A massive operation began on Dartmoor today (September 30) to rid a Dartmoor pony herd of strangles.

All 27 ponies in the herd are suffering with the highly infectious disease and volunteers are carrying out the recovery operation, which continues on Friday (October 1).

Since June, horse riders have been requested to stay away from Bellever near Postbridge, a 450-hectare site leased from Forestry England by the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust (DPHT), with walkers urged to steer clear of the native ponies grazing there.

A statement said the DPHT, a registered charity which works to protect the future of Dartmoor’s native ponies, has teamed up with equine welfare leaders to eradicate the recent outbreak and open up the moors and forestry.

Three charities — the Mare and Foal Sanctuary, Redwings and the Dartmoor Livestock Protection Society, all members of the National Equine Welfare Council  — will work with the DPHT to bring the ponies in and treat them.

“We were completely devastated when our entire herd of 27 ponies went down with strangles,” said Dru Butterfield from the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust. “We are so grateful to our partners as we could not have pulled this off without their kind and generous support in time, resource and funds.”

Strangles is a nasty and highly infectious disease which causes equines to suffer respiratory problems, snotty noses and abscesses around their throats which burst and discharge pus.

The ponies will also have their feet trimmed, and this year’s foals will be allocated passports and be microchipped, which is mandatory for all equines.

The operation also involves working with other keepers of Dartmoor ponies in affected areas to make sure they’re clear of infection.


Syra Bowden, director of equine at the Mare and Foal Sanctuary, said her charity “knows just how devastating strangles can be.

“We are extremely proud to be working with our colleagues at DPHT, Redwings and the Dartmoor Livestock Protection Society to try and bring strangles under control in this area.

“Testing a herd in the wild like this is not something that is often attempted. We are very optimistic that we can bring strangles under control and hopefully play our part in saving the lives of any affected ponies.”

DPHT’s Dru Butterfield added: “Our brilliant vet Hayden Webb and his team at Equus Equine Vets and the strangles expert Nic de Brauwere, head of welfare and behaviour at Redwings Horse Sanctuary, have been guiding us through the maze.

“Karla McKechnie, the Dartmoor livestock protection officer, has been in touch daily too. Thanks to their amazing support and dedication, and that of our team who’ve worked around the clock every day, we’re finally beating the infection.

“We also owe the public a huge vote of thanks for keeping their distance, caring for the herd, and helping us locate our native Dartmoor ponies across the enormous expanse of land at Bellever where we keep them.”

Main image: Dartmoor ponies at Bellever. Credit: Malcolm Snelgrove

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