Dartmoor ponies ‘kicked’ and ‘lifted by the tail’ in shocking footage at annual auction

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A video shows a horse being kicked as it was loaded into a trailer at the annual Dartmoor pony auction, leading to a report of welfare concerns.

Footage also shows another pony seemingly being lifted by the tail and forced into the horsebox at the sale in Chagford.

Photos from campaigners of the event show ponies squashed together in outside pens at the market after being rounded up from the moor, reports DevonLive.

Trading Standards officers are now looking into the report as campaigners claim that many were left without food and water and allege welfare law designed to protect horses at sales was breached.

Dartmoor ponies roam freely on the open moorland, but are owned by the Dartmoor Commoners – farmers and residents with grazing rights.

One video apparently showed a horse being kicked into a trailer

Each autumn the ponies are gathered together in what is known as the drift, then claimed by their owners. Some are branded and returned to the moor and others are sold at the annual auction, which attracts interest from across the UK and Europe.

The Chagford drift sale where more than 300 horses were listed on October 14 is the last of the traditional auctions after the one at Tavistock closed in 2014.

Video and pictures from the sale have been sent by the organisation People 4 Ponies to Devon’s trading standards department, alleging the treatment of ponies amounted to a breach of the Welfare of Horses at Market Act 1990.

A trading standards spokesperson said it was “looking into the matter”.

A spokesperson for auctioneer Rendells, which organised the sale, said it had reviewed the video and was “appalled” to see someone kicking out at a pony and another apparently being lifted by the tail.

A statement said it had met with a government vet and a trading standards officer after the sale as part of the annual inspection, and anyone with concerns at an auction should speak to the operator at the time.

Faye Stacey, the head of People 4 Ponies, says some ponies are bought to be domesticated for riding, but others have ended up being slaughtered for pet food, to feed zoo animals, or used in scientific research.

Some are turned into meat for human consumption and pony skins have also been sold to make drums.

The annual Dartmoor pony drift sale takes place with buyers attending the live auctions in person, and the ponies are held in outdoor pens.

Ms Stacey said highly-stressed ponies were left for several hours in the open in full sun at Chagford, and claimed many had no access to food or water.

The ponies live on the moors and are collected off there each year

She said the ponies for sale included foals as young as four months old which had been taken from their mothers.

People 4 Ponies, which runs a sanctuary at Witheridge in Mid Devon, is campaigning to end the annual sale due to welfare concerns.

Ms Stacey says anyone can turn up and buy an animal without having to show they can care for it properly.

She said that one solution to end the surplus of ponies was to manage the herds to prevent foals being born.

Ms Stacey said: “Anyone can go and buy one of these ponies. Then you see them being kicked as they are going into trailers. It is a public, open display, they have no qualms about people seeing it happening.

“The days of these sales should be over now. It is not OK to put them out in the open all day, without food or water, and to be crammed into pens.

“When you think they were living wild a couple of days before, I just think we should be doing better than that by now.

“People talk about tradition, but we used to send children up chimneys in the Victorian period, and we don’t do that now.

“There are ponies that never get over the experience of going to the market.”

Ms Stacey said the Welfare of Horses at Markets Act 1990 protected ponies for sale by ensuring they did not suffer from thirst or overcrowding. She said it also banned lifting ponies off the ground or dragging them by the head, neck, ear, leg or tail.

She added: “The need for water in particular is greater when the individuals are in a highly stressful situation, as is the case at this sale.

“The market authority is required to ensure that an adequate supply of wholesome water is available for horses and that adequate facilities in the form of troughs, drinking bowls, buckets or other drinking devices are available for watering horses. Sadly no one was seen to enforce these regulations on the day.”

Trading Standards are now looking into the welfare concerns

People 4 Ponies said in a statement: “The tourists who visit Dartmoor are ‘fed’ the romantic and nostalgic picture of the ponies roaming freely across the moor.

“This picture hides the stark reality of what happens to the ponies: the extreme stress experienced by many of these ponies at the auction, who only days before had been roaming freely on Dartmoor.

“In the wild, foals can remain with their mothers until they are around two years old, but most of those sold at the market were likely to have been still suckling when they were taken away.”

The sale on October 14 was organised by the Chagford branch of auctioneer Rendells, with the help of the Dartmoor Hill Pony Association.

A spokesperson for Rendells said that they had reviewed the video from People 4 Ponies and “naturally were appalled to see someone kicking out at a pony when it is quite clearly walking up the ramp of the trailer with ease, and someone apparently lifting a pony by the tail.”

The statement added: “The auctioneers cannot understand why members of People 4 Ponies did not come and speak to one of their staff on the sale day itself.

“Since the sale Rendells have met with a veterinary officer from the APHA ( Animal and Plant Health Agency ) and an officer of Devon Trading Standards as part of their annual inspection who, like the auctioneers, would recommend any person having concerns about the operation at a market to speak to the operators at the time of any incident.”

The Heart of the South West Trading Standards Service, which covers Devon, said: “We have received information and we are looking into the matter.”

A spokesperson for the Dartmoor Hill Pony Association said: “We will wait for trading standards to finish their investigation before commenting.”

The Dartmoor Commoners’ Council, a statutory body set up in 1985 to maintain and promote proper standards of livestock care and management on the commons, said the Chagford sale was outside its jurisdiction.

It said in a statement: “We are sorry to learn of the alleged breaches of animal welfare and understand that trading standards are investigating the matter.”

In recent years there have been proposals to limit the number of foals by removing stallions from the moor, but the idea has been resisted by some commoners.

There have also been schemes to control numbers by treating mares with contraception to prevent them giving birth.

Dartmoor ponies are an icon of the moor and a pony features in the logo of the Dartmoor National Park Authority.

The hardy animals are mostly of mixed breeding and able to survive the harsh conditions of the uplands, but there are still some traditional pedigree Dartmoor ponies.

There is evidence of domesticated ponies on Dartmoor dating back around 3,500 years. The strong and agile horses were used for local industry and transport and were in demand around the world up until the 20th Century.

In 1950 there were an estimated 30,000 on the moor, but that has now fallen to around 1,500, with only a small proportion of the native breed.

The price of ponies fell to around £18 in 2013, which meant many were slaughtered. But it has since recovered and averaged just under £200 at the October sale.

There has also been controversy in recent years over the setting up of a company selling pony meat, known as taffety, with the aim of supporting the viability of the herds.

The Dartmoor Hill Pony Association says selling the meat will prevent foals being culled and help manage numbers, ultimately safeguarding the future of the breed.

But the Mare and Foal Sanctuary at Newton Abbot has urged people not to buy the produce, arguing the answer is better controls to stop the slaughter in the first place.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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