Last pit ponies are made redundant

THE LAST two working pit ponies in Britain are due to retire later this year. Until such time, the Welsh Cobs must carry on their daily underground duties, hauling cast iron and steel drams of coal weighing two tons over an uneven railway in the pitch black.

The small, private drift mine of Pantygassed in South Wales, where the ponies are still used, is hard to find. It is hidden in a remote valley, in a once beautiful deep gorge.

The Independent went there last week and watched as Amos, a 13-hands- 2in bay Welsh Cob emerged from the hillside. struggling to keep the heavy load behind him moving. He waited patiently while the coal was unloaded before returning back into the darkness.

In 1913 there were 70,000 pit ponies at work in Britain, according to the Government Digest of Statistics. When the National Coal Board was formed in 1947 it inherited 21,000 pit ponies. By 1952 the total number of working ponies was down to 15,500 and, by 1973, to 490. These figures do not, however, include the thousands of ponies that have been employed over the years in small private mines such as Pantygassed.

Stan Fancy, who bought Pantygassed with its four ponies about a year ago, is planning to mechanise the mine. The ponies, two of which are already no longer needed, will join five other former pit ponies at the RSPCA's Wyndham Cottle Home of Rest for Animals, near Milton Keynes.

Roy Peckham, a trustee of the Fforest Uchaf Horse and Pony Rehabilitation Centre in Pontyridd, has campaigned tirelessly to end the use of ponies in mines.

"There has been no co- ordinated monitoring of the welfare of pit ponies," he said. "The last regulations were laid down in 1956, when the Morris Minor was the new car at the Motor Show and people were worried about Suez."

One miner, who retired two years ago after 24 years in the industry, said he prayed that the pit ponies at Pantygassed really were the last.

"At the end of the day, I was always a collier and the horse had a task to do," he said: "It had to pull 20 drams a day and, if it didn't, I didn't get paid. The horse had to do it. It was not a matter of choice."

Mr Fancy said his pit ponies are well looked after. "If we abused any of these horses we'd have the RSPCA and Health and Safety Executive on to us ... The vet comes when we want him and does a full inspection and inoculation every 12 months. That's the law."

At his home, Mr Peckham fed a Polo mint to a 17-year-old pit pony called Steel, which he rescued last year. Steel wheezed and coughed because of the coal dust on his lungs and refused to move. "He says, `I'm retired and I don't have to do anything I don't want to and you can't make me'," explained Mr Peckham, who entirely understood.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
video
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Amis: Taken to task over rash decisions and ill-judged statements
booksThe Zone of Interest just doesn't work, says James Runcie
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Travel
travelFrom Notting Hill Carnival to Zombeavers at FrightFest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel you sales role is li...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Service Delivery and Support Manager

£55000 - £75000 per annum + excellent benefits: Harrington Starr: Service Deli...

Corporate Tax Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL ...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home