The Moorland Exmoor Pony Breeders Group

Working to improve breeding practices, moorland management, welfare, promotion and opportunities for the Exmoor ponies of Exmoor National Park - & safeguarding genetics

About the MEPBG
Find out about the aims and objectives of the MEPBG and who's involved

MEPBG Breeders Directory
A list of the MEPBG herd owners in Exmoor National Park 
MEPBG Exmoor Pony Herds
Find out about the MPBG Exmoor pony herds in Exmoor National Park
Heritage Exmoor Pony Festival
Celebrating and promoting Exmoor ponies of Exmoor National Park 
Heritage Exmoor Pony Register
The MEPBG list of quality Pedigree & Purebred Exmoor ponies  
How to Buy Exmoor Ponies
Some helpful information regarding how to buy quality, authentic Exmoor ponies

The Moorland Exmoor Pony Breeders Group Blog

By Dawn Westcott 04 May, 2017

MEPBG letter to the Exmoor Pony Society 4 May 2017:

Dear Mr Brewer (EPS Chairman)

Re: EPS rule change to cease picking up feet during foal inspections

The MEPBG is delighted to hear that the members voted at yesterday's AGM that the feet of foals will no longer be picked up during EPS inspections.

"This is a major step forward in both pony welfare and in stemming the exclusion of important genetics from the stud book and breeding gene pool, through no longer rejecting ponies for the colour of sole plates. It also vastly reduces the risk of damage and injury to both handlers and ponies.

"It would be good to address the issue of retrospective inclusion of Exmoor ponies previously 'failed' for the colour of sole plates, as there is a significant number of quality ponies, both on and off the moor, that can now be upgraded to pedigree status. Both with regard to the breeding herds and also in enabling ponies to take part in affiliated showing classes.

"We understand the trustees are discussing this at their forthcoming meeting in June and we look forward to hearing how the upgrading will be progressed.

Nick Westcott
MEPBG Chairman
Moorland Exmoor Pony Breeders Group (MEPBG)

By Dawn Westcott 13 Apr, 2017

4 May 2017: UPDATE TO THIS BLOG and MEPBG statement:

The MEPBG is delighted to hear that the feet of foals will no longer be picked up during EPS inspections (ref Exmoor Pony Society AGM on 3 May 2017). This is a major step forward in both pony welfare and in stemming the exclusion of important genetics from the stud book and breeding gene pool, through no longer rejecting ponies for the colour of sole plates. It also vastly reduces the risk of damage and injury to both handlers and ponies.
Nick Westcott, MEPBG Chairman.


Further to Emma Wallace's letter published in Horse & Hound (13 April 2017 issue), we would like to make the following information available to Exmoor pony breed supporters and the public:-

Emma Wallace's letter:

"Sir - With regard to whether Exmoors with pale undersoles should enter the studbook (news, 16 March; letters, 30 March), I wish to remind breed supporters that the trustees of the Exmoor Pony Society (EPS) do their best to support the breed as well as uphold the breed standard.  My family are guardians of the Anchor herd that holds almost 25% of the entire Exmoor pony population's gene pool. We have managed and upheld the breed standard since World War II, as have other owners of free-living and "upcountry" bred ponies.

The Exmoor Committee of Herd Owners (ECHO) work to support breeders at gathering time and always managed to inspect even the wild moorland foals safely. I feel concerned that a threat of "criminal liability" was cited towards the trustees of the EPS by the chairman of the Moorland Exmoor Pony Breeders Group (MEPBG) and that MEPBG feel the need to dictate their own terms for inspection.

The genetic pool of the ponies is small, but failing to inspect all criteria of the breed standard will weaken the breed long term. Only thoughtful breeding programmes will strengthen the breed for the future.  The EPS are investing in a genome project, which could be useful in determining the "no white markings" rule and the purity of ponies who "fail on inspection" and whose parentage cannot be DNA proven."

Emma Wallace, Dulverton, Somerset


Perhaps we can draw Mrs Wallace's attention to this recent moorland inspection (see picture of the Herd 423 inspection below) and the traumatised, up-ended colt being grappled, restrained and having his feet forced up, inside a cattle shute? Every one of the twelve foals inspected showed trauma and distress during this practice (of picking up feet) at the inspection. Also, at this same inspection, one of the inspectors (Rob Taylor of ECHO) received a hard double-barrelled kick to his legs, doubling him up in pain. At another moorland herd inspection (Herd 23) the herd owner Rex Milton - a ‘keyman' at his Exmoor farm - received a severely blackened foot that caused him pain for over 3 weeks. Shall we also talk about the foals who break their necks and legs and tails - and have to be PTS as a result of EPS inspections?

As Mrs Wallace has publicly accused the MEPBG of 'threatening' the EPS trustees, when this group of farmers and landowners of Exmoor is actually simply trying to point out another dangerous and unnecessary EPS practice - which is now thought to potentially leave the trustees 'criminally liable' - we would like to take this opportunity to allow people to read the letter sent to the EPS trustees in February, concerning health and safety of the pony inspections, from the MEPBG (see below).

With regard to the apparent 'misinterpretation' of the no white markings rule to fail foals for the colour of their sole plates (something that only EPS does) - perhaps the ‘folklore' should be examined regarding which herd owners/managers apparently noticed that their showing competitors had paler-soled ponies and that, as a result of introducing the failing of these kind of ponies at inspections, left themselves with fewer showing competitors and perhaps a better chance of winning rosettes - and perhaps also, a greater opportunity to dominate the Exmoor pony market?

With regard to the Exmoor Pony DNA Whole Genome Project, it is still in the very first stages of collecting the first phase of DNA samples and the project is a long way from completion. The open access data would then be available for potential further research, if and when funding could be secured, that may or may not include research into ‘white markings’. So putting off dealing with the loss of genetics until an uncertain date in the future is, to many, completely unacceptable and detrimental to the breed. 

In the meantime, we would draw your attention to the serious concerns of many that, through the failing of foals for colour of sole plates, we are seeing the eradication of perhaps the most ancient Exmoor ‘type’ of all - the dun/dun-coloured ponies with a dorsal stripe and also pale gold/redder-coloured Exmoor ponies. 

Many of us feel that the picking up of feet (health and safety and trauma to the ponies) and failure for colour of sole plate (unreasonable loss of genetics and quality) should therefore be stopped immediately, as too many good Exmoor ponies are being excluded from pedigree registration, showing and the breeding gene pool, and too many ponies are being adversely affected by the handling/treatment, as a result of this practice. 

23 February 2017

Moorland Exmoor Pony Breeders Group Chairman: Mr NG Westcott; Treasurer: Mrs BM Floyd; Liaison: Mr R Milton; PR & Comm: Mrs D Westcott; Mrs C Allen; Mr J Bryant; Mr M Coldicutt; Mr W Dart; Mr R Dart; Ms S Dart; Ms J Floyd; Mr N Floyd; Ms R Leworthy; Mr I South; Ms K South; Mr B Williams; Mrs C Williams, Exmoor National Park Authority

c/o Holt Ball Farm, Luccombe, Minehead, Somerset TA24 8SZ. Tel 01643 862466 or 01598 741201. Email

Mr David Brewer & The Exmoor Pony Society Officials, Trustees & Officers
Exmoor Pony Society
c/o Woodmans, Brithem Bottom, Cullumpton EX15 1NB

Dear Mr Brewer & EPS Officials, Trustees and Officers

Re: Health & Safety - Requirement to Inspect Sole Plates for Registration

This letter is to accompany Maria Floyd's letter to the EPS Trustees of 21 February and the 'White Markings Rule' Resolution, for discussion at the EPS Trustees meeting on 27 February 2017.

Following a recent MEPBG meeting, the herd owners have agreed that they are no longer willing to accept the requirement to pick up the feet of foals for the Exmoor Pony Society physical inspection, nor allow anyone to pick up the feet while on their properties. They consider it unnecessary to examine the underneath of the feet and to pass or fail a foal on the basis of the colour of the sole. No other pony breed requires this for registration purposes. The horn colour can be assessed without picking up the feet.

It has been agreed that picking up the feet of Exmoor ponies at inspection time, particularly those which are semi-feral and unhandled, causes unnecessary risk to the herd owner and handlers, particularly compromising ‘key’ men or women, on whose health and fitness farming income depends. Engaging in unnecessary dangerous activities like this may also void any insurance cover and place Criminal Liability on the Exmoor Pony Society trustees if any injury occurs - which it frequently does.

Further, while foals and older ponies will usually tolerate standing in a shute or small pen to be inspected for white markings; have a DNA sample taken; have their teeth checked; and receive a microchip - they invariably become distressed and explosive when they are grabbed hold of and restrained as attempts are made to lift their feet. The resulting traumatic behaviours are unacceptably dangerous to both ponies and handlers.


1) Mr Rex Milton incurred a badly injured foot at his 2016 Herd 23 inspection, which remained black and blue and painful for three weeks after being stamped on by a semi-feral colt he was forced to restrain while the feet were lifted. �

2) At the recent Herd 423 inspection on 16 February 2017, the inspectors got inside the shute with the ponies, resulting in dangerous behaviour from ponies being inspected, and a painful kick to Mr Rob Taylor’s legs.

[included in letter] Pictures of the Herd 423 Inspection - Mr David Brewer and Mr Rob Taylor are inside the shute with a semi-feral and unhandled yearling who is distressed.

There is no reason to reject foals for the colour of their undersole, the quality of which is not affected in any way by variation in pigmentation. In fact, the MEPBG is seriously concerned about the eradication of the Exmoor dun- coloured and pale-red/gold/red ponies, who can be predisposed to paler soles, as a result of this misinterpretation of the ‘no white markings’ rule. Variation in pigmentation can also be caused by foals stepping on sharp stones, etc, which does not compromise the quality of the foot and should not be a reason to fail inspection.

We therefore ask that the EPS trustees please remove the requirement to lift the feet of foals/ponies from the inspection criteria, with immediate effect, and allow retrospective pedigree upgrading of ponies previously failed for this reason. Certainly, the MEPBG members can no longer accept the risk to themselves or their staff, or to anyone inspecting ponies on their farms/properties, to lift the feet of foals/ponies during inspections.

A note on the implications under Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 and Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

(a) Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 place a duty on employers to assess and manage risks to their employees and others arising from work activities. This duty of care extends beyond employees to all persons reasonably affected.

(b) We are not aware of any risk assessments being done to cover the gathering of wild ponies on Exmoor in recent years.

(c) The particular area that worries us is the requirement to lift hooves. Using the standard method of :-

(i) identify and classify the severity of risk possible - Severe (ii) Likelihood of risk taking place – Probable
(iii) Ways to mitigate risk – Do not lift hooves

(d) This leaves us with the conclusion that the liability of this requirement, given the current interpretation of the rules by the committee, lies with the Exmoor Pony Society.

(e) Health and Safety breaches are dealt with under the Criminal Code. This has the effect of rendering insurance invalid (it is not possible to insure against an illegal act).

(f) The persons who will be criminally liable will be the Officials and Trustees of the Exmoor Pony Society. Sanctions will range from prison through to heavy fines and not being allowed to hold a shotgun licence.

Yours sincerely
Mr Nick Westcott
The Moorland Exmoor Pony Breeders Group (MEPBG)


This letter was sent by the MEPBG Chairman, after unanimous agreement of the members at the last MEPBG meeting.


This letter (below) was published in Horse & Hound (30 March 2017 issue) from MEPBG following the article "Rare Native Breed Genes at Risk" published in the 16 March issue of H&H (see below) :

Dear Horse & Hound, 
Firstly, congratulations on the new H&H look, which is great! 
With regard to the article 'Rare Native Breed Genes at Risk' (16 March) the Moorland Exmoor Pony Breeders Group first served resolutions asking for clarification of the 'no white markings' rule, and the addition of a supplement and upgrading system to the Exmoor Pony Stud Book (EPS), in 2015. 
The Exmoor Pony Society asked for the resolutions to be withdrawn in return for forming a working party of EPS and MEPBG representatives to progress discussion of both. Unfortunately, due to the lack of progress made, the no white markings resolution was re-served in February this year. But after the society left the names of various people off the list to circulate to members, the resolution has been withdrawn once again, while the proposers obtain further hard copies of signatures to avoid omissions. 
The EPS also received a "health & safety" letter pointing out that, due to the dangerous and unnecessary practice of forcibly lifting the feet of unhandled semi-feral Exmoor ponies, the trustees may be criminally liable and the MEPBG herd owners no longer want the feet to be picked up during inspections. Good genetics continue to be wasted as a result of failing foals for the colour of sole plates.

Nick Westcott - Chairman, MEPBG
By Dawn Westcott 23 Nov, 2016
They are a sight to behold running on both Withypool and Anstey Commons and the oldest-family-owned herd of Exmoor ponies in the world. The Milton family recently gathered in Herd 23 to wean and inspect the foals. 

The Exmoor pony breed is endangered, with only about 2000 worldwide and a few hundred on Exmoor. Herd 23 ponies are particularly important due to their ancient bloodlines and unique dun, reddish and bright bay colouring, which has become a rarity and something Rex Milton is pushing hard to retain. But he’s frustrated with the Exmoor Pony Society’s interpretation of the ‘no white markings’ rule, which rejects foals with paler (under) soles.

“This is a misconstrued rule that is endangering these lines. The duns have almost gone because they nearly always had paler soles, and duns and reds have paler pigmentation,” says Rex, “In the past, some of the best ponies in the show ring had pale soles.”

This year the best filly foal from Withypool Common, with beautiful red colouring, failed inspection for having a paler sole. Rex is nevertheless keeping her in the herd and is holding out for a rule change, which the Moorland Exmoor Pony Breeders Group, of which Rex Milton is a founder member, is currently negotiating with the Exmoor Pony Society.

With regard to foal sales, Rex Milton acknowledges that the equine market is experiencing harder times, but points out, “The Exmoor is a hardy, lower maintenance pony and more affordable to keep. They make excellent companions, riding, driving and showing ponies.”

The answer is not to stop breeding and Rex explains why. “The whole ecology of the moor is affected if the herds don’t breed and it’s not straightforward. You can take stallions off and have some older non-breeding mares to help keep the herds together and control numbers, but mares in season can break out to find a stallion despite best efforts. Getting the numbers right is a fine balance. You don’t want to produce too many, but if you don’t breed enough you can’t supply a market, or pick the best, and the breed demises. Through generations of good farming, Exmoors have evolved by survival of the fittest and keeping the best ponies.

“Herd 23 needs support because these traditional rare ponies will be lost unless we can get more of them out there and into the show ring. Now is the time for people to come and choose because foals ideally need to be bought fairly quickly after weaning - and we have some lovely ones this year.”

Please contact Rex Milton on 01398 341217 email

This article appears in the Western Morning News Fri 11 Nov in Western Morning News Horses:

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