Life of the Dartmoor Hill Pony on the moor
Spring brings new life to the Dartmoor Hill Ponies. The new foals appear, and the Commoners take the opportunity to greet the new arrivals and check the condition of their hill ponies after the long winter.
Any yearling colts, who are not going back onto the Moor as stallions, are castrated at this time of year, before the flies are around.
The colts who are rising three years old, and who are to be kept for breeding undergo a stallion inspection, and if they are passed, they are branded on the quarter. Each commoner has their own mark, which is used for identification of their hill ponies.
Summer is a time for the hill ponies to relax. They shed their winter coats, and enjoy the warmth and abundance of food.
As summer turns to autumn, the hill ponies are herded off the Moor and onto the farms. This is called the Drift. The commoners again check their herds, and the foals are big enough now to be weaned from their mothers. This is the point at which hill ponies that are to be sold are selected, and sent to the pony sales. The sales are an important part of being a Commoner, as the revenue from the few hill ponies that they sell will hopefully cover the annual costs of keeping the herd. Those herds will then keep Dartmoor as we know and love it.
These costs include visits from the vet, castration, passport costs, transport and the many man hours put into caring for these hill ponies throughout the year. Commoners also provide hay in deepest winter for the hill ponies that just appear in the farm yard. They also need to keep the new stallions chosen as future breeding stock on their farms until they are rising 3 years old. These hill ponies must be fed through the winter.
Once the Drift is complete, the mares are let back onto the Moor for the winter. This is when their real work begins, and as the natural food supply dwindles, they start to eat the gorse that is so damaging if left unchecked.