Rode up through Bagley Wood yesterday morning to check on the status of the bluebells there. I counted three stalks with blooms and about ten thousand standing 5 inches tall and green as the surrounding grass. Should have remembered that the wild bluebells are always late up on that side of the combe. At this rate they won't be showing until the middle or end of May.
One of the wild ponies - purebred Exmoor, what would you expect - was having a major scrape and scrub against a couple of conveniently close birch trees, one got his bum and the other his neck and Hoss watched him, drop-jawed in envy. So I got off, loosened the girth and did my best Head Rubbing massage (I draw the line at scratching his bum) and he loved it. As the minutes passed I noticed more ponies appearing in the wood: mares, last year's youngsters, the little dark stallion and several two and three year olds were all milling around, maybe 15 ponies altogether. Not quite the whole herd, there were maybe 8 missing but as I remounted and went on up the steep hillside, I came across just one more.
A very dark mare, alone, taking no notice of the herd, grazed on the rough heathered land near Dicky's Path. She raised her head as Hoss approached and in equine body-language talk she flickered him a warning with her head and swishing tail. Back off, stranger. From behind her protective bulk stepped the reason for her temporary self-imposed separation from her family and the cause of her anxiety at our proximity: a small foal, less than a day old, long-haired and fluffy as a child's toy. The little filly's underbelly and legs were cream-coloured - they'll darken as she gets older - and as her mother nudged her into action and away from us, she showed me her very straight gait as they trotted off. She'll do well, this little one. She's already tough and game and has strong, well-formed limbs. She'll run with her dam until next year's foal arrives and in about 3 or 4 years' time, when the stallion has been exchanged for another not related to her, she will herself give birth out here on the wild Moor.
I know the owner of this herd well and on arriving home, rang up to let her know her 2011 crop has started and where the herd is currently to be found. I couldn't give her the mare's herd number - the brand mark was hidden in the still-present winter coat - but by now she'll have checked the filly out, maybe even named her, and marked her down in the breeding book. The filly won't become 'official' in the Stud Book until she's been seen and approved by the Exmoor Pony Society at some stage in the future.
This is a lovely time of year and the wild ponies have wintered well, despite the long cold spells they've had to endure. Soon there will be lots of foals - and by June the red deer calves will be born as well. Lots to look forward to!