A dedicated husband and wife team behind a sanctuary which has rescued more than 70 emaciated ponies and brought them back to being fit and healthy have made a heartfelt plea to supporters to help them get through the winter.
Woodfield Animal Sanctuary in Llanrhidian is run by Robbie Bartington and David Wallis, who moved from Hertfordshire to Swansea eight years ago to retire and live life at a slower pace in a destination where many childhood holidays had been spent.
But those plans changed when they rescued a pony, which led to a “never ending stream” of horses being left on their land, which included 20 in one go on occasion.
They have arrived in devastating states, with Mrs Bartington, 67, explaining how around 60% to 70% were emaciated on arrival, others neglected, having been involved in road accidents, some having been orphan foals, and others colts and stallions who needed castrating.
Their mission has been to restore their physical and mental wellbeing, taking them from being “neglected and petrified ponies” to a stage where they allow people back into their lives. They have a policy of never separating foals from their mothers, or two horses who have formed a bond.
The kind-hearted duo raise money to look after the animals through annual open days, which also give them the opportunity to have bucket collections, adoption schemes and donation forms.
But restrictions around the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has meant that it has not been possible for those fundraising opportunities to take place.
But the ponies have still kept arriving, putting the animal sanctuary in an immensely difficult situation.
“This year with the financial crisis we all find ourselves in, unwanted ponies have poured through our gates,” Mrs Bartington explained.
“One of the worst sides to my job is making harsh decisions.
“Turning some one away can mean life or death to a pony. I am struggling with this part. In the last two weeks I have had five different people ring up saying if we don’t take their unwanted old horses they will be put to sleep.
“I spend at least four to five hours a day ringing round everywhere to see if some other charity can help. But unlike us, most sanctuaries have a cut off amount, so no more than 30 ponies in at any one time.
“And in most cases, they will only take in ones that eventually can be re-homed.
“I have already been e-mailing and ringing round to try to find foster homes, to hold off the threat that they will be put to sleep if not collected in a short timescale.
“We now have 70 something ponies under cover, with full tummies, and beds to lay down on, out of the wind and rain.
“Because of Covid we have not been able to have our open days. On our open days we would have buckets spread around and people would put £5 in. That’s one of the ways we have lost income.
“When people would come in they’d also sign up to an adoption scheme where £10 a year could adopt a pony. There would also be something we’d do to set up monthly donation forms where people would donate say £3 a month. That’s another way we would raise money.
“We have got to the stage where we can’t really get through to the Spring. We normally have all of our hey and straw in our barns by October/ November time. The prices have gone up as has that of hard feed.”
The animal charity is asking its supporters to do one of a number of things to help out their current plight.
They need volunteers, for whom a hot meal or sandwich will be provided.
They also are asking for people to foster a pony for the winter months, with the expenses paid entirely by the animal charity.
Fundraising is vitally important, and they are appealing for anyone who is able to set up a monthly charity direct debit, even if it is £1, to do so.