Eriskay Pony Society Autumn Meeting

The autumn meeting of the Eriskay Pony Society will be held on Saturday, 24th September at the home of Ruth and Steve McMinn in Aberdeenshire. The main feature of the day will be a talk by Alex Middler of Craigmancie Stud, who will share her knowledge which has been gained over a lifetime of educating humans and equines. She will be passing on tips and techniques for handling and training horses and ponies of all ages with a special emphasis on how to have a well mannered and happy stallion. Alex will demonstrate her methods with a 3 year old Eriskay colt.

There will also be a chance to view the extensive photographic collection of Donald and Mary McGillivray who will talk about the work that has been carried out to preserve the breed and the stallions that helped from the early days onwards.

After lunch, we will head to the fields to meet Ruth and Steve’s ponies and have an informal discussion about managing hardy good-doers, keeping fat at bay, pasture management and the track system. This will be an excellent opportunity to share ideas and knowledge.

This friendly and informal meeting, which starts at 11am, is open to anyone interested in the Eriskay pony, member of the Society or not, but booking is essential to allow for sufficient catering. Please contact Ruth on secretary@eriskaypony.org if you would like more information or if you want to book a place.

RBST Scotland Native Breed Society of the Year Award

The Eriskay Pony Society was delighted to be announced as the winner of the inaugural RBST Scotland Food and Farming Sustainability Award for the Native Breed Society of the Year during a presentation at the Royal Highland Show. The award, which was sponsored by Sarah’s Rosettes, is for a native breed society, recognised by RBST, that has done the most to represent their breed during the year in Scotland.

The Society won the award for their ongoing work with their DNA project, the online breeding conference they had held, the use of SPARKS to identify good genetic pairings and their ongoing support for their members and breeders. It was particularly noted that the Society offered advice and support to pony owners whether they were members or not and that their DNA project was open to all Eriskay ponies. The award was presented by RBST Chair of the Board of Trustees John Atkinson to EPS Chair Catriona Rowan, Vice President Donald McGillivray and Breeding Advisor Mary McGillivray.

The RBST Scotland Food & Farming Sustainability Awards were designed to highlight the credentials of rare and native breeds as being part of the solution to many issues arising as a result of climate change and the changing environment and they identify that native breeds are a crucial part of our biodiversity having evolved to be here. They are part of the natural environment and RBST Scotland created the brand new initiative to reinforce the link between rare and native breeds of farm livestock and equines and the Scottish agricultural and cultural landscape. More information about the Rare Breeds Survival Trust can be found at www.rbst.org.uk

Eriskay Pony Society to work with RBST and Nottingham Trent University on biggest ever DNA project

In a ground breaking move the Eriskay Pony Society is engaging with genetics experts at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) to carry out the biggest ever survey of Eriskay Pony DNA, as they work to protect and promote this critically endangered native breed.

Thanks to a successful bid from the Society for funding from the Horserace Betting Levy Board, coupled with a contribution from the Society’s own funds – and following a rigorous assessment of available options – the Society has approached Nottingham Trent University to carry out a comprehensive and detailed DNA analysis of the breed. The results of this analysis will be used, in conjunction with the Rare Breed Survival Trust’s Equine Conservation project, to help inform all future breeding plans and decision making for this critically endangered breed. The analysis, being carried out by NTU’s Medical Technologies Innovation Facility (MTIF) and School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences, involves Professor Philippe Wilson, Dr Samuel White and Dr Andy Dell.

Catriona Rowan, Chair of the Eriskay Pony Society explained: “This is a very welcome step forward in our efforts to protect and promote this ancient yet versatile breed. 

“With such a small gene pool we cannot just rely on the look of ponies and studbook information to make our breeding matches. With the help of RBST we have already adopted the SPARKS system of selection which goes some way to prevent inbreeding and help us avoid future problems. However we recognise that science and technology can give us much more accurate understanding of the genetics, flagging up any current or potential future issues and helping us make sure that every animal bred is as healthy and fit for purpose as possible.

“This study, which is open to ANY Eriskay Pony registered with a recognised Eriskay breed society, either The Eriskay Pony Society or Comann Each Nan Eilean (CENE), will give us a great foundation with which to work. It will be a baseline of information for use in our work with the RBST’s Equine Conservation Project which requires us to provide complex information about our genetic profiles.

“We know that the Eriskay Pony has a relatively narrow studbook compared to breeds such as the Cleveland Bay. Narrow pedigrees mean that pedigree analysis alone cannot be relied upon with confidence to estimate inbreeding within the population. Genotyping and sequencing can provide the molecular picture of the genetic health of the breed.

“Our work with Nottingham Trent University will give us assessment of genetic variation and molecular basis of inbreeding within the Eriskay Pony breed which will then be collated in an Eriskay Pony Genetic Archive (EPGA).

“We acquired the HBLB grant to make this analysis possible following a rigorous bidding process, in which we had to submit a detailed and costed proposal and commit a percentage of our own funding.  We’re delighted that we can share access to this project to all pony owners for the overall good of the breed.

“It’s easy for Eriskay owners to get involved.  Simply apply to us by emailing info@eriskaypony.org for a testing kit and we will send it free of charge. It’s a simple process using a hair sample, which must be returned to us by the end of July.

“The more samples we have the better the overall picture we can build of the breed and the more useful the information will be. And ANY registered Eriskay Pony can contribute, no matter the age or breeding status, so it’s a great way for all owners to support the future of the breed.  We’ll also be happy to collaborate with other breed societies who may wish to participate in this project. At every point of the way we’ve taken advice from the RBST, and once we gained the HBLB funding we consulted widely, took expert advice and looked a several options before deciding that the service provided by NTU was the best fit for our purposes.

“We’re confident that this move, together with our wider work in conjunction with other rare equine breed societies in the RBST Equine Conservation Project will move our studbook to a new level of accuracy and lay a good base for further work.”

Nottingham Trent University scientist Professor Philippe Wilson said: “It is a great pleasure to be working with colleagues to deliver this paradigm-shifting project for the Eriskay breed. We will be employing state of the art genotyping technologies in order to support a detailed understanding of the genetic status of the Eriskay and will work closely with the breed society to really deliver impact directly to the breeders. As a direct extension of the work we have undertaken on the Cleveland Bay, we hope to see our population management system and molecular genetics approaches used more widely in native breeds going forward.”

RBST Chief Executive Christopher Price said “This genetics project will enable us to obtain a detailed understanding of the breed which can in turn be used to support future work. This work alongside the Equine Conservation Project will be extremely beneficial to the breed. The Eriskay Pony Society have been very strategic in how they have approached this project in terms of identifying a need and obtaining the required funding, an approach that could be utilised by other breed societies’

To find out more or order a DNA kit for your pony please email info@eriskaypony.org

SPARKS 2022

As the breeding season approaches, we’re delighted to say that our 2022 SPARKS data sheets are now available. These sheets are designed to help you, as owners, to make informed choices about which stallion to pair with which mare both to give you a great genetic match for your breeding stock, and help us all make the most of our precious bloodlines to preserve the health and vitality of the breed.

Owners should also be aware that, under the rules that regulate Passport Issuing Organisations, we MUST confirm the identity of all breeding stock before offspring can be entered into the studbook. In common with most breed societies we carry out this identification by DNA sampling.  For this reason, before you send your mare to a stallion, it is vitally important that you check that the stallion you are intending to use to cover your mare has provided the required DNA sample. If you use a stallion whose DNA has not been sampled it will be impossible to register any subsequent foal in the main register of the Eriskay Pony Society studbook.

You can easily check whether a stallion has been tested by contacting registrar@eriskaypony.org, who will be happy to confirm which stallions have had DNA submitted and which therefore are suitable for use as a stud.

SPARKS (Single Population Analysis and Records Keeping System) is a computer-based breed analysis system developed by Dr Andy Dell which, used in conjunction with the GENES genetic analysis programme, can help breeders choose the optimum pairing of male and female to help maintain the genetic diversity.  The key aim of SPARKS is to help reduce the depletion of genetic diversity that can pose a serious threat to the existence of small populations. The data is updated each year and the information provided helps breeders choose pairings that will give the progeny a lower mean kinship than both of the parent animals.    

At The Eriskay Pony Society, we are very grateful to Dr Dell for allowing and supporting the use of SPARKS and also to the Rare Breed Survival Trust for their continuing advice, support and encouragement.  

All owners, members or not, can request a copy of the SPARKS sheet for their stallion or mare which will give details of all suitable matches.  Members of the Society can also apply for a breeding grant to help with costs such as transport, livery and vet fees and this is targeted at those intending to breed with ponies which show a good match on the system. 

Our Breeding Advisor, Mary McGillivray, and Registrar Lorna Holden have years of personal experience and expertise with Eriskay pony breeding. They can offer sound advice to help you throughout the process of finding a match for your mare, and we hope, breeding a foal.

If you would like a SPARKS sheet for your pony, please contact Mary (info@eriskaypony.org) or Lorna (registrar@eriskaypony.org)

Eriskays on the BBC.

Eriskay ponies featured on Radio 4’s Farming Today programme when Nancy Nicolson spoke to Mary and Donald McGillivray about the breed.

Listeners heard about the history and original use of the breed whilst Mary harnessed up Baravalla Morrigan with traditional creels. Mary also spoke about the Eriskay Pony Society’s use of the SPARKS breeding programme, recommended by the Rare Breed Survival Trust, which identifies the best genetic matches to minimise inbreeding which is a risk in small populations.

To listen to the programme click here https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0014g1j