Ponies complete 100 mile Dartmoor challenge

PUBLISHED: 13:09 28 October 2015 | UPDATED: 13:09 28 October 2015

Old vs new on Hexworthy Bridge

Old vs new on Hexworthy Bridge

Kathy Tipping

Could you trek 100 miles across rocky terrain with more than 20kg on your back? Well two very special creatures have done just that. Accompanied by a trio of brave humans, on October 16 Dartmoor ponies Billy and Jasmine set off on a week-long hike to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust (DPHT).

The gang on the road from SheepstorThe gang on the road from Sheepstor

Dru Butterfield of the DPHT, Moorland Guide, Paul Rendell, and Sam Goodwin of ‘Dartmoor Pony and Pack’ took on the challenge along with Sam’s ponies. After months of training, the explorers retraced the historic pack pony routes of old across four Devon Stannary towns: Ashburton, Chagford, Plympton, and Tavistock. Pony trainer Sam even made replicas of ancient pack pony equipment to simulate an authentic experience of days gone by.

Covering between 15 and 18 miles a day, the challenge had two main purposes: to celebrate the resilience and gentle temperament of the Dartmoor ponies, and to raise critical funds towards the recently announced Dartmoor Pony Conservation Grazing Project. The Rare Breeds Survival Trust has confirmed that the Dartmoor Pony is on the endangered list.

The research project, a collaboration between the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust, Plymouth University, and Dartmoor Zoo, studies the benefits of the pony to biodiversity, as well as attempting to secure the future of the patient animals. The team has so far raised half of its £5000 target.

The troupe faced some tricky conditions, including the daily hazard of speeding motorists. On one particular day, the team were targeting a 21 mile trek between Princetown and Tavistock, but were forced to change their route when “daunting” fog meant that they could not see 20m ahead.

“It was a misty, murky day. The terrain was rocky and steep; it was a tough-going route. We had to be led by the sure-footed ponies to ensure we made camp before nightfall. With five miles to go our guide had to leave for the night, so we were recognising rocks on the Moor and using them to navigate”, explained intrepid explorer, Dru Butterfield.

Dru added: “I have worked on Dartmoor and with Dartmoor ponies for over 10 years, yet this Challenge opened my eyes in so many ways. My love – but also my respect – of Dartmoor has been rekindled. We will remember this adventure for ever.”

Dru thanked the excellent support network around her and paid testament to the “patient, stoic, and sure-footed” ponies who are certainly a rare breed indeed.

If you are as impressed as we are by the ponies’ adventure, please show your support now by donating on the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust website.

Latest from the Devon Life