“Although ponies may appear docile you should always track these animals from a distance.”
These wise words appear on the National Trust website, as a warning about the mountain ponies of Wales.
These hardy, rugged creatures have been evolving since Roman times. If you’re lucky, these days you can see them on the Brecon Beacons, as well as parts of Pembrokeshire and Snowdonia. They might look like regular ponies, when you see them in their multi-coloured herds of muddy greys, chestnuts and tans. But centuries of harsh Welsh winters have helped keep them tough, and woe betide anyone who approaches a herd containing youngsters……
The Gower was designated Britain’s first Area of Natural Beauty in 1956, and it’s kept its naked charm. When we stayed on the Gower Peninsula, we decided to take a trip to the Gower Heritage Centre. This involved a rumbledy drive over a cattle grid, then out onto gorse-strewn heathland. The heath’s mossy, close-cropped grass was peppered with sheep’s droppings, and an occasional heap of horse dung. Aside from a handful of traditional stone cottages clustered around its edges, the heath felt lonely, and wild. The only sound was the whistling of the wind, and the cries of ravens and choughs.
When we saw the ponies, I should have known better than to stop the car and get out to take pictures. I grew up on Black Mountain, not far from the Gower, and with the mountain as my playground I was dodging wild ponies until we moved away the age of ten.
Trying to ride a wild pony is dangerous
My friend’s older brother had injured his back while playing a game of ‘Welsh rodeo’ with the ponies. The mountain cobs are small – they used to go down the coal pits as working ponies. It’s relatively easy to mount one, but staying on is another matter. The ponies my brother’s friend tried to break in did not take well to a group of young teenagers attempting to ride them – and my friend’s brother did well to escape with just spinal bruising, when one of the ponies threw him off its back.
The herd of eight or so ponies that we encountered, grazing close to the road, included a foal. This cute specimen was my cue to get out of the car and take pictures. But after a few minutes, a rain-sodden grey mare decided she’d show me who the Gower heathland really belonged to:
Hard. As. Nails.
Have you ever had any encounters with wild animals?
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