The native pony breeds in the UK have come under threat with fewer breeders and subsequently fewer foals on the ground. Earlier this year we reported on the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust’s work to support farmers and breeders of that particular pony. Now the Exmoor pony, considered the UK oldest native breed, is also getting some much-needed help with the recent launch of its Gene Bank Campaign.
The pony gene bank will preserve genetic material to safeguard the breed against any unforeseen circumstances. According to the society’s website, Nigel Hill, chairman of the Exmoor Pony Society, explains, “Instrumental in the launch will be the oversight of our recently announced Scientific Advisory Panel, which will lead on genetic research and innovation. The panel is comprised of Exmoor pony experts from the fields of genetics, ecology and veterinary science, which ensures we are well placed to take advantage of developments in equine genetic conservation.”
The first pony stud to have his genetic material cryogenically frozen and stored in the gene bank is Elsinore Alan Partridge, a 15-year-old multi-show-winning Exmoor pony. With the barn name “Q”, the pony is based at Badleybridge Stud in Suffolk, owned by mother and daughter breeders Sandy Wooderson and Madeline Haynes.
“We were delighted to be asked to take part in the Gene Bank Campaign,” said Sandy in a press release. “We bought Q as a yearling and he really kicked off our love of the breed and our stud. At the age of six he had qualified for the Horse of the Year Show under saddle and has also sired some beautiful stock who are now also winning in the show ring. We are very proud of him!”
According to the Society’s website, the Exmoor pony gene pool is very small, with only 600 (15%) of the total population in a breeding program. The lack of genetic variation is a major concern as well, due to the Exmoor population falling to a mere 50 individuals during World War II, creating a very limited gene pool. The Gene Bank Campaign is currently seeking donations towards a £100,000 goal.