SUPPORTERS of Dartmoor hill ponies are hoping that the annual drift sales at Tavistock could help stimulate a revival in demand for the iconic moorland animals.
The Dartmoor Hill Pony Association is hoping its efforts to generate interest both locally and nationally and facilitate the buying and transportation of the animals will encourage more people to 'adopt' the ponies — particularly for children to ride.
Just ten years ago the ponies were just selling at just 50p each, but this year there will be a minimum of £10 at Tavistock Livestock Market for the drift sales.
To help sales nationally the DHPA has organised transportation to collection points around the UK, including Scotland, Kent, Worcester, Lancashire and Essex.
Charlotte Faulkner, the secretary of both the Dartmoor Hill Pony Association and the Friends of the Dartmoor Hill Pony, told the Times: 'People have been very kind in taking these wild and wonderful creatures, who, with just some tender loving care, can became a great friend to their owner.
'The markets have been difficult due to both legislation and the recession but I have just been talking to a woman in Peebles, Scotland, wanting a pony, so obviously, demand is there.'
She said the Dartmoor pony was ideal for children's ponies and equine-assisted therapy. More recently the DHPA had been promoting 'pony agility classes' — similar to dog agility ones, which Charlotte said were becoming very popular and 'tremendous fun.'
In a break from traditional midweek markets, and certainly for the first time in living memory, this year's sales will be held on the Saturday to try and widen the number of prospective buyers, and the chance of giving the ponies a good home.
David Landick, market manager for Tavistock Livestock Market, said an expected 290 Dartmoor ponies will be up for auction on the day.
He said: 'Hopefully, by holding it on a Saturday it will draw more people, who perhaps, would not normally be able to make it during the week.
'The costs of transport to Devon and transporting the pony has prevented sales in the past but the Friends of the Dartmoor Hill Pony have certainly worked very hard, over a number of years, to help promote the sales. They are willing to aid buyers with transport, assist with animal passports needed for movement and give valuable advice.'
Neil Woolcock, of Ward and Chowen, will be conducting the sale, which gets underway at 10.30am.
Mr Landrick said the best quality ponies could fetch £250 and above. Each pony, he added, would be micro-chipped by a veterinary surgeon to help officials keep track of the individual animal.
There are believed to be approximately 1,000 ponies on the moor and each year in a number of 'drifts' the animals are rounded up and mostly young foals are taken to local markets.
Cherry Seage, secretary of Dartmoor Commoners' Council, said she was hoping for a good sale to prevent unsold ponies being turned back out on to the moor.
'There is less and less livestock such as cattle and sheep on the moors and farmers are looking to "come down from the hill," as they say, to raise more profitable breeds.
'The Natural England view is that they are hoping the ponies will stay on the moor. I hope the pony sales will be successful and buyers with take charge of them, but it is difficult to say until the market has been completed.
She added that legislation had not helped as it was now illegal to notch the ears of the pony, which previouls helped identify ownership and keep track of the wild ponies. The new legislation, though, only applies to horses but not to other farm animals.
A second drift sale will be held at Tavistock Livestock Market on Saturday, December 4.