1998, the scandal is revealed
|| The pottok (pronounced potiok) is a hardy pony, typical of France's Basque region and especially well-suited to a mountain environment. The breed, which can be traced back thousands of years, has long been subjected to ear-docking and shackling.
One Voice was alerted to the pottoks' plight by tourists who were shocked to come across thin, distressed ponies. An investigator rapidly confirmed that the ponies were indeed being mistreated.
In order to distinguish between pottoks from different herds, their sensitive ears are cut or notched using a knife or scissors.
To prevent the ponies from roaming onto the mountain roads, not all of which are equipped with cattle grids, and from there onto a main road, the local solution is to shackle them. A block of wood is clamped around the pony's leg, just above the hoof. This technique has been used for centuries to prevent the ponies from straying and to keep them within a confined perimeter where they are easy to see.
The shackled pottoks move as best they can. The shackle often twists around and sticks in the ground causing the pony to stumble, or bangs against its other leg.
Some shackles are relatively small. Others are bulky and heavy. The hair on the pottok's leg is soon rubbed away and the skin made raw, often to the point of bleeding. These wounds are left untended. Already on grassland the shackle makes life hard for the pony; among shrubs or on stones conditions are worse still.
Some breeders shackle their ponies for a few weeks each year. Others leave the shackles on all year round, and One Voice has filed a complaint against three such breeders. When free to move, a pottok will roam four to six kilometres a day. Shackled, it can hope to cover 200 to 400 metres at best. As a consequence, its hooves (which like human nails grow continuously), are not worn down. Sometimes a hoof can grow so long as to curl up at the end.
Maimed for life
Imagine if instead of being able to lay your hand flat, you could only ever rest your wrist. Eventually the bone would be deformed. This is the fate of shackled pottoks, preventing them from ever walking normally again. Even if the shackle is removed, their misshapen hooves prevent them from galloping or even cantering.
The pottoks' fat stomachs might give the impression they are well-fed. In reality they are undernourished from feeding only on grass, often grazing the same worn patch. Indeed, to eat their fill pottoks need to move from place to place, which isn't easy when shackled, and even then this isn't always enough. Only a rare few pottoks display solid muscles and a glossy coat. Good breeders feed their ponies extra hay, but sadly they are an exception.
One of the reasons the situation has deteriorated this far is European financial incentives. The pottok is an endangered breed, which incited the European Union to launch a scheme in support of pottok breeders. Sadly, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, as this has incited some unscrupulous individuals to breed "false" pottoks that end up as horse meat.One Voice has responded with legal action, a petition to ban shackling and ear-docking, and a formal request to install cattle grids that will prevent the ponies from wandering onto roads.