other buyers were prepared to take them uninspected.

“The moorland herd owners are told that there is no market for the foals.

“The foals must be inspected at the time of gathering to enable them to be offered for sale.

“Costs for ‘failures’ are well in excess of £100 and that may be all a moorland farmer can achieve for a registerable colt sold after gathering.”

Dawn believes there should also be better marketing as well as more schemese to offer the foals socialisation to make them more appealing to the marketplace.

“The Moorland Exmoor Foal Project will do what it can to help.

“We depend on support and interest from people and would like to hear from anyone interested in getting involved with the project or anyone who thinks they can offer a good home.

“Moorland Exmoors are beautiful ponies. They’re intelligent and highly trainable and when positive, trust-based methods are used, they are exceptionally rewarding to work with.”

For more information visit www.ExmoorPonyClub.co.uk

Comments and feedback are invited on Peter Green’s report – ‘The free-living ponies within the Exmoor National Park: their status, welfare and future’ by January 31.

For more information visit the website www.exmoornational- park.gov.uk