Friday, 2 September 2011

The RSPCA Report on Hot Branding

We have had some very good news! The RSPCA have announced the official results of the study about equine identification methods (and particularly hot branding) that they commissioned last year. We were very pleased to have been able to contribute to this study as we had been able to submit a great deal of evidence to support our case against hot branding. The results show very clearly that they now consider hot branding to be unacceptable for moorland equines. To have the RSPCA adding their weight to the other major welfare organisations that have spoken out against hot branding is a huge step forward to getting this practice banned in England and Wales. Hot branding was banned in Scotland in 2010.

Here is the email from the RSPCA which came two days ago. We look forward to receiving the full report later in the year.

We recently commissioned an independent report to identify the best methods to identify moorland ponies. The report was done by a specialist equine welfare scientist working at a UK university. The report considered the practical, economic and animal welfare issues surrounding the different methods of hot branding, freeze marking and microchipping.

The author engaged in consultation with a wide range of other stakeholders, including verderers, owners and vets. Thank you very much for your contribution, which was used by the author in making his recommendations.

The main conclusion of the independent report was that moorland ponies should, like other equines in the UK, have a microchip implanted for individual recognition. The author strongly recommended against the hot branding of moorland ponies. The report is in the process of being published; please provide us with contact details for us to send you a copy.

Alongside the report, the author provided us with recommendations for advice to give out on the RSPCA website, based on the independent recommendations. The website changes are being made live soon – and we wanted you to be one of the people who know about it in the first instance. The website can be found at

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Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Open Day at people4ponies

Our Open Day went very well last Sunday. Vanessa's Horse Agility demonstrations went down a storm with many people staying after watching one session to wait for the next. As always our ladies had prepared delicious refreshments with lovely home-made cakes and, with the weather brightening as the day went on, people were able to sit outside with their cream teas.

The ponies attracted a lot of attention - our visitors were really interested in their individual stories and also to learn about the ongoing work to deal with the problems of ear cutting and hot branding.

The picture shows Frodo, at liberty, considering the 'bridge'! Vanessa's emphasis was on the relationship between horses (especially traumatised ones) and their handlers and how it can be helped by this discipline.

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Sunday, 22 May 2011

Marsland Valley pony check...and Breeze went too

We certainly chose the right day to visit our two little mares Star and Misty on the Devon Wildlife Trust site at Marsland, on the Devon/Cornwall border. On Thursday it was warm, dry and sunny and this beautiful site was in its full early summer glory.

This time we took Breeze with us - he is a bay Exmoor X gelding, 10 years old, who is joining the girls to help with the conservation grazing. We left him in the lorry while we set up the pen and walked down to do a 'recce'. It was seen that the girls were already in a suitable place to be moved, so we quickly stationed our volunteers at various tracks and weak spots and began the drift. The girls seem to know what to do now - they made all the right moves to get to the track leading off the site, and trotted along nicely.

Once in the pen the headcollaring went as smoothly as ever; these two ponies, although previously traumatised, always remember their lessons with us and are so sweet to handle with the right method. You can see a previous visit to Marsland on Youtube here -

Star and Misty looked absolutely wonderful and in perfect condition. Paul did a little work on their feet but they keep really well on this site. Once he had finished the girls were led back down and released, and then Breeze was taken down to join them. They had moved away on a high path but Breeze, led by Paul, spotted them easily and once released trotted off to join them. There were some introductory sniffs and a couple of half hearted kicks, and then they all went off together. They know each other from their days together as 'the wild bunch' back in 2003/2004, and they never seem to forget former companions. Who knows - Breeze may even have been reunited with his mother.

While we were there we made the aquaintance of a family from Windsor who were holidaying in a nearby cottage. They were extremely interested in the ponies and what we were doing and even gave us a donation. We don't know their names but thank you so much! if you are reading this.

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Thursday, 19 May 2011

Open Day Sunday 29th. May 2011

The people4ponies Open Day 2011 is on Sunday 29th. May at Horseford Farm, East Worlington, Nr. Witheridge, Devon EX17 4SU. Open from 11am. - 4pm.

Come and meet the ponies at our welfare centre!

This year we are featuring Horse Agility Demonstrations by Vanessa Bee of Positive Horsemanship. Vanessa is the founder of the Horse Agility Club of Great Britain and is now running events worldwide for all abilities in this exciting new sport.

Delicious refreshments including Cream Teas will be on sale all day, also Books, Plants and Bric a Brac and a grand Tombola.

Admission is absolutely FREE !! but of course we hope that you will spend some money on the day to boost our funds. For more details please telephone Cilla King 01884 860252.

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Monday, 11 April 2011

Hot Branding on Dartmoor

These pictures were taken on Dartmoor on 10th April 2011. Some of our volunteers came across these young "Hill" ponies on the moor and thankfully had a camera with them to capture a few shots of this horrendous brand mark.

After making some enquiries, it seems that the "R" mark is supposed to indicate that these ponies belong to a breeder called Mary Alford. Whilst hot branding is still legal, wild ponies are having to endure a procedure that is considered unacceptable by all the major welfare organisations in this country, including the British Veterinary Association and the British Equine Veterinary Association. Banned in Scotland, Holland, Denmark, and perhaps soon in Germany, the UK is waiting for the RSPCA to decide whether branding is cruel or not before things can move forward.

Not far from where the pony above was found, the volunteers found another group of recently branded young ponies. Unbelievably, these had also been illegally ear a nice trip in the sunshine over Dartmoor turned into rather a shocking display of mutilated ponies...somewhat disappointing for a day trip to the moor.

Visiting tourists seemed to agree - being so horrified at seeing injured ponies, particularly the one with 3rd degree burns, they got back into their cars and drove off.

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Thursday, 17 February 2011

Ponies dying on Bodmin Moor

A shocking press release from South West Equine Protection -

The Daily Mail have picked it up -

and it was shown on BBC Spotlight news -
The Daily Mail article has now received many comments from members of the public. Some offer help, or want to know what they can do; some are critical of the observation and apparent inaction of welfare organisations; some don't believe that the ponies are owned (because they are described as 'wild') and many people are asking questions about the situation.

It's 99.9% sympathetic; I think I saw only one negative commment that said 'they're wild. It's a non-story.'

Here are some facts in answer to those questions.

The ponies are ALL OWNED. They are called 'wild' because that is how they live; their owners use grazing rights on the moor. Some people may call them 'free-living' or 'semi-feral'. The idea is that new foals are born in the spring and early summer, the ponies get rounded up in the autumn, sorted out and either sold or put back on the moor. Since 2009, new foals are legally required to be microchipped. If animals are microchipped, owners can be identified. Older animals might have been ear notched or branded. It's possible that ponies may have been dumped on the moor by people who don't have grazing rights and just want to get rid of ponies. You have to realise that the market is non-existent; ponies sell for next to nothing or are shot for zoo meat or may be transported to the Continent. The whole over-breeding problem is another issue.

Some farmers have a responsible attitude to their animals. The ones that don't would not bother to microchip, would not check on the ponies, would not provide extra feed and would deny ownership if there was a problem because if they admit ownership they are liable to prosecution for neglect. Ponies that look as if they are poorly would most likely be shot, because it's cheaper and much easier than helping them.

Horse welfare organisations are ALL full, including us. Even so, for such an extreme case, room would be found somehow.

This particular problem was flagged up late in January 2011. SWEP responded, despite being many miles away from Bodmin Moor. Faye Stacey, their Pony Welfare Officer, has to make a three hour round trip to get there. Of course all the proper authorities were contacted. DEFRA and Trading Standards have been to see for themselves. They decided that there is not a problem, thereby leaving SWEP no option but to go to the Press. There is plenty of legislation in place to prevent this kind of cruelty but no-one is enforcing it!

Yes, the ponies are priority. Yes, even though it is their owners' job, hay could be given. If there is a group of ponies, the strongest will get the most. Anyway, they are not going to be standing conveniently by the roadside, waiting for it. Sometimes it takes an hour or longer to search for them, sometimes in vain, walking over the roughest terrain; there are hills, bogs and sometimes thick fog to contend with. But for the emaciated ones, hay is not enough. They need to come off the moor and receive veterinary attention. They may not be handleable. In which case they need to be drifted and transported by people with the sympathetic handling skills necessary. Even when seriously ill a wild pony can and will summon every ounce of its remaining energy to avoid capture especially if its previous experience of humans has been to be ear notched or hot branded. A mobile handling unit needs to be sourced, funded and transported. A horsebox is required. A vet would be useful. Many experienced people are needed to drift the ponies to a suitable collection point. So the logistics of such an operation are complicated. For these smaller charities all this organisation does not necessarily coincide with office hours - it is a round the clock job; they are used to that. Bigger organisations work 9 to 5 Monday to Friday!

What can people do to help?
Keep up the pressure for the law to be enforced - write to
- Kevin Lavery, Chief Executive of Cornwall Council -
- Your local MP, to raise support on a Parliamentary level.
- James Paice, Defra Minister - (it is Defra who will have the authority to seize the ponies in poor condition).

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