There aren’t many places in the world where you will find ponies living freely beside the sea. Ponies have been run on the local marshes for hundreds of years. They love freely but they aren’t truly wild. They belong to local people who have common grazing rights for the marsh – which is registered common land, extending from Crofty Point in the East, to Whiteford Point in the West.
Many of the ponies are registered Welsh Mountain ponies and a premium stallion is leased each year to produce the next crop of foals to be registered by the Welsh Pony and Cob Society, overseen by the Llanrhidian Marsh Pony Improvement Society and its members.
The ponies themselves are very hardy and have adapted to living all year round in the marsh environment. Growing up on the marsh in tight family units, the young ponies learn from their elders about where to find good grazing, fresh water, and of course, how to cope with the tides.
Several times a year the spring tide is high enough to flood the marsh as you can see from the first two pictures on the blog. Here at Whiteford Point the ponies can rest on dry ground until the tide goes out; when they will either return to the favoured marsh pasture, or remain on the salt free, but coarser grazing of the dunes.
The ponies living further east can be seen standing on the banks which remain above the spring high tide line, or waiting in the water, with it lapping as high as their bellies until the tide goes back out. This often looks alarming to the human onlooker. The average sea temperature around Gower is around about 12 degrees Celsius. A human won’t last very long before hypothermia sets in: within 15 minutes dexterity of the fingers will be lost, and death can be anywhere between 1 and 6 hours. The pony however is rarely fully submerged and has a lower range of temperatures in which its body can comfortably maintain itself: 5 to 25 degrees C compared to 25 to 30 degrees C in the naked human. The pony also has the advantage of being covered in greasy hair, which becomes quite thick and dense in the winter months. This is just as well, since the winter conditions on the marsh while out of the water can be cold, wet and windy. Being stout and hairy is a definite survival advantage. The ponies turn tail to the wind so that the smallest amount of body surface is exposed to the wind and rain, and carry on, business as usual, be it resting or grazing.
If you are visiting the area and wish to see these magnificent ponies, take your binoculars and go for a walk along the Gower Coast Path. Be sure to check the tide times. Make sure you keep to the coast path and public rights of way. Although the some of the marsh is designated as open access land the tides come in fast and there are shifting areas of quicksand which require expert local knowledge to navigate. My favourite walk is along the nature reserve at Whiteford Point. There is an honesty box car park in Cwm Ivy.
For more information: