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Protecting the ponies

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Three year old pony, Frankie comes in for a pat from Sherrylee Peckford and her young nephew. Photo: Alyssa Gillingham

Three year old pony, Frankie comes in for a pat from Sherrylee Peckford and her young nephew. Photo: Alyssa Gillingham

The love and care for a Newfoundland and Labrador heritage animal

Cassandra Abbott leans into her Newfoundland pony, inhales its earthy scent and welcomes a deep feeling of peace and contentment. She nestles into Miss Mattea’s warm flank, after a long stretch away from her hobby farm in the Newfoundland and Labrador town of Wesleyville.

“The way they react when you’ve been away for a while, you know they care about you and they missed you,” Abbott says. “The love is there, and you can feel it. I used to have mental health issues. The ponies calm me down. They are the first thing I want to see in the morning, and the last thing I think about at night.”

Along with two-year-old filly Miss Mattea, Abbott and her husband Devon are raising Flint of the Rock, an eight-year-old gelding. “We wanted a horse for a while,” she says. “We researched the Newfoundland pony and discovered there are a few ponies in our area. We decided we would do our part to help save the breed.”

The sturdy Newfoundland pony is an important heritage animal with a storied history in Canada’s most easterly province. Intelligent and hard working and known as the engine of rural Newfoundland, the pony helped settlers carve out a living in rugged rural areas. Families set their ponies to work ploughing fields, pulling fishing nets onto beaches and hauling wood to build homes and wharves.

“We heard how hardy they are compared to other horses, but the main reason we wanted them was for their wonderful temperament, especially towards children which we hope to have soon,” Abbott says. 

“Our ponies are pretty sweet,” she laughs. “Like I always tell my husband, if it were an option between you and the ponies, I would pick the ponies.” 

According to the Newfoundland Pony Society, the official organization responsible for the preservation and protection of the Newfoundland pony, there are an estimated 500 in Canada and the United States, and fewer than 100 on the island of Newfoundland. Under the Heritage Animal Act, the society is mandated to protect and maintain the official Newfoundland Pony Registry.

Sherrylee and Morley Peckford grew up around horses and were keen to raise their own. They brought two-year old Frankie home to George’s Bay in the fall of 2020. “I made a small, two-wheel wagon to try Frankie on and he loved it, Morley says from the couple’s home in Gander Bay South. When the snow came, I made a slide with one seat on it, and he loved that too. I can’t wait to work with him in the woods.”

The couple’s grandchildren love being around the Newfoundland pony and neighbourhood kids often visit. “We spend a lot of time with him,” Morely Peckford says. “He is very gentle and has a wonderful temperament. Frankie is a very loving animal, and he can sense your mood. I had to go away for a couple days. When I come around the corner, he didn’t see me, but a long whinny came out of him, like he heard my voice.”

Once numbering in the thousands, the breed is one of the rarest in the world and one of only two equine breeds native to Canada. As of May 2021, the society was aware of just two foals born in the province this year.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, lack of community pasture for grazing is one of the things jeopardizing the future of the Newfoundland pony. Community pastures would help owners with the cost of feed. Turning the ponies out to graze means an owner would only have to purchase hay for part of the year. 

The way they react when you’ve been away for a while, you know they care about you, and they missed you

Peckford estimates the cost of feeding Frankie, now 14 hands high and almost full grown, is about $1,000 a month. “I would like to have another one, mostly for company for Frankie, but the feed is expensive,” he says.

To create a permanent home and a showcase area for the Newfoundland pony, the society launched an effort to develop a Newfoundland Pony Heritage Park in Hopeall, Trinity Bay. Local author and actor Greg Malone is the honourary chair of the fundraising campaign.

Libby Carew, volunteer councillor-at-large with the society, says a new generation of Newfoundlanders is taking up the cause of the Newfoundland pony. “We want to see this trend continue,” she says. “We have a natural connection with this animal which worked alongside us for years to help build our communities. It’s time for us to ensure it will be here for future generations to enjoy. I can’t imagine future generations learning that we had this incredible animal with such a rich history, but we let it disappear.” 

She’s hoping more people take up the cause and get involved. “We need government policies that are more supportive of this animal and protecting its habitat.”

In George’s Bay, Sherrylee Peckford watches Frankie frolic in the fall sunshine. The gelding raises its head when she approaches, and neighs softly. “Frankie is my dream come true,” she says. “He is everything.”

East Coast Living