Following a move to a new home in the country a few years ago, I began scouring websites for ponies for my two daughters. But with price tags that made my eyes water, I started to wonder whether taking on a couple of rescue cases wasn’t the answer. We could offer space, knowledge and plenty of love.
A work colleague recommended World Horse Welfare, which had a base not far from my home, and after filling in my requirements online and talking to a member of staff a couple of times, we found ourselves nervously driving towards Glenda Spooner Farm.
I say nervously because my journalistic career had taken me towards London and away from horses for almost 20 years. Making a commitment to rehome a pony was a big, life-changing decision for my entire family.
We were shown two ponies on arrival. The first seemed lively and not suitable for my inexperienced seven-year-old daughter. Then we viewed Dill, an attractive five-year-old grey who had been a part of a large consignment of neglected ponies rescued by World Horse Welfare, all of whom were named after herbs. Dill was the first one ready for rehoming. Some of the others were so traumatised the staff doubted whether they would ever be able to leave Glenda Spooner Farm.
Dill made my heart miss a beat. You could say that it was love at first sight — for me rather than my daughter. He had endured quite a journey to reach the point where he would accept a saddle placed gently on his back and a snaffle bit in his mouth — one of the requirements for borrowers is to tack up your prospective pony in front of centre staff.
Dill had initially been so nervous that it had taken the caring staff at Glenda Spooner Farm months to even get within yards of him, and yet more months to break him in. When my daughter, Chloe, tried him, she was used to a lazy riding school pony and one almighty kick launched him into canter. Thankfully he was on the leading rein with a member of WHW staff holding tightly onto the other end.
Fast forward six years and we still have Dill. He has proved himself a typical Welsh Section A —bright, cheeky, wilful and loving. He never fails to neigh when we appear in the field. Chloe, now 13, loves him and she is the boss in their relationship.
But it hasn’t always been this way. In the early days, she found herself on the floor quite frequently. He was sharp, with a buck to match. But he was worth persevering with. Together, they attended Pony Club mini camp twice, the second time finishing sixth out of the entire camp in the dressage. The prize-giving was an emotional moment for me. For a pony who had once probably been starved, possibly beaten and definitely treated with callous disregard before being rescued by WHW, it was a magical moment.
Now Chloe has almost outgrown Dill. When we go hacking, her legs hang down beyond his belly, where once they were barely touched the bottom of the saddle flaps. When we steel ourselves to return him to WHW — as we will surely have to one day, so that another child can have hours more fun with him — we will do so safe in the knowledge that he has a lifelong commitment from the charity to be in their care.
Since Dill, we have rehomed two other ponies. The 20-plus-year-old Poppy, who came as a lead rein pony for my younger daughter Daisy, died of colic in 2010. Her replacement, the quirky black mare Bella, is now approaching her 20s.
Both she and Dill have sweet itch, a skin irritation sparked by the humble midge which is not unlike human eczema. WHW’s thinking behind loaning us Bella was that, apart from knowing her rock-solid temperament was suitable for a rather nervous child, we already had experience of dealing with this debilitating condition. It means that, instead of buying one rug, we buy two (generally every two to three years), but we have saved some pennies this year by making our own fly spray with essential oils. It has worked a treat and the ponies are less itchy than they have ever been before.
As a borrower, we receive regular, unannounced visits from our friendly, knowledgeable WHW field officer Phil Jones; we take out ChampionPlus membership, which gives us various benefits, including excellent insurance cover, and, should we ever need it, there would always be someone at the other end of the phone to advise us. It goes without saying that we look after the ponies to the best of our ability. They are shod regularly, their paddocks are poo picked every day and they are checked in their field twice a day. Taking on a horse or a pony, charity or otherwise, is a huge daily commitment.
What you receive from WHW — and from other charities too, I’m sure, although I have no experience of rehoming from any organisation other than WHW — is a ‘warts and all’ description of the horse or pony you are rehoming. This is the element I liked the best. We knew what we were getting and there was no wool pulled over our eyes.
So would I rehome another charity pony? You bet. It’s a rewarding experience and I love to think that three ponies have enjoyed all seasons in a scenic field in the shadow of the beautiful Alfred’s Tower — albeit with limited grazing to prevent their weight from ballooning.
Charities like World Horse Welfare are creaking under the weight of the volumes of horses they have to rescue, so even if you can commit to just one horse or pony in your lifetime, you are creating space in a centre for one more deserving equine who might otherwise have faced an uncertain future — or maybe no future at all.
Horse rescue: How to rehome a horse or a pony
1. Contact the charity of your choice online or by phone — there are several, including Blue Cross, horses4homes, Redwings, the RSPCA. Check which is in your local area to cut down on transport costs
2. Visit the charity and try the horse or pony
3.If you feel it is a perfect match for you, the charity will usually arrange a home visit to check your facilities
4. You will usually need to pay a rehoming fee
• You may then have to arrange transport for your new horse
• Depending on the charity, the horse may come on probation
• Some horses will be signed over to you, others will belong to the charity for life and you will be subject to unannounced visits from field staff
• Should the time come when you no longer require the horse or pony, contact the charity. Some will be able to ‘swap’ your outgrown child’s pony for a larger model, depending on availability.