Exmoor Pony Research and Action Plan Update

Update August 2016

On the 12th Aug 2016, Exmoor House Dulverton,  Dr Sarah Blott, University of Nottingham, School of Veterinary Medicine & Science gave the following presentation -

"How genetic science can help conserve and sustain the Exmoor pony"

…. an introduction to DNA, genes and genomics, along with description of a project being developed to fully characterise the genetic profile of the Exmoor pony”

You can see the presentation here

Exmoor Pony DNA Whole Genome Project

ENPA recently hosted a second meeting of the Exmoor Pony DNA Whole Genome Project Team to progress a pioneering research programme.  The project aims to characterise the full genome of the Exmoor pony and to measure genetic variation within sub-populations of the Exmoor Pony breed.  This will help with the management, understanding and breeding of this iconic moorland pony.

The Project team comprises stakeholders Exmoor National Park Authority (Sarah Bryan and Nigel Stone), the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (Richard Broad), Moorland Exmoor Pony Breeders Group (Rex Milton, Dawn Westcott, Maria Floyd and Christina Williams), Exmoor Pony Society (Sandra Mansell and Michael Dewhurst), consultant Peter Green and Libby Henson (Grassroots) working closely with Nottingham University. The team is led by Tim Morris (DEFRA Chief Vet and RBST trustee)

A sub group comprising EPS and MEPBG representatives Michael Dewhurst, Sandra Mansell Rex Milton and Dawn Westcott has been confirmed to progress the breed's pedigree analysis and sample selection for the DNA Whole Genome testing and research, with Nottingham University. This research will provide a wealth of vital 'open access' information and help to progress a possible supplement to the current Exmoor Pony Stud Book for purebred ponies currently excluded from the breeding gene pool.

ENPA has been working closely with the Exmoor Pony Society, the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, the Moorland Exmoor Pony Breeders Group, Defra, Exmoor pony owners and experts over recent months.  This has resulted in the development of two new projects;

1.Work on the creation of an Exmoor pony genome database – if the project comes to fruition, we hope that for the first time we will understand the Exmoor Pony’s genetic code. This will help us to unravel the history of the ponies and inform future breeding and management.  The project is being run by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust who will be working closely with Nottingham University, EPS, MEPBG and ENPA.

2.A Supplementary Register to the Exmoor Pony Society studbook.  This is being explored as a way of ensuring that ponies that meet the breed standard but cannot currently be included in the studbook because one or both parents are unknown, can be recognised and over several generations their progeny might be able to come back into the studbook.  A working party has been set up to explore this possibility.  The group is also going to work on clarification of the “No White Markings” Rule, so that it is clearer for owners and inspectors to understand when a pony should pass or fail inspection.

On the 8th March 2016 a joint statement (below)  was issued by the Exmoor Pony Society and the Moorland Exmoor Pony Breeders Group, explaining how the Exmoor Pony Society and the Moorland Pony Breeders Group would be working together.

Joint EPS & MEPBG Statement re Exmoor Pony Stud Book

"The Exmoor Pony Society Trustees together with Mr R Milton and Mrs M Floyd would like to announce the following decision:

The Exmoor Pony Society Trustees have agreed that a joint working group consisting of representatives from the EPS along with Rex Milton and Maria Floyd (members of the MEPBG) plus outside expertise if necessary should be set up to work out a framework for a possible supplementary register, within the studbook and to gather information to provide a definitive definition of the "No white markings" rule.

When the results of the RBST & ENPA led Genome project are concluded there will be a means of using the information for the benefit of Exmoor Ponies worldwide. Should the findings of the working group require any changes to the rules of the Exmoor Pony Society then such changes will be put forward to the membership at an AGM or General Meeting."

The proposer Rex Milton and the seconder Maria Floyd will therefore withdraw the two resolutions served in November 2015, no 1 To clarify the White Markings, and No 2 To include a supplementary register and upgrading system within the studbook.”

"The Free living ponies within the Exmoor National : their status, welfare and future",
Peter Green MRCVS

In the autumn of 2013, the Exmoor Pony Society, the Heart of Exmoor project and Exmoor National Park Authority jointly commissioned a report on free living Exmoor ponies. The study was carried out in order to help guide their management and breeding.  It was led by Peter Green MRCVS and aimed to answer the following questions;

What is a sustainable number of ponies to be bred on the moor?
Is there a need for a breeding plan and if so, what does it look like and how should it be implemented?
Are there any "poorly represented bloodlines" that should be bred from as a priority?
Are there particular stallions or mares that are considered important and should be bred from?
Are there individuals, particularly stallions, which have already passed their genes on to a high proportion of the next generation?
There are some bloodlines that are no longer present within the free-living Exmoor pony herds. Should they be re-introduced?
How beneficial is DNA recording? Could the process be improved?
Is there potential to improve the market for these ponies and if so, how could this be achieved?
How should the National Park Authority, the Exmoor Pony Society (EPS) and the Moorland Mousie Trust (MMT) support the pony breed and the moorland pony owners?"
In December 2013 Peter Green completed his report and presented it at a number of events on Exmoor, including a briefing to Members of Exmoor National Park Authority, a meeting of the Exmoor Pony Society and at an evening event for moorland breeders.

The report was made public in January 2014 and is available here - New Report on Exmoor Ponies.

If you would like to see the responses to the Peter Green report, a copy is available to download here - Consultation Responses

Please note that these responses and comments are from the individuals and organisations concerned and do not necessarily reflect the views of Exmoor National Park Authority.

The responses were analysed by Peter Green and a steering group was set up to respond to the report and develop an Exmoor Pony Action Plan.  The steering group is made up of representatives of the Exmoor National Park Authority, Exmoor Pony Society, Moorland Mousie Trust, Moorland Exmoor Pony Breeders Group, the Exmoor Pony Club, as well as individual experts and moorland breeders. It is chaired by Robin Milton.

If you would like any further information on the work of the group please contact Sarah Bryan, Head of Conservation and Access on 01398 322281 or email