Newfoundland Pony Conservancy moving from Jaffrey to Maine

  • Horses at the Newfoundland Pony Conservancy Center in Jaffrey last summer. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Newfoundland Pony Conservancy in Jaffrey is moving its operations to Palermo, Maine, after a generous gift from an anonymous donor. Courtesy photo—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 9/24/2020 1:22:24 PM

When Emily and George Aho bought their six-acre property in Jaffrey, they thought they had found a permanent home for themselves and their herd of critically endangered Newfoundland ponies. But a recent gift from an anonymous donor has put them on a new path – to a sprawling farm in the MidCoast of Maine.

Emily Aho, Executive Director of the Newfoundland Pony Conservancy Center, said she was first approached by the donor this summer, with an offer of land that included a house, two barns, an indoor riding rink, and fenced pastures. The land will provide all the space the Conservancy Center might need to continue its mission of rescuing, breeding, and educating the public about the Newfoundland Pony breed.

It was a dream offer, Aho said. But it would also mean picking up their operation and moving it out of state.

“We planned to stay here forever,” Aho said, of the Jaffrey farm where the Conservancy is currently stationed. “But it’s about the mission. As much as we don’t want to leave Jaffrey, it’s the best place for the ponies.”

Aho said when she purchased her first Newfoundland pony, she didn’t know anything about the breed. It was only after she was contacted by a breeder, who urged her to breed her own pony, that she began to realize their importance, she said.

As she learned more about the breed, she became one of their strongest advocates. Newfoundland ponies are a landrace, meaning the breed evolved naturally to suit the environment, rather than through selective breeding by humans.

Now, though the Ahos once joked about being buried in the backyard of their Jaffrey farm, they’re taking the herd to Maine, because, as Aho put it, “We’re just following the ponies where they lead.”

The Conservancy has a branch of foster homes that care for the ponies under its purview – about 25, which is more than half of the Newfoundland pony population in the United States. Eleven of the ponies will be making their way this Friday to the new farm with the Ahos, while the remainder will stay with their foster homes.

Aho said leaving Jaffrey means leaving partnerships she’s developed here, such as the collaborative effort with True Hope Therapeutic Horsemanship in Keene, an organization the Conservancy teamed up with to start a “Heal the Heroes” therapeutic program, which is focused on medical and emergency workers on the front lines of COVID-19. Though they won’t be collaborating in close proximity anymore, Aho said both organizations will continue the program in their respective locations.

And, she said, the additional room and resources allows the Conservancy to put much more focus on their breeding program, including using progressive breeding methods to secure rare Newfoundland pony bloodlines.

Securing those bloodlines is the key to continuing the breed. The Conservancy has produced several pureblood Newfoundland foals, including two this year, but it’s something Aho said is likely to step up exponentially with the additional space and resources that will be available.

The extra space also increases the opportunities for educational pursuits, Aho said, and she hopes to eventually sponsor weekend overnights at the farm, to allow visitors to spend a few days getting to know the ponies.

Aho said the donation is an example of what she calls “pony karma.” She said since she embarked on the journey to help preserve these animals, she’s had several points where she almost wasn’t able to continue. This year, with both herself and her husband experiencing some medical issues, and almost all of their programming shut down due to the coronavirus, was another one of those points for her, she said. With costs up, and revenue down, she said she and her husband were looking at a reality of downsizing the herd they could keep on their farm to four ponies, and scaling back the work of the nonprofit to the Heal the Heroes program.

“The ponies just aren’t going to let us do that, apparently,” Aho said. “It seems every time we get to the point we’re about to be done, something beautiful happens.”


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