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FOAL OF LIFE; Ponies spared zoo meat fate.

Byline: Rachel Spencer

WITH a fluffy pink scarf around her neck, Petra the pony looks every inch the pampered pet.

But just a few weeks ago she narrowly escaped being zapped by a gun then carved up as meat for lions at a zoo.

Six-month-old Petra was rescued by Dartmoor Pony Training Centre and her odd taste in fashion is aimed at preparing her for a new life helping special-needs kids.

Without the charity's intervention, Petra would have ended up as lunch at a zoo. One pony keeps three big cats fed for a week.

The centre's Natalie Torr, 31, said: "It's heartbreaking these beautiful animals are dying but more and more are being shot because of the recession."

Native Dartmoors once fetched good prices as riding or driving ponies. In the 1950s up to 30,000 thrived on the moors. But with demand and prices at an all-time low, many of the 3,000 that are left, end up staring down the barrel of a stun gun.

Petra was snatched from a miserable fate after this year's autumn pony drift, when farmers gather their stock off the moor to be checked and sold.

Wild Healthy mares and stallions are released back into the wild and the foals are sent to market.

Traditionally they are snapped up by dealers or private buyers. But many go to specialist butchers who slice them up for zoos.

"It is so sad because they are such great little ponies," said Natalie, who can save only 200 of the 700 or so killed each year.

"They're so versatile and it is fantastic to see them go from being totally wild to much-loved pets.

"They are great riding ponies for kids and they're strong enough to pull traps. One, Samson, even went ploughing on a market garden. Some are used as companions for other pets and they're great therapy for children with special needs."

As well as helping the ponies adapt, the centre also trains people hoping to take them on.

Natalie explains: "The ponies don't trust or know people. They are often very frightened and need a lot of work to be socialised.

"We use feather dusters to get them used to being touched and scarves to teach them to lead."

But she agrees that the only sustainable solution is for fewer ponies to be born on the moor.

Charlotte Faulkner, of The Dartmoor Hill Pony Association, is working on a new pony Pill to control their numbers.

She said: "The trial will cost pounds 12,000 and we urgently need financial help.

"If successful we can put it into practice and reduce the number of ponies that needlessly lose their lives."

For more information see dptc. org.uk or dartmoorhillpony.com.

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LUCKY: Petra, far left, and pals can enjoy their freedom again
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Nov 27, 2011
Words:470
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