Bar Lazy M7 Ranch near Millet, Alta., is home to eight Newfoundland Ponies, a breed which only has approximately 500 ponies left worldwide.
In 2020 only 15 Newfoundland ponies were born worldwide, two of which were born at Bar Lazy M7. This spring Bar Lazy M7 has welcomed another member to their family with the birth of Newfoundland Pony filly M7 Sweet Silver on April 16, 2021, with another pony birth expected any day now.
Shamus and Cari McDonnell say they bought their first two Newfoundland Pony mares in 2016 as a retirement project for Cari.
Cari’s parents lived in Newfoundland when they were first married and she felt a connection to the breed named for the province she had personal ties to. In combination with her five-foot-zero height and a need for more Newfoundland pony breeders to help the breed survive, Cari quickly fell in love with the mild tempered, small horses that have an excellent adaptability to unpredictable Alberta weather.
“The Newfoundland Pony is just known for [their] kind heart. Gentle, excellent temperaments, they learn well, they train well, [and] they can be mischievous. One thing they are not like a typical pony, they are not that stubborn sass kind of thing,” says Cari.
“I wanted something that was manageable for me.”
Given their favourable traits, the Newfoundland Pony has become an integral part of many families in Newfoundland.
In the past the Pony was relied on to work the land, haul logs and fishing nets, haul kelp from the beaches, and transport the family before machines came an intrinsic part of society. As their numbers grew the breed became overpopulated enough that the ponies were sought after by slaughterhouses and dinner tables in Belgium and France.
In the 1980s it was discovered that the breed’s numbers had dropped to a staggering 100 Newfoundland Ponies remaining, which prompted a group of concerned Newfoundland citizens to create the Newfoundland Pony Society.
The Society convinced the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador that the Newfoundland Pony is a living part of the province’s cultural history and that the breed should be granted legal protection to maintain their survival and a healthy population.
Every registered Pony is tested to confirm its heritage, and in order to qualify for breeding, the results must show the Pony is 100 per cent Newfoundland Pony. Currently there are also no diseases or defects currently known specific to the Pony.
In the past 40 years the numbers of Newfoundland Ponies have slowly risen with the help of breeders across Canada who have taken on the challenge of increasing the breed’s numbers.
“Every Pony counts,” says Cari. “That’s almost the mantra of the Newfoundland Pony Society and all the believers of the Pony.”
“They believe it is the responsibility of the owner’s to protect the bloodline. If I have a colt born I’m supposed to help ensure that he at least gets a chance to breed once.”
In Alberta there are only two known breeding stallions in Alberta, both have come from Ontario in the last two years.
The McDonnells say that establishing a breeding program for the ponies at their ranch was an uphill struggle. Obstacles kept coming their way from one stallion’s failed registration to another’s failed semen production before the couple purchased a proven stallion from Eastern Canada which resulted in two foals able to be fully registered being born in 2020. They say the foals are destined to help remove the breed from the critically endangered list.
“When I first decided to get into these ponies it was hard to find them, there are not a lot in Alberta,” says Cari.
Bar Lazy M7’s stallion, Cannon Skipper Chaffet NPS#812, or more affectionately called Lucky by the McDonnells, was rescued from a struggling farm in Newfoundland by another breeder before making his way to Alberta. Lucky has sired three foals in Alberta so far, with another expected to arrive any day now.
The two Newfoundland Pony mares having foals this spring are first time moms.
The McDonnells are excited to help the Newfoundland Pony breed continue to grow and have more people appreciate the beauty and resilience of the gentle mannered breed. They say the Pony has more potential than just a stereotypical child’s mount or to pull a small cart; they can also excel as lesson ponies, dressage and jumpers, to cowboy challenges and team penning.
Cari believes their full potential is still untapped.