"It warms my heart to see this"
"I've walked in the Urusya mountains for sixty years and it's the first time I've seen this. It warms my heart", wrote a resident of the Basque village of Hasparren in 1999, on seeing for the first time that Basque pottoks no longer wore shackles.
Sixty years. No-one can remember a time when pottok ponies lived without a heavy wooden block clamped to their leg, hindering their movement and rubbing raw their skin. Clearly One Voice's action in the field since 1998 has made a vast difference. Fewer ponies are now being shackled, though One Voice remains vigilant, continues to survey the situation, and reports "unenlightened" breeders.
Our petition caused a stir from the day it was launched. Breeders became more wary, keeping an eye open for One Voice representatives, for example at horse fairs, or removing shackles from their ponies as a precaution in case locals should report them to One Voice. The campaign also drew riding schools' attention to the ill-treatment to which many pottoks were subjected.
The petition was sent to Brussels where the Directorate-general for Agriculture paid financial incentives to pottok breeders… a windfall that has since been ended However, the French ministry of agriculture stepped in with a national scheme, which in 2003 paid €153 for each "identified" stud in order to preserve the breed.
One Voice has also asked the European authorities to finance installation of cattle grids. This will enable ponies to move between pastures without breeders claiming shackles are necessary to prevent them from straying onto the road. One Voice also continues to campaign to end ear-docking, whereby notches are cut into the ponies' ears to identify them.
8,000 years of history
Humans first settled in the south-west region of France after the last glaciation, some 8,000 years B.C. They cleared land near rivers, forcing the wild horses that lived there to move higher and higher up the mountains as human settlements expanded. As the centuries passed, pottoks were displaced to the coldest, most arid regions of the Pyrenees. They were never domesticated on farms, although they play an important role in maintaining the mountain environment by grazing the grass that sheep dont eat.