More than 300 visitors enjoyed the first few days of Exmoor Pony Festival activities, a very successful start to the 9-day lottery-funded celebration of the rare breed. Jason Ball from Heart of Exmoor said: “On a Bank Holiday weekend, many other attractions around Exmoor were competing for visitors, but our Festival proved very popular. So we launched a photo contest on Facebook http://tinyurl.com/2013photocomp and invited people to share their favourite moments from the events.”
Visitors joined Experience Exmoor for two Exmoor Pony Safaris, setting off from Lynmouth on a meandering route that include Countisbury, Brendon Common and Porlock Common. Exmoor Pony Officer, Linzi Green was the ‘expert on board’ who explained herd heritage and the natural history of the Exmoor Pony. She said: “It was brilliant – in addition to taking some great photos of beautiful ponies, passengers were fortunate enough to see a Merlin, large herds of red deer, and gannets and dolphins at sea!”
Dawn Westcott and her Exmoor Pony stallion affectionately known as ‘Bear’ had obviously been training hard with an even more impressive Agility and Liberty demonstration than last year (clip on Youtube). The demo busted some negative myths about Exmoors but the key theme was the connection between person and pony. Using Natural Horsemanship methods, Dawn showed how warming-up sequences and allowing space for relaxation and expression by the pony were vital to developing a mutually respectful connection and a well-focused session. Agility is a fast-growing ‘sport’ that suits the Exmoor breed’s intelligence. Dawn wrote on the Exmoor Pony Club website: “Over 60 enthusiastic people arrived to see Bear work on the line, at liberty and then ridden over the agility course, including the Triple Hoop Jump. The Heart of Exmoor team were brilliant and everyone seemed to have a lot of fun.”
The first ever ‘Meet the Herds’ event at Wheddon Cross on Tuesday drew in more than 100 members of the public many of whom were meeting the ponies close at hand for the first time. Thanks go to the local Exmoor Pony Society members who brought their Exmoor ponies to the market to represent 12 of the 20 herds currently running on the moor and to the Moorland Mousie Trust and their volunteers for supporting the event. Moor bred ponies have excelled in driving, riding, endurance, show jumping and showing and the day provided an ideal opportunity for people to learn about each herd’s heritage and meet just some of the people who take care of them. Jason Ball from Heart of Exmoor said: “Moorland herds of Exmoor ponies are part of the landscape of Exmoor National Park and the herd managers share a vital understanding of them.”
A fine collection of artworks at Dulverton’s Guildhall gallery welcomed 140 visitors in 2 days. The ‘special guest’ gallery volunteer, children’s author Victoria Eveleigh, attracted numerous fans who had discovered that she was going to be at the gallery for our first day (mainly finding out via the web). One family announced that they had travelled to holiday on Exmoor because they had to meet their favourite author! Modern artists featured include Nikki Moore, Claire Saville, Chris Eveleigh and Dawn Westcott. Jason Ball commented: “A broadside of thanks is owed to those people who have lent the outstanding range of historic and collected pieces, chiefly brought together for the exhibition by volunteers for the Exmoor Pony Society and the Moorland Mousie Trust.”
Over the last 3 years the Heart of Exmoor scheme has promoted the free-living herds on the moor with Linzi Green, their Exmoor Pony Officer based at the Moorland Mousie Trust and with the Exmoor Pony Society. They have achieved education campaigns, equipment grants, farmer meetings, training and the festival thanks to Heritage Lottery Fund, European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, Exmoor National Park Authority and local partners and funders.
Established last year by the Heart of Exmoor scheme, the 2013 Exmoor Pony Festival is jointly organised by the Exmoor Pony Society, the Exmoor Pony Club, the Moorland Mousie Trust, Exmoor National Park Authority, countless volunteers, and the moorland herd managers. Behind the picturesque moorland scenes of Exmoor ponies are the dedicated farmers, volunteers, inspectors and rangers who all work to secure the future of the free-roaming Exmoor Pony.
(Press Release by Exmoor National Park)