A while back I headed up to Ely in Cambridgeshire to search out a herd of Konik Ponies, a primitive breed of pony from Eastern Europe who were introduced to the fen, managed by the National Trust, as a grazing project back in 2001. I had seen a few pictures of these ponies and was fascinated by their ‘Grullo’ colouring – a tan-gray on the body, often with dorsal stripes and black barring on the lower legs. This is a rare, unusual breed, descended directly from the Tarpan, the wild European forest horse hunted to extinction in Britain in Neolithic times – and I just couldn’t resist the temptation of a trip up to Cambridgeshire to seek out and capture these horses.
The National Trust says the ponies were introduced into the Fen as a way to help manage the nature reserve: “The ponies are helping to create and maintain habitats for Wicken’s amazing range of wildlife, including some of Britain’s most endangered species” the website says.
I decided to visit Wicken Fen in the summer, as I knew this would be the breeding season for the horses, a time when the stallions will ‘spa’ and fight over the mares and for dominance in the herd. I wanted to capture something close to the true nature of the original wild horse.
I just had 48 hours to spend, so I chose the timings of my shoots carefully, arriving one evening, getting up at 5am to head out to capture some morning light. The evening I arrived there was still a little daylight left so I headed straight into the Fen in search of the herd. I quickly realised the first challenge would be one I had faced on other shoots with native British ponies – Exmoor and Dartmoor – they are hard to find! An hour of walking until dark and not a pony in sight!! The next morning I got up at dawn and was rewarded with a stunning sunny but misty morning light, incredible. The only animals in sight though, were the Highland Cattle, also a part of the Wicken Fen grazing project. The light was so beautiful that I decided I was allowed to capture all the wildlife I came across!
After the sun had risen and a few more miles of walking I found a herd of the ponies at last. I was blown away, they looked so incredibly vibrant, strong and alive, with their long unkempt manes, I could also see the war wounds on the stallions. I spent that first morning watching and capturing, felt mesmerised. I saw the stallions fighting, rearing on back legs, and the beautiful new foals, chasing around the fields and playing. Such a joy to be alone with all this, and a few scary moments when the herd took off and cantered either side of me!
I took a break for rest, lunch, and came back that evening to hunt them down again. This time I was treated to a beautiful sunset, more playing, and the horses grooming each other, resting and grazing. They were curious, looking me straight in the eye, the foals boldly walking up close to say hello. After the sun went down I went off to my hotel for a night’s sleep, got up early again and headed out to see them one more time before leaving.
Their beauty, curiosity, wild nature and spirit was out of this world and pure inspiration.
There are close to 100 ponies in the herd and you can now sponsor one of them via the National Trust for just £30 a year, more information here:
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