Welsh Mountain Ponies on their Farms - the first 4 of 22 farms we visited-
We landed at Heathrow at 8 a.m. ( zero sleep on the airplane for all of us) and after securing our rental car we started out on the wrong side of the road also known as the left side which is the right side of the road in the UK. Monica picked up the change quickly and we were off.
The first farm on our agenda was Springbourne/Blanche. Cerys Brook welcomed us in front of the barns and we went right about the business of looking at ponies. We began our tour of Welsh Mountain Ponies in Wales with the thrill of meeting 27 year old Cascob Silver Ghost. Bone, substance, quality, type and scope-the whole package tied up in a pretty red ribbon of disposition. Yes, we are Ghost groupies.
We moved on to the pastures and saw many nice mares in several pastures and a pasture of young ones. Most of the foals were by Silver Ghost. Cerys was a wonderful host and gave us so much information. I would suggest to anyone going to take twice as many pictures as you think you would ever want because it still will not be enough and take several cameras.
The Springbourne/Blanche stud has it roots in the 1903 stud book and the family has passed down the name and ponies to today. Cerys joined WPCS in 1966 and was given Bryniau Misty Morn to start her Blanche stud. The successful breeding program has produced many champions including Royal Welsh winners and the stallion Springbourne Caraway who led the sire ratings for several years. Blanche Montana was not at the farm but we were to see him later as we traveled north. We enjoyed some very tasty treats with tea and great company. A very exciting beginning to our journey with lovely people.
We moved on to visit Elizabeth French at the Forlan Stud. Betty is such an interesting person, so full of information and commitment with a very caring heart for all animals. I remembered thinking that I wish I had her as a neighbor.
Betty and her husband Brian, bought their first foal in 1967 at the Fayre Oaks sale. It was a filly, Fayre Waterfall, who was Forlan Welsh Honey’s dam by Revel Torc. This mare had 20 foals for Betty and Brian and whose influence took them to many championships and Royal Welsh. She has cut down on numbers recently but still has a very good group of mares and a very nice black stallion. When we were there she had sold quite a few of her mares to fellow breeders. Betty celebrated her 50th year with Welsh Mountain Ponies and has contributed as a volunteer for many years including the multi year project of counting the hill ponies a few years ago. She has been honored as the judge of the Section A ponies at the 2018 Royal Welsh.
We walked from pasture to pasture to see several groups of mares. She sent us off with a couple of Hill Pony magazines each which we all appreciated. I think we could have sat at her table for hours and listened to her stories about ponies. I wish someone would write a book and have many of the long time breeders write about their farms and ponies and stories of lifetime's of friendships.
Winding roads took their toll on us once again the next morning as we had quite a way to go but we started out early with the goal in mind not to be late and we made it very close to our 1 p.m. appointment with Dr. Wynne Davies at the Cuelan Stud.
We heard Dr. Wynne’s clear voice in perfect Welsh character as he met us at the back door as we missed his front door. He appeared much younger than his years. Very bright with a bit of mischief and a sharp memory of details from many decades of seeing, driving and owning some of the most famous ponies of the ‘golden times,’ which kept us attentive and entertained.
After a few minutes of visiting we followed him to at least four pastures, trying to keep up with him. All the time he told us about the ponies we were seeing and stories of ponies past. Allen, a dedicated farm helper (for 28 years of his 40) and good friend, was with us as we viewed the ponies and we enjoyed visiting with him also. (he is pictured in Dr. Wynne's latest book) We heard stories of Mrs. Mountain and Miss Broderick and of special ponies from Dr. Wynne. Obviously the ponies give him the joy you see in him when he talks about them and looks at them. His office was full of resource books and materials for writing books and his walls are full of pictures of ponies including the iconic one of him trotting Dinarth What Ho. He has at least a dozen mares and breeds some every other year so he has foals each year. Monica ran his very impressive bay stallion Distinction and one of the mares for us to enjoy. His son David, who is an active part of the farm, returned as we were leaving so we enjoyed meeting him too. What a good time and a beautiful group of ponies. We left with signed copies of his autobiography which we all treasured.
On to Cui. What a wonderful sight to us – seeing Sarah Osbourne standing in her driveway so we would not miss our turn. We had a particularly hard time with the navigator spending quite a bit of time being turned around by it and we covered a ten mile stretch of road four times but we arrived at 7:30 and it doesn’t get dark until ten in Wales. Sarah asked, “do you want to see the ponies in the barn or those on the hills first?” and we quickly answered ‘the hills!” So off we were to the southern slopes of the Brecon Beacons with our new friend.
We piled into an off road jeep type vehicle, full of character with plenty of power to get us up steep hills. The drive to the pasture took us down a road with an astounding view of the valley on our left and the mountain to the right. After going through several gates we arrived at one with a lock and that was the magic pasture where Sarah has grazing rights on the mountains. The herd of about fifteen included mares such as those seen in vintage pictures in the early stud books. Beautiful eyes suddenly all focused on us and I was taken back by the scene that could have been the same 100 years earlier. The ponies looked at us as if they had been waiting for us to arrive. There were five very cute foals, a stallion (with plenty of self esteem) and eight or nine mares of various colors. Sarah opened the gate and we walked among them. They were not pet ponies to strangers but tolerated our presence with interest. A new three week old bay colt was particularly charming. He was not afraid of us but did not take his eyes off of us the entire time. I named him the Cui Cutie Pie and he flirted with us all. He is going to be someone’s special pony of a lifetime I think.
Sarah brought my new favorite drink – Elder Flower juice. (I just ordered some cordial on Amazon). We enjoyed Welsh cakes and shortbread as we watched the ponies who eventually left us as they walked or trotted up their steep paths through the forest to the top of the mountain. Back where they came from.
We loaded back up and went down the hills to the Cui barns to see the other two stallions, both very good looking ponies. Pendragon, a typey bay with Bengad ancestry, had his feet in the feed bin looking down at us. He must have been at least 17 hands. What a character he is and good mover. Obviously a kind pony. He was 20 years old and still a beautiful, proper, Welsh Mountain Pony. After a trip to the pasture to see mares from one to twenty years old, our Cui pony tour was complete. So many of us have Cui ponies on the pedigrees of our ponies in the USA and Cui ponies are in pedigrees of some of the most famous ponies in Wales. Cui ponies have been officially in existence since 1938 but ponies have been a part of the farm since the late 1600s. Their movement and great temperament make them great children’s ponies.
When we arrived back at the house, Sarah’s husband Anthony, had a welcome spread of sandwiches and cakes and some especially good potatoes waiting for us in a beautiful
20 x 20 foot building they made from the wood on their farm. Huge oak cathedral beams lined the ceiling and the ash wood floors were especially attractive. Even the oak table was made from wood from the farm. A beautiful room with huge windows on each of three walls. I imagined sitting there reading a book in the winter with the wood stove going and enjoying the view-after the chores. They get a lot of rain in the winter and some snow in the lower areas. Several people mentioned the mud and we could still see the ruts in the pasture made by the ponies during the rains. Sarah and Anthony are obviously dedicated to their herd and to the breed and hope that young people will pick up where they will leave off. I left with an even greater appreciation for those who are supporting the breed with the type of pony that can survive the harsh winters on the mountains as the breed has for at least over a century. Sadly the numbers are dwindling but I think there are people who are very committed to supporting these ponies and they will do all they can to see them grow in numbers. We enjoyed their company so much as you can not find nicer people than Sarah and Anthony, but it was obviously getting dark and we had to find our hotel and with our history of finding our way in the daylight we figured we better get going. We left with the cutest sheep coffee mugs and a special memory of that little herd running back up the mountain. It was 10:30 and almost dark when we left.
More farm visits in the next installment next week.