Packpony Routes, Dartmoor Ponies And The 100 Mile Challenge

On Friday 23rd October 2015, Dru Butterfield of the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust, Paul Rendell, moorland guide and Sam Goodwin of ‘Dartmoor Pony and Pack’ with his ponies Billy and Jasmine, completed a real ‘first’ in the UK; a fundraising 100-mile Challenge walking across Dartmoor, one of the toughest environments in the UK. They were celebrating the role of the Dartmoor pony, critical to the livelihood – and ultimately the survival – of those who lived and worked on the Moor in centuries gone by. Sam made replicas of ancient pack pony equipment, the ponies had months of training and the team retraced historic pack pony routes, experiencing some of this country’s most stunning – and treacherous – environments.

There were two main purposes of the 100-mile Challenge. The first was to raise awareness of the heritage, temperament and capability of the Dartmoor pony and its historical role as a vital partner to people on Dartmoor. The second was to raise a target of 5000GBP towards the DPHT’s recently announced Dartmoor Pony Conservation Grazing Research project, with Plymouth University and Dartmoor Zoo, studying the ponies’ benefit to biodiversity and ultimately aiming to help secure their future on Dartmoor and for conservation grazing across the UK.

Sam Goodwin and Dru Butterfield

Dru Butterfield sums up the feelings of everyone at the end: “I have worked on Dartmoor and with Dartmoor ponies for over 10 years, yet this Challenge opened my eyes in so many ways. My love – but also my respect – of Dartmoor has been rekindled.

“I also truly realised just how amazing the ponies are to cope with the terrain, carry the packs and look after the rather less sure-footed humans travelling with them; to face wild ponies on the open Moor one minute and a crowd of school children in a town centre the next. I also certainly appreciate the relationships needed to create a close knit team, vital to ensure that everyone stayed safe. We will remember this adventure for ever. “

close up of Dru (Jasmine) & Sam (Billy)

Dru concluded: “If we have brought people’s attention to why Dartmoor ponies are so special and how much we owe to them over the centuries, then we have succeeded. The DPHT and its partners will use the money raised through our Challenge to help keep ponies on Dartmoor for the generations to come. Please donate now via www.dpht.co.uk.

The Pack Pony Challenge highlighted just what these tough, capable but gentle little ponies have achieved in the past, what their role is on the Moor now, and how vital it is to keep them there for the future – the Rare Breeds Survival Trust has confirmed that the Dartmoor pony is on the endangered list.

At Combestone Tor

The 100 Mile Challenge team travelled between the four Stannary towns of Ashburton, Chagford, Plympton and Tavistock, where tin mined on Dartmoor was gathered, weighed and sold. In each town, the Mayor (or ‘Stannator’ In Plympton) or Parish Councillors, signed a ‘Dartmoor Pony Declaration’, confirming their support for ponies on Dartmoor.

A long winding march across the Moor

The three adventurers – accompanied at different times during the walk by a few very fit people who brought in amazing sponsorship monies – covered 15-18 miles per day; they passed the 100 mile mark just as they arrived at Ben Mee’s famous Dartmoor Zoo at Sparkwell, near Ivybridge. After a brief celebration with supporters – and a few treats for Jas and Billy – they finished at the ponies’ home at Lukesland.