2015 A Visit to The Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust at the Parke Estate

My motivation to visit Parke was low. I had no enthusiasm for driving in the wind and rain but I collected four ladies at eleven o’clock and they lifted my mood immediately. The car was full of chat and laughter and the rest of the day was one great pleasure.

We had a hearty lunch in the cafe, then Carol Stanton and Judy Fawcett helped us to understand the work of The Heritage Pony Trust. I was shocked to learn that the Dartmoor Pony is on the Endangered List – this is the second most severe conservation status. The DPHT is a registered charity that puts its energy into preserving the indiginous Dartmoor Pony from extinction and into maintaining its presence on Dartmoor. The volunteers’ work is admirable as they make every effort to fulfill the aims of the Trust.

I was particularly interested in the Education Programme. The Trust runs courses based on a Dartmoor Pony Experience aimed at primary schools, colleges and life long learners. A big surprise for me was to realise that the learners do not ride the ponies! The programmes are aimed at special needs students and disadvantaged youngsters. They learn how to care for the ponies and in this way they learn new life skills. That makes so much sense.

We were privileged to watch a group of boys going through their session in the visitors centre.

They each had a pony to bring down from the field then they listened to Dru Butterfield giving instructions for their next duties. Dru is a natural and so right for this position. The boys wore hard hats and gloves at all times. I checked the tack room and it was so tidy! Now the boys had a challenge – for the first time they were to clean their pony’s feet and finally brush them with hoof oil. These ponies are not miniatures and to small boys they must seem pretty big so to pick up their feet would be scary. They all did it. Two boys finished with some time to spare so they each found an upturned bucket and sat quietly gazing at their pony! Time up and they all tidied everything away and gave their pony a good-bye hug. They met in the classroom for a debrief with Dru then shook hands with the volunteers and left.

The whole afternoon was so uplifting.  It was the perfect time for us to leave and I headed back to the car on a high.

Linda Churchward

Torquay & District Soroptimist International

(I can recommend the Trust’s website if you would like to learn more about them. www.dpht.co.uk)