STUDENTS and staff have had the opportunity to observe and have had hands on experience of the highs and lows of taming wild ponies at Dryden Riding Centre.
In May 2011 an elderly farmer living in Morayshire contacted the World Horse Welfare as he was concerned about a herd of 93 semi feral ponies he owned which were running wild on 1000 acres of land and were in danger of becoming welfare cases.
The ponies were highland or highland cross and consisted of stallions, mares and foals of varying ages. The ponies had separated into herd groups and had been increasing in size for many years due to uncontrolled breeding and the amount of grazing could not sustain this number any longer.
A large scale operation was put into place to round up all the ponies, this involved staff from the World Horse Welfare, Royal Marines and Horseback UK volunteers and took two days.
Once rounded up the ponies were driven into a corral, sedated and micro chipped, the mares and foals were separated from the stallions which were all castrated. It was then decided that some of the ponies would be sold later in the year to offset the cost of the rescue operation to the various charities.
Ian and Jenny Stark then embarked on a project to bring some of the ponies down to their riding school at Dryden in the Scottish Borders and duly arrived with 7 totally wild and unhandled geldings ranging in age from one to nine.
They were herded into pens where they were to begin the biggest change in their life so far, going from living wild in a herd with virtually no human contact they were scared and angry and potentially quite dangerous as they had no respect for people or boundaries, at least one or two proved the gates to the pens were no barrier if you wanted to flee from contact.
The horse care students were introduced to the ponies after they had been at Dryden for a few days and quickly observed their acute reactions to everyday life in a stable.
The next few weeks involved the Dryden staff trying to gain the trust of the ponies and accustom them to humans as friends not foes and to learn everyday things like eating out of a bucket or off someone's hand, being caught in the stable and handled all over.
One of the ponies Dorland proved to be much calmer and amenable than the others and he took to being handled and led about quite quickly and soon after was introduced to tack and ridden away. Within a couple of months the level 2 students were able to ride him in their lessons, he had been clipped, shod and even been out hunting.
Glen was also quite friendly towards humans at the start, then had a little setback where he decided he would rather be the boss but overall took to riding quite well. Although at first he found walking past things in the arena quite scary he has now proved to be a nice obedient ride with good paces
Both Glen and Dorland are hacked out by Dryden staff and ridden regularly in the school both on the flat and jumping by the level 2 students who are thoroughly enjoying the experience.
Chips the grey pony was a bit of a slow starter being less trusting and it took longer to gain his confidence. However he has now been backed and ridden away and will join in with the students lessons soon.
The whole experience has proved beneficial for both groups of students and it looks like Dorland, Glen and Chips will have a promising future as ridden ponies and hopefully the others will follow suit.