As many of you know, within our herd we currently have 8 Shetland ponies. It is our desire to establish a dedicated area for them, suitable to their differing needs from our main herd in terms of forage and environment. Historically, Shetland ponies are used to quite sparse conditions in their original habitat. Over time, these ponies have been introduced throughout the UK and to areas which do not provide the correct type of grassland to keep them in optimum health. For example, the lush grass found in many of the Home Counties is too rich for them and can result in weight problems and laminitis. We want to provide an area where we can ensure they have the correct type of forage suitable for their particular diets, which in turn will help the prevention of laminitis. We also plan to create an area, similar to the rough, open pasture of the Shetland Isles, with a coarser grass and some natural heath land. Our project includes extending their living area into our woodland, which is a more natural habitat for them and we will be adding gorse, heathers and other hardy species to further the suitability.
World Horse Welfare recently carried out an inspection of our Sanctuary and were excited to hear of our Shetland Project. They commented that it is a unique enterprise in terms of equine care, and have asked to be kept informed as to its progress. We see our initiative as a major step forward in the correct care of this particular breed. We hope that our work with the Shetlands will be seen as the industry standard throughout, with others following our path.
We are aware from our community work to date of the calming and healing effect horses have on the elderly and other vulnerable groups. By creating this area for the Shetlands, we want to encourage all visitors to observe the ponies and see them in a natural habitat. Access is a prime concern, given that many of our visitors have mobility problems caused by age or illness; some are wheelchair users. Therefore we wish to provide an accessible pathway suitable for all, so everyone, from the very old to the very young can experience the peace and benefits to be gained from sitting and watching the Shetlands whilst also having the opportunity to interact with them. In order to ensure our older and less mobile visitors are safe and can gain the most benefit from their visits, we want to ensure that the Shetland Project provides suitable seating and fencing, handrails, planting and landscaping around the field, as well as access to the herd.
We have recently been hosts to a group of older people with various forms of dementia, and we see the Shetland Project as being of great benefit to this group in terms of being able to experience the calmness and gentleness of the herd, in both their interaction with humans and each other. We also work with blind and partially sighted young people and this would create a safe environment for them to groom and work with our smaller horses. The Shetland Project will fulfil such a need for so many other groups, creating a peaceful and relaxing experience for both the ponies and the public.
We are very grateful to both the Elise Pilkington Charitable Trust and Support Adoption for Pets who have given us grants to help us get the project underway. We have made our first steps in planting heathers kindly donated by Highland Heathers and Forest Edge Nurseries.
Due to the nature of the project and the seasonal cycle of landscaping and planting, we are conscious that it will take time to conclude the project fully due to optimal planting and growing times. It is likely to take us a year or so to fully complete our Shetland Project with all landscaping elements in place but we will try to keep you up to speed regularly as developments happen.