Swansea community pasture open for grazing

By Olivia Bradbury / Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Newfoundland Pony Society’s community pasture in Swansea, near Carbonear, is open for another season.

The pasture is available to all kinds of horses and ponies, not just those of the Newfoundland Pony variety specifically.

The Newfoundland Pony is one of two equine breeds recognized as having developed in Canada — the other being the Canadian horse, which originated in Quebec. The president of the Newfoundland Pony Society is probably the last fellow you might imagine having anything to do with horses given he is a born and bred townie, but former MHA and MP Jack Harris is as passionate about the animal as any fellow reared on farm.

Harris’ involvement with the Newfoundland Pony began in the nineties when he was a member of the House of Assembly. He noted that around that time he had just read Dr. Andrew Fraser’s book, The Newfoundland Pony, which explained how the pony was a distinct breed developed in Newfoundland over centuries from a series of ponies that had been brought to the island from the United Kingdom. Around that same time, public concern about the future of the ponies was increasing as their numbers had diminished to the point that extinction was a very real threat.

“I was asked to help do something about it and I met with the Newfoundland Pony Society at the time and brought forth a resolution in the House of Assembly in 1994,” Harris recalled. “So that was my first involvement with the pony.”

Harris’ resolution, which passed unanimously, resulted ultimately, in the Heritage Animal Act. He later became even more involved with the society as a private citizen outside of politics.

“Our mandate is the preservation and protection of the Newfoundland Pony and the promotion of the pony as a heritage breed,” said Harris. “And one of our biggest and most important jobs is to maintain the registry of Newfoundland Ponies and maintain the integrity of the registry and to encourage all Newfoundland Pony owners to register that pony so that the DNA can be preserved, and the offspring can be registered. And also to encourage Newfoundland Pony owners to breed their ponies so that the population will grow.”

The Newfoundland Pony can be found across Canada, as well as in several states. Harris said there are significant populations in Newfoundland, Ontario, and Nova Scotia. But it’s hard to determine how many there actually are, as not all are registered. Over a thousand animals have been listed since the registry was created, and Harris reckoned between 500 and 600 of those are still alive.

“We think it’s stabilized,” Harris said of the population. “But we do think it’s very important for us to continue to promote the breeding of Newfoundland Ponies and preservation of the breed by encouraging people to become Newfoundland Pony owners and engage in breeding.”

The Newfoundland Pony was historically a working animal and greatly aided the survival of settlers to the island and Labrador and their descendants. It was a source of transportation, and important in laborious tasks inclouding hauling firewood, plowing fields, and bringing seaweed and capelin to the fields for use as fertilizer.
According to Harris, the reason the ponies declined is because of urbanization and a change in the 1950s and 60s towards more laws against roaming animals. Formerly, the ponies would be kept on common grounds, where they interbred at will.
“Fences were there to keep ponies out, animals out, not to keep them in,” Harris explained. “It kept them out so they wouldn’t eat your cabbages and spoil your vegetable garden.”

According to Harris, many Newfoundlanders did not have a lot of land for pasture and grazing, which was why they kept their ponies on common grounds. When winter came, they would take the ponies inside. Once common ground roaming was prohibited, the ponies needed to be kept on private property. If a pony owner did not have enough land for grazing, he would have to buy hay for the grazing season, which would be costly. This is still an issue faced by horse and pony owners today.

“When the new rules came in about open grazing being not permitted — no roaming animals was kind of the rule — the government supported what they called community pastures,” Harris said.

The Swansea land is this type of pasture. It has been around for about 20 years, and was run by two gentlemen, Fred Parsons and Arthur Cole of Victoria. The Newfoundland Pony Society took it over a few years ago, talked to the town of Victoria, which was interested in maintaining it as a horse pasture, and applied to the government and got the license. Parsons and Cole still help run it.

The Swansea pasture is a large, fenced, and managed pasture. Inside are different sections between which animals might be moved depending on the condition of the hay. The pasture accepts horses and ponies alike for the grazing season, which runs from the beginning of June until the end of October. There is a $100 fee for the season which goes to offset the cost of running the pasture. People bring their horses and ponies there from all over the Avalon Peninsula, and some from as far west as Corner Brook. Harris was surprised someone would drive across the island to bring a pony to pasture, but said it indicates an obvious need for community pastures.

Harris earnestly encourages horse and pony owners to make use of the one in Swansea. Not only is it affordable, it saves horse and pony owners money as it is cheaper than buying hay for the grazing season.

“Having open grazing for that length of time and a fenced area that’s well-protected is a boon,” said Harris.

Not only does the pasture enable the horses to graze for several months, it also allows them to get exercise and socialization.

“Horses are herd animals, too, so they like companionship, and sometimes if you have a pony that doesn’t have companionship they don’t do so well, they don’t do as well as they do in a herd,” Harris said. “So it has other benefits, as well.”

Harris acknowledged that last year some people had difficulties driving to and from the pasture because of the condition of the road. He said the road has since been repaired by the provincial government and is in very good condition, so accessibility should no longer be an issue.

“We just want to make sure that more people know about it and hopefully take advantage of it for the benefit of the pony,” said Harris.

The Swansea pasture opened for the grazing season on June 1. The season will run until October 31. Both horses and ponies are accepted, that is mares, fillies, and geldings. No stallions are allowed. Anyone interested in pasturing their animal should call 709-222-9566 or 709-589-7328.

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