Newfoundland ponies are a critically endangered species, and there are only a handful of them left in the world. Where can you find most of them? On a remote little island corner of Canada, in Newfoundland and Labrador, on Change Islands.
Change Islands is about as isolated as it gets. The name is a bit misleading: one of the earliest settlers in the area decided he/she was going to move from one island to another, to “change islands” from a nearby location, and thus this name was born. There’s a special spirit here: endless Atlantic Ocean views sometimes give way to icebergs, and a certain peace and quiet settles here all year round. Bright red fishing stages cluster around the shoreline, and of course, stocky Newfoundland ponies graze in grassy fields. There’s no better setting for them, really.
Years ago, Newfoundland ponies were bred as work animals. Their sturdy nature made them ideal for surviving in the harsh Canadian winters, and they were considered a valuable part of any family for farming and hauling wood. Twenty years ago there were anywhere from between 12-13 thousand ponies, which eventually dwindled down to 88 registered ponies when they became listed as critically endangered. This happened due to a number of reasons, including government-imposed anti-roaming laws and the introduction of snowmobiles and ATVs to replace the work animal.
The Change Islands’ Newfoundland Pony Sanctuary was established to carry out a breeding program to raise the ponies’ numbers. The sanctuary has been quite successful in bringing the number up to a couple hundred, but the breed still has a long ways to go. The refuge owns several of its current ponies, but some are owned byothers and are being boarded for breeding purposes.
Netta LeDrew is the director, and she’s done a great deal to bring the Newfoundland pony situation to the media’s forefront. Change Islands has leased their pastureland out to the sanctuary in an effort to preserve this part of Newfoundland heritage, and the whole community has recently rallied behind the construction of a new barn. In fact, last year the sanctuary campaigned to raise a $90,000 Aviva Community Fund for the barn, where the ponies can expect a luxurious lifestyle…complete with spacious stalls! The new barn has 14 stalls, a tack room, and electricity and running water – a step up from the former accommodations.
If you’re wondering about owning a Newfoundland pony, they make a lovely pet. Newfoundland ponies are quite manageable and very good with children. Their temperament is mild and gentle, and they make a great pony for beginners’ horseback riding lessons.
If you’d like to donate to the cause, even $5 buys a bale of hay to help those ponies through the cold winter months. There’s no current place to donate money online, but you can contact Netta LeDrew http://www.changeislands.ca/popups/pop_ponies.htm to find out where to send your donation.
This is a guest post by Candice Walsh who discovered these Change Island Newfoundland ponies while living in St. Johns, Newfoundland. Follow travel writer/blogger Candice Walsh on Twitter @CandiceWalsh and follow @NancydBrown on Twitter for all things travel and horse-related.