I have been working closely with the Rare Breed Survival Trust on my Wild Hearts project and I have found their passion and level of knowledge quite awe inspiring. I thought you might find it interesting to learn a bit more about them and so I asked one of their field officers, Ruth Dalton, if she would mind answering a few questions for us – she very kindly obliged!
Why do you think that so many of our native breed horses and ponies are at risk?
I think there are a number of factors at play but the biggest obstacle seems to be lack of awareness about qualities of many of our native breeds. Breed societies do a wonderful job in promoting them but we still have a job to do in raising the profile of native breeds and educating people about their versatility – for example the UK’s native breed horses and ponies tend to be able to turn their hoof to anything and have simply wonderful temperaments.
What is your most memorable experience of a British native breed horse or pony?
I have a Fell pony who is now 13. I bought him at 6 months old straight off the fell and he was quite wild. The day I led him out of a makeshift round pen (part of which was the wall of my landlady’s house!) and walked down the road having tried out Monty Roberts-inspired “pressure and release” techniques was just magic.
What do you think we can do to help secure the future of Britain’s native breed horses and ponies?
Quite simply we need to use them. These horses and ponies need jobs – they are hardy, intelligent, and fabulously adaptable but they will not have a market unless people see them working. Whether it’s dressage, hunting, or teaching children to ride a clever, independent pony, they can do it all!
How did you get involved with the RBST in the first place?
I first went to an RBST Rare Breeds Sale at York when I was seven or eight years old. When I was young I bred poultry and showed my neighbour’s sheep and, although I studied Zoology and Biology at University, I always wanted to work in agriculture. I was working for a local beef farmer in Cumbria when a friend told me about the Field Officer job and the rest is history.
What do you find most rewarding about your role at the RBST?
The people – we are a tiny team at RBST and we rely on dedicated breeders and volunteers all over the country who work really hard promoting the breeds and the work of RBST, the level of their support really blows me away sometimes.
We know that the RBST is dedicated to all rare breeds at risk, not just equines. What are your favourite animals and why?
I keep Shetland cattle and I just love them – they are definitely a secret too-well-kept. Medium-sized, docile and in a range of beautiful colours they are a super breed.
If you could meet one person involved with animals who would it be and why?
I’m hoping to go to Shetland this year and meet a crofting couple there who identified and saved a lot of Shetland breeds, especially poultry, and they have some lovely cattle too.
Tell us about a typical day at the RBST
There’s no such thing! One day I could be in Scotland talking to a cattle breeder about one of our conservation breeding programmes, then I could be at one of our Approved Farm Parks or at an agricultural show. I also work on technical breeding programmes for breed societies or sometimes I’m just in the office catching up on a mountain of emails and phone calls.
Do you have your own animals? We would love to hear about them.
Yes I have a bit of a menagerie! As well as my Fell pony and his coloured cob friend, I am lucky enough to share my life with a small herd of Shetland cattle, as well as Whitefaced Woodland sheep, Golden Guernsey goats and Cream Legbar chickens…and a collie who is scared of sheep!
Who is your greatest inspiration?
There are too many to mention individually, but the retired farmers who were my neighbours when I was growing up in Yorkshire greatly encouraged my love of farming and pedigree breeding and probably set me on the path that I follow today.
I found it fascinating to hear about the steps which led to Ruth becoming a RBST field officer, her diverse working life and of course her varied animal friends – I hope you did too. It certainly seems to be that the main stumbling block that so many of our rare breeds come across is a lack of awareness, not just of the qualities of individual breeds but, in many cases, a lack of awareness that they even exist. It has certainly made me feel even more passionate about Wild Hearts and hopeful that in my own way I can help to raise the profile of our native equines.