I am delighted to welcome Victoria Eveleigh to Bookbabblers today. Victoria has written a post about Exmoor ponies, which were prominent in her Katy’s ponies series of books. There is now a new series out with a young boy called Joe as the main character. I’ll be reviewing Joe and the Hidden Horseshoe later on today. You can see Orion the Exmoor pony and some of his friends in the photo attached to this post.
Five Facts About Exmoor Ponies That Appear In Katy’s Wild Foal
by Victoria Eveleigh
1. The book Moorland Mousie (which Granfer gives to Katy for her birthday) is a book in real life. A lady called Muriel Wace, whose pen name was Golden Gorse, wrote Moorland Mousie in 1929 and Older Mousie soon afterwards. The books tell the story of an Exmoor pony, in a similar style to Black Beauty, and they became so popular in the 1930s that they created a surge in demand for the breed. Original copies of the books can still be found on the internet and in second hand bookshops, and Moorland Mousie was republished by The Moorland Mousie Trust in 2011.
Author’s note: I first read Moorland Mousie when, at the age of eight, I went to stay with my grandmother on her Exmoor hill farm (the farm where I live now). It became my favourite book, and Grandma always put it on my bedside table when I visited her. Needless to say, I think it’s a huge compliment when people say that my Katy’s Ponies Trilogy is like a modern-day Moorland Mousie.
2. In Katy’s Wild Foal, Granfer tells Katy that her great grandfather was a founding member of the Exmoor Pony Society. The Society was formed in 1921, following a meeting of Exmoor pony breeders in the Lion Inn in Dulverton. They wanted to ensure that the purity of the breed was maintained despite the fashion of the time to ‘improve’ native breeds by crossing them with finer ponies such as Arabs. Exmoor ponies are particularly special because they have the same characteristics as the original British hill pony that came to the British Isles about 130,000 years ago. Evidence for this has been found through genetic testing. All Exmoors have a similar primitive colouring: brown with black points, a mealy muzzle and no white hairs anywhere.
Author’s note: It’s interesting that nature tends to select for similarities (badgers all look remarkably similar, for instance) whereas man tends to select for differences (if there’s a litter of black puppies and one rare golden one, people will usually want the rare golden one!).
3. In order to keep Exmoor ponies genetically pure, every newly weaned foal has to undergo an inspection before it can be registered. This inspection can involve genetic testing as well, to identify its parents. Only fully registered mares and stallions can have registered offspring. Imperfections like poor conformation or white hairs can mean that a pony can’t be registered. In Katy’s Wild Foal, Katy’s father says she can only keep the filly foal she wants so desperately if the pony passes her inspection and becomes a registered Exmoor pony.
Author’s note: You’ll have to read the book to find out whether Katy’s foal passes or not!
Since writing this book, the rules about the branding of Exmoor ponies have changed. Registered Exmoors have to be microchipped unless they are going to spend all their lives within the confines of the National Park. Microchipped ponies don’t have to be branded but, if they are, only the rump is marked now. New ways of identifying ponies from a distance are being researched, so it’s likely that in time branding will be phased out altogether.
4. Katy’s Granfer has a ‘free-living’ herd of Exmoor ponies on the
moorland above Barton Farm. Although a lot of Exmoor ponies are now bred in a domesticated situation – in stables and fields away from open moorland – there are still several ‘free-living’ herds on Exmoor. These ponies are not wild in the true sense of the word because they are owned and managed by somebody – usually a farmer who has grazing rights over a specific area of moorland. The ponies roam freely and fend for themselves, with minimal interference from people for most of the year, but every autumn they are rounded up, the foals are inspected and any old or thin ponies that may not survive the winter are kept back before the herd is turned out onto the moorland again. Stallions are usually swapped every two or three years to prevent inbreeding.
Author’s note: We have a herd of free-living ponies on the moorland above our farm. Last year we sold most of our mares and we didn’t keep a stallion because it was difficult to find good homes for the foals we bred. The majority of our ponies are geldings now. We thought we wouldn’t have any foals this year, but a neighbouring stallion came visiting . . . and last week we found out we’d got a foal after all!
5. Every autumn a lot of free-living Exmoor ‘suckers’ (newly weaned foals) come up for sale. Giving an unhandled pony a loving home and helping it to overcome its natural fear of humans is an incredibly rewarding experience, but all too often people buy these youngsters on impulse and end up having serious problems. (Katy in the story was lucky that her impulsive behaviour didn’t end in disaster!)
Author’s note: The Moorland Mousie Trust runs an Exmoor pony adoption scheme, which is the next best thing to owning a pony. See the website www.exmoorponycentre.org.uk for details. The Exmoor Pony Society also has a very good website with lots of information on it. See www.exmoorponysociety.co.uk
Victoria Eveleigh lives with her husband Chris (who illustrates her books) on an Exmoor hill farm near Lynmouth. They have sheep, cattle and Exmoor ponies. Victoria was so delighted when Orion Children’s Books took her on in 2011 that she called one of her Exmoor foals Orion. You can follow Orion’s progress and find out more about Victoria’s books on her website www.victoriaeveleigh.co.uk
This year she has a new trilogy for readers to enjoy: a pony story with a boy as the central character for a change. The first book Joe and the Hidden Horseshoe has just been published. Joe and the Lightning Pony and Joe and the Race to Rescue will follow shortly.