HARBOUR GRACE, NL — One man is making it his personal goal to save the Newfoundland pony population.
Newfoundland ponies have become something of a rarity in the province in recent years, unlike several decades ago when the animals roamed freely and many people owned one or two.
Harrison Verge has lived in the Harbour Grace area for most of his life and has owned Newfoundland ponies for as long as he can remember.
He has fond memories of he and his siblings riding ponies during their seven-kilometre trek home from school as children. Now, the Newfoundland pony population on the island has dropped significantly, with less than 100 actually living in Newfoundland.
Verge owns several ponies, namely three stallions – Admiral Shalloway, Cabot Royal Lightning and John Peter Payne – he hopes will help increase the number of Newfoundland ponies on Newfoundland soil.
Verge is offering these three stallions for free breeding to anyone on the island with an eligible mare.
“I got to thinking about how many ponies are actually left here on the island – not many – and I’d hate to see them be completely wiped off the province,” Verge said. “I’ve got three strong stallions out there, all from different blood lines.”
Finding ponies to breed in Newfoundland can be difficult these days since there are so few of them, he said.
“I thought, well, why not put it out there that I’ve got three stallions here, ready to go for the 2018 breeding season, all for free. I just want to see more foals on the ground.”
Verge and his daughter have named the initiative the Save the Pony Project, with the ultimate goal of significantly increasing the Newfoundland pony population in Newfoundland. He says he’s not concerned about being paid for the service, and only wants to ensure Newfoundland ponies continue to exist in their place of origin.
But Verge is not looking to breed his ponies with just any mares. He is hoping to offer alternative bloodlines in the Newfoundland pony population, but wants to ensure the mares are registered Newfoundland ponies, much like his own horses. He noted the Galloway pony – a breed native to England and Scotland that became extinct as a result of too much crossbreeding.
Verge explained that there are only approximately 40 mares here in Newfoundland, many of which cannot be bred for a number of reasons. Some are simply too old, while others are too closely related.
“It has to be a registered Newfoundland pony mare only. No half-breeds,” he stated. “I won’t cross breed my studs – cross breeding would get more foals out there, yes, but that’s going to out-breed the horse eventually, and there won’t be any left.
“I know most of the people who own mares, and so if they decide they’d like to breed, I know that mare’s bloodline and I know which one of my stallions is most compatible with that bloodline.”
One of Verge’s ponies, Admiral Shalloway, is considered to be one of the most famous Newfoundland ponies in existence, as it was one of the first of the species to be registered by the government, making him a foundation stallion of the Shalloway bloodline.
Verge’s other two ponies are both relatively early in their family trees as well, with Cabot Royal Lightning being a first generation of the Skipper of Avalon line, and John Peter Payne being in the second generation of the Rusty of the Black River line.
The Save the Pony Project is still in its early stages, but Verge and his daughter hope to set up a website and Facebook page in the coming weeks, while Verge works on reaching out to Newfoundland pony owners he knows of in the area.
“We’ve got to do something, you know? There was a time in Newfoundland’s history where these ponies roamed freely, and people relied on them to survive. If they completely disappear off the island, so does a part of our history, and our culture,” said Verge.
“My ultimate goal? To keep Newfoundland ponies alive. People don’t realize how close we are to losing them here on the island, and hopefully this program changes that.
“Who knows how much time I have left in this life – it could be 10 years, and it could be 10 months, but I want to make sure Newfoundland ponies have a chance of sticking around after I’m gone.”
Anyone wishing to reach out to Verge about his ponies can contact him via email at email@example.com.