Exmoor ponies own Exmoor. The Moor belongs to them and they belong to the Moor. They have a presence about them. They have the freedom to wander at will. Living on the Moor, especially during the long, cold winters, is tough. Exmoor ponies, a unique native breed, are proud, hardy and intelligent survivors. Horse riders speak of how their own animals become unsettled when they come across a herd of Exmoor ponies, while the Exmoors stand fast and stare. The tamed animals recognise that they are entering the domain of their wild cousins and they show respect.
I have frequently encountered Exmoor ponies on roads and grassland. They look upon human beings as visitors. I sense their exasperation when people disturb them from the important task of exploring and foraging. On the roads they hold their ground when cars approach, though they know when they have to move.
There have been horses on Exmoor for thousands of years: the Domesday Book records ponies here in 1086. Many have roamed wild, as they do today. Some have been tamed to carry men and women across parts of the moor which continue to be inaccessible except on foot and on horse-back. Exmoors were also harnessed in the service of commerce and trade, enabling sheep farmers to get their wool to market.
Today this proud breed of ponies is being valued for its contribution towards conservation and is bringing benefits to lands far beyond Exmoor. In 2014 a herd was sent to the Czech Republic where their grazing habits have been instrumental in restoring rare grassland and re-wilding a national park land north of the capital Prague.
The story of the Exmoor pony models a much-needed collaboration within creation. Human beings have for too long dominated creation, ruthlessly exploiting it and refusing to put limits on what we thoughtlessly plunder from it. In these circumstances we easily forget something very important: human beings are part of the creation that we are mistreating. When we regard creation as something other than ourselves rather than as a community of which we are a part, we degrade and do damage to ourselves.
Roaming freely in an area which they regard as home, and managed locally with the well-being of the environment at heart, Exmoor ponies thrive. The land benefits from their grazing habits which preserve the biodiversity of the landscape: the region benefits as a revitalized moorland patrolled by Exmoors attracts visitors. Their presence, character and ability to flourish in the right place as well as enabling the place around them to flourish stand out, which is why the Czech Republic specifically requested them. Just as human beings thrive when they are provided with a healthy culture and environment, so too does the rest of creation.
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