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Exmoor Pony Centre gears up for a fun summer of events

PUBLISHED: 11:44 17 May 2016 | UPDATED: 11:58 17 May 2016

Katie McKenzie (QSR Head Girl), left, Apollo, Michael Woodcock & Miguel Catela (QSR Senior Instructor), April 2016

Katie McKenzie (QSR Head Girl), left, Apollo, Michael Woodcock & Miguel Catela (QSR Senior Instructor), April 2016

Tricia Gibson

The Exmoor Pony Centre is gearing up for a summer of celebratory events to mark its 10th birthday and raise much-needed funds to continue protecting and promoting the native rare breed for another decade, as Sharon Goble explains

Headshot of ApolloHeadshot of Apollo

This year is a big one for the Exmoor Pony Centre and the charity which runs it, the Moorland Mousie Trust. It’s lined up a calendar of special events in June, July and August, which it hopes horsey and non-horsey folk from across Devon will support.

Taking a starring role in one of these events is one of the centre’s most ardent supporters: retired solicitor Michael Woodcock. Rather courageously for a man who turns 73 next month, Michael is learning to jump, with the aim of competing at the Dunster Country Fair on Wednesday 27 July to raise money to support the centre’s work. He’s pursuing his goal with such dedication that he re-located to the South West from London in the spring to work with a top international instructor here.

Michael’s challenge is all the more remarkable because he only learnt to ride four years ago and Apollo, the inexperienced Exmoor pony he’s been matched up with, had never been ridden before last October. Michael says: “I knew it would be hard but not this hard. Believe me, learning to jump on a strong young novice pony is physically very demanding - a real struggle at my age!”

Until recently, Apollo had been doing his bit for the environment “conservation grazing” with other Moorland Mousie Trust ponies in Northumberland. Pensioner and pony met for the first time in February. The unlikely pair took up residence at the elite QSR Equestrian Centre in mid April to bond and begin four months of intensive training together.

Michael reflects: “I was told I could call myself a rider when I’d fallen off 20 times. Since starting to jump at QSR, I can tell you, I am fully qualified to call myself one. There are no easy shortcuts to learning to jump. You just have to get back on and try again...and again.”

Michael has also had to get to grips with technology and become social media savvy to help promote his big adventure: “I’ve invested in a tablet so that I can post regular updates - tweeting and blogging are all new to me. I hope people will follow me on Facebook and @ExmoorApollo. It’s all about raising the profile of this wonderful native rare breed as well as raising money.”

Michael’s endeavours have won the backing of Devon horse trainer, free rider and TV presenter, Emma Massingale, from Holsworthy. Unlike Michael, Emma started riding at a young age, leaving school at fifteen to pursue her childhood dream of working with horses. Emma has pledged to support Michael and the Exmoor Pony centre team at the Dunster Country Fair.

Another special guest, Exmoor Pony Barney, will also be enjoying the fun of the Fair. Barney was one of the first foals to be taken in and re-homed by the Exmoor Pony Centre. To celebrate his tenth birthday this summer, he’ll enjoy not one but two birthday parties - much like the Queen! exmoorponycentre.org.uk

Join in the celebrations!

Thursday 2 June, 12 - 3pm: Spring Activity Afternoon at the Exmoor Pony Centre

Sunday 24 July, 11am - 3pm: Barney’s Birthday Bash Activity Day at the Exmoor Pony Centre

Wednesday 27 July: Michael’s jump in the Exmoor Pony Society’s ring and Barney’s 10th Birthday Party in the Village Green area, Dunster Country Fair - with special guest, Devon horsewoman and TV presenter Emma Massingale

Every Thursday in August, 12 - 3pm: Activity Afternoons at the Exmoor Pony Centre.

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