Before I lived near the Quantocks I hadn’t ever thought about the ponies that I now see every week on my regular walks on the hills above Crowcombe. I have seen Exmoor ponies a lot of course and to some extent the Dartmoor ponies. But it is the Quantocks I have started to know.
Over the last couple of years I have seen pregnant mares become mothers and newborns grow into weather hardened ponies. I have experienced all weathers with them and enjoy seeing them each time I go out now.
As I understand it the ponies were introduced to the Quantocks as grazing animals. To me, a very untrained eye, they look pretty close to the Exmoor pony.
I have heard a story of a one-eyed stallion named Waterfall, which seems a very un one-eyed stallion name. Surely a more manly name could have been thought of, even one-eyed Jack might have been better.
The Quantock ponies were much sought after once as they had the reputation for being ponies that did very well in competition. There is meant to be, or have been, a single Arabian blood stallion on the hills, where he might have come from I am not sure, but maybe introduced to add something to the bloodline?
Whilst walking I have from time to time seen signs warning of pony drives and asking to leave gates as I find them, something that was drilled into me from a young age anyway. I knew ponies were taken off the hills and sold but that was about it.
In October (2011) I was asked to go to the sale and take some photos. The sales today are held on London Farm but in the early days were held at Bridgwater Fair. I would like to have attended a sale at Bridgwater Fair as I’ve experienced the pony sales at Bampton Fair both in the 70s and more recently. I imagine the Bridgwater sales would have proved a very different experience to the sales of today.
When you are walking near the ponies out on the hills it’s hard to remember that they are wild. They are so used to humans and even dogs that they seem to care little how close you get to them. Seeing them confined in a barn being processed for sale you notice the wildness in them again. There’s a nervousness about them shown in their eyes when startled or in the quick jerky movements as someone approaches them.
There is a real respect for the animals evident in the people readying the ponies for sale. Talking to one of the men he explained that they used to bring the ponies down much later and nearer the day of the sale as it was less stressful for the animals. Now with European rules and the horse passports everything takes longer and as a result the animals become more nervous by the time of the sale.
All the ponies are chipped and these are checked and passports issued which enables them to be sold. Most will be sold as riding ponies.
The ponies are numbered and now ready for sale.
I love auctions. I have been to many house clearance sales and even more car auctions. There’s a buzz at a sale, particularly a car auction. A good auctioneer will engage with the buyers and joke with them and colleagues while maintaining a watchful eye on bidders and goading those he (or she) knows in to bidding that little bit more. Staggs were running this auction and they soon built up a fast and amusing selling style that kept the audience entertained and the buyers bidding.
The ponies are driven into the showing pen and even then most are so calm they need to be encouraged to dance a little.
Although ponies were selling it was obvious that prices were lower than expected and many were left unsold.
The day wasn’t just about the ponies for me. The people proved to be very friendly and welcoming and I don’t remember anyone hiding from the camera.
As well as ponies on sale there were chickens and other assorted small fluffy things that caught my eye.
I would say that this was one of the most enjoyable photo shoots I have done and as it was the same day I shot the National Ploughing Championships it was definitely one of the busiest I have had with a camera.