“I love the ponies. I didn’t think I could do any of this, I didn’t want to do it. Now I don’t want it to stop.”
This is Fresh Tracks story as they look forward to their next challenge…
Dartmoor Ponies Teach Devon Teens to Take on Ten Tors
Following last year’s successful pilot of a new category for the Ten Tors Jubilee Challenge, called ‘Fresh Tracks’ – when 16 young people with a range of challenging life issues successfully led three Dartmoor ponies across the Moor – this year will see more students and an additional school involved.
On Saturday 6th May 2017, 18 Devon teenagers from secondary schools Teign Academy in Kingsteignton, Teignmouth Academy and Ivybridge Community College; and from Ratcliffe special needs school at Dawlish, will walk together in three teams over 14 miles. The three ponies are DPHT adoption and education ponies: George, Rolo and Smartie.
Through training for, and then achieving, a demanding trek across some of the toughest terrain on Dartmoor, leading Dartmoor ponies as their ‘platform for learning’, Fresh Tracks gives these teenagers an opportunity for personal development and self-achievement, and to build confidence and life skills, in an environment that would otherwise be unlikely to be available to them.
Students have undergone 10 weeks of intensive training to build their handling skills with ponies, walking safely in the Moorland environment, navigation, first aid and teamwork. They are supported by trained pony handlers, moorland guides, first aiders and their own schools’ support staff, as well as members of the DPHT Volunteer Team.
Fresh Tracks has been created, coordinated and delivered by the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust as part of its ‘Ponies Inspiring People’ equine assisted learning programmes.
Says Dru Butterfield, in charge of Fresh Tracks for DPHT: “Delivering Fresh Tracks is an amazing team effort. The schools have made huge commitments to bringing their students to training sessions, including weekend walks; the students and their families/carers have shown incredible determination and enthusiasm – we cannot praise them highly enough; and we simply could not do this without our volunteer guides and support team members.”
“Above all we know that the ponies make a real difference to whether our students succeed or not. Typically stoic and gentle, but also tough and resilient, Dartmoor ponies seem to be able to share these attributes with the students and undoubtedly motivate them to succeed.”
Fresh Tracks is a life changing experience for the students taking part. Here are some quotes from last year:
“My son was frightened of even going out of the front door. Since working with the ponies, he is now able to walk the dogs, go to the local shop and hold a conversation with anyone we meet”, said one parent.
“The change is incredible: he is so much more confident and comfortable with life; he is taking responsibility for himself and getting prepared for the day ahead; he doesn’t get so stressed and worried about every little thing that might happen. Our family life has improved so much you wouldn’t believe”, said another parent.
“Two months ago, if I had suggested to these lads that we do a 10 mile walk on Dartmoor, they would have laughed at me. Today they didn’t just walk up and down the Tors of Dartmoor, they climbed mountains – in their minds – and came back asking to do it again” said an assistant head teacher.
Another head teacher added: “The students have benefited from the closeness, unconditional love and attention from the ponies. Their response has been very positive and they show resilience to new situations with skills that are transferable into everyday life situations.”
Said one student: “I love the ponies. I didn’t think I could do any of this, I didn’t want to do it. Now I don’t want it to stop.”
Says Lieutenant Colonel Peter Bates of HQ SW Region and the lead organiser for Ten Tors: “The Army firmly believes in extending opportunities for young people to take part in a part of Ten Tors. These youngsters have worked hard to get here and deserve the chance to shine, as well as gaining new skills and a real sense of self pride. We are delighted that ‘Fresh Tracks’ has had a positive long term impact on those involved so far, and on their families and carers. We look forward to great achievements this year, especially as we celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Jubilee Challenge and recognise the opportunity that this category gives to thousands of youngsters with a range of challenges in life.“
The primary aims of the DPHT are to preserve the Dartmoor pony on Dartmoor – a breed now on the ‘endangered breed’ list – and to promote its temperament, so encouraging people to buy them as all round family ponies and for conservation grazing.
Read more about Fresh Tracks and Dartmoor Ponies
Big thank you to Malcolm Snelgrove Photography for the super photos