Mountain Ponies – Brecon Beacons, Wales

Following centuries of tradition, the spirit of the long-maned Welsh Mountain Ponies dominates the sweeping landscape of the Brecon Beacons National Park today, as much as any other time in the past.

For my family, they will forever remind us of our close friend Nia Starkey, who grew up and lived on Pentywn Farm (Cantref, nr. Brecon) where our much-loved house Llwyn-y-fron is located.

Even though the sadness of Nia’s passing at such a young age two years ago remains, I cannot help but smile at the thought of her laughing, shaking her head or beaming away when recounting the endeavours of her own horse womanship. Nia has left many with long-lasting memories of a young girl totally engaged with horses and the surrounding Beacons countryside where she grew up.

Nia’s love for horses is unsurprising given that her family-heritage is tied up with these hill ponies, cut from the same landscape as her, where all these photos were taken. Her great grandparents set up and ran the remote farmstead-style Cui Stud in 1937. Which already feels like a yesteryear chapter from Bruce Chatwin novel ‘On The Black Hill’.

Although tougher and hardier survivors than the sheep, especially during the winter months, these ’Section A’ ponies owe their very survival and modern-day existence to the ever-dwindling numbers of dedicated local breeders. In Nia’s great-grandparents and grandmother’s case, the story of mountain pony dedication is underpinned by a strong maternal lineage.

Sal (standing), Jill and Libby Richards 1940s

Tested to the full when her great-grandfather William died in 1954, leaving Betty Richards (great grandmother) and her three daughters Libby (grandmother), Jill and Sal to run Cui Stud with 20 mares and 2 stallions.

This was a tough and particularly unique gig when one considers the traditional male-dominated world that farming was in those days. Nia’s fiery spirit and strength clearly runs in the family.

The Welsh Mountain Ponies (Section A) are the smallest of breeds, characterised by their small heads, large eyes, and thin-chinned Arabian-horse shaped heads. Throw in their fairy-tale manes, that blow with the mountain wind across their angular bone-structured faces, the traditional Brecon Beacons mountain ponies can appear akin to super models on a photoshoot. Their home on the mountains is certainly a far cry from their historical labour down the coal mines, working the docks, or operating as heavy munitions-carriers in previous war zones.

Today their lives are wild and free, amidst some of Britain’s most spectacular and remote mountain scenery.

Free spirits, that are a constant reminded for those of us that knew Nia Starkey. For example, only last week, when I was gathering the upland sheep with her father, brothers and local hill farmers, did we smile at the remarkably rare sight of a stray pony, collected off the hill in the pens amongst the sheep.

“It is as if Nia is helping us bring in all the sheep” – Rowan, Nia’s elder brother.

11 replies
  1. Seamus Hamill-Keays says:

    A marvellous exhibition of Cui ponies. I live in H. Llewellyn Richard’s final house in Llansantffraed, Yr Allt, and, whilst admiring everything Sarah and her family have achieved with the Cui Stud, I’d like to know where Llewellyn, of the Criban Stud, is interred. Can you please help? He died in 1982 but I don’t know the exact date.

  2. Thomas Jones says:

    Nia, Welsh mountain ponies and Brecon Beacons entwined in our family history – lovely.

  3. Joyce Morgan-Gervis says:

    Beautiful blog, wonderful reflections of the spirit of Nia. Great pictures too and a reminder of my childhood growing up in the Black Mountains!

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