Eriskay pony

Tales from a Wild Heart 2 -Finding the Eriskay ponies

Mar 28, 2022 | Tales from a wild heart | 3 comments

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It had taken me several weeks to plan my adventure to the remote island of Eriskay, way up in the outer Hebrides. I had decided that it would be a fabulous idea to combine my photography trip with a much needed family break too! So along with my partner, daughter and two dogs, we all just about fitted into the car and began our journey!

I had the long but very beautiful drive to Oban, stopping of course at the best services in the World (Tebay) then getting a 5 hour ferry journey to Barra Island itself. The ferry journey to Barra Island was a long bumpy affair which caused me to feel a little queasy around the halfway mark but after a mix of some pills and fresh sea air, by hour five I was over the moon as the ferry got closer and closer to land. Once I had driven off the ferry and on to Barra island, The wind was blowing, I was so struck at how barren and beautiful Barra Island was. I’d never been anywhere as raw and naturally breathtaking.

There was one single narrow road which led all around the island with smaller roads leading to various places of interest and small hamlets and a handful of restaurants. But as we reached our accommodation for the next few nights, our car suddenly decided to give up! Luckily, I managed to free wheel it into a parking space and to be honest I was so shattered I locked the car and decided to deal with it tomorrow morning after some sleep.

We had some lovely locals look over the car and it turned out that there was a loose connection due to the bumpy ferry ride over which had made the car go a little nuts (technical term). Thankfully this sorted in no time at all and we were able to have a good look around Barra island.

 

Barra is an island in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland, and the second southern most inhabited island there, after the adjacent island of Vatersay to which it is connected by a short causeway. The population is of around just over a thousand people. Did you know that it is the only place in the world where scheduled flights land on a beach. Which is just amazing to watch!

It’s a beautiful  place which I fell in love with instantly. The nature is abundant with wildlife such as the nosey Barra seals and plenty of wildflowers. The allure of the Hebrides isolation was captivating. We were also very lucky with the weather, we had beautiful blue skies which looked heavenly against the white sandy beaches.

 

After a few days of exploring Barra island I was so excited to continue my trip to Eriskay island to photograph the rare Eriskay ponies. The ferry ride to Eriskay island was thankfully a lot more calm, it took only one hour to get there from Barra island. I wasn’t disappointed when I arrived on the island, Eriskay is an island and community council area of the Outer Hebrides in northern Scotland with a population of just 143 locals (as of the 2011 census). It lies between South Uist and Barra and is connected to South Uist by a causeway which was opened in 2001. 

Many visitors to Eriskay depart enchanted by the ponies that roam freely across their island home. They are known in Gaelic as ‘Each Beag nan Eilean’ (Small Island Horse), the Eriskay Ponies is the last surviving native Hebridean pony breed. They are generally grey in colour, with a dense waterproof coat to protect them from the harsh island weather with ancient Celtic and Norse roots, they are akin to other northern breeds, such as the Faroe pony and the Icelandic horse. They are also similar to drawings and sketches of ponies on the ancient Pictish stones which can be found in north and west Scotland.

Until the mid 19th century, the ponies had quite a large population and were used for general crofting work and light draught but with increased intensification of farming numbers began to fall due to crossbreeding with larger breeds such as Arabs and Clydesdales to produce ponies that could cope with heavier tasks.

By the early 1970’s, the population had declined to around 20, and although their status remains critical on the rare breed survival trust the work by the Eriskay Pony Society and others, involving preservation of the original genetic material and careful breeding programmes, mean there are now around 300 breeding females registered in the world. Because of this the Eriskay pony was on my list to photograph for my Wild Hearts project about native breeds.

Before arriving on Eriskay Island, I had some advice from the Eriskay pony society and spoke with some lovely ladies who gave me guidance on where to see the ponies. I was told that the ponies should be quite easy to find as during the month of May the weather is still not too hot so they should be low down on the island.

Well, I hadn’t anticipated an unusual heat wave, so as the hours went by I was getting increasingly worried that I wouldn’t be able to find the ponies. So I had no choice but to deviate from my original plan of travelling around the island and went up onto the mountains in search of the Eriskay Ponies. As I gradually climbed higher and higher with no luck finding the ponies with only birds of prey for company I decided to walk a little further with Ben Scrien (the highest point of outer hebridean island of Eriskay) looming even higher than the mountain I was on, I suddenly spotted in the distance some white tails swishing! I picked up my pace in the blazing sun and got my trusty camera out of my heavy bag and attached  my 70mm -200 L series lens, took a breath and began photographing the beautiful Eriskay Ponies. 

The herd I was photographing were so calm and peaceful, they were grazing, playing and surveying their land.  There was just me, my camera, the sound of birds sharing a moment with these curious critically rare ponies up on the mountains. It was such a special moment which I will treasure forever. The journey took miles in total and was worth every moment I spent travelling to find the Eriskay Ponies. I hope you like the video and some of the photographs I created for my Wild Hearts book and exhibition.

Here’s a little video of our adventures!

 

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3 Comments

  1. Colin Thomas

    Thank you Esther for including me on your expedition to see this rare native breed of Eriskay ponies.
    Breeds like this must be protected they play an important role in conservation and are the culture and heritage of their natural habitat.

    Reply
    • esther@esthermarie-photography.co.uk

      Thanks so much for your expertly said comment Colin. I really hope my Wild Hearts project helps highlight our native rare breeds and the important role they play in conservation, heritage, culture and the natural habitat that some rare breeds live on.

      Reply
  2. zoritoler imol

    Having read this I thought it was very informative. I appreciate you taking the time and effort to put this article together. I once again find myself spending way to much time both reading and commenting. But so what, it was still worth it!

    Reply

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