By Jaymie White
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
SOUTHWEST COAST – A true and avoidable tragedy has taken place at Driftwood Acres, a horse farm owned by Jessica Boyd just outside of Stephenville. A Newfoundland Pony, a breed recognized as an endangered heritage animal by the provincial government, has died. The mare, Little Catalina, suffered a case of severe colic, one that could not be rectified, due to overfeeding of apples by strangers.
The Newfoundland Pony has a population in Canada and the United States of only around 500 to 600 animals, many outside the suitable age for breeding purposes, so the death of even one has an significant and devastating impact.
Boyd adopted Little Catalina from the Newfoundland Pony Society in April 2021 at the age of 11, making her the youngest breeding mare Boyd owned at the time of her passing.
“She was pretty new to me in the scheme of the animals I own, but I’ve known her on some level since she was about two because she was involved with a situation in British Columbia when the owner could no longer care for his herd and the Newfoundland Pony Society stepped in to assist in finding a way to get them a way back to Newfoundland and place them in foster homes, and I was actually involved with the Newfoundland Pony Society at that time,” said Boyd. “She was probably in the worst condition of the herd of 20. She was the youngest as well, so she kind of held a special part of me anyways as it was. I just always saw her as a survivor.”
Boyd said, at the time of the adoption, Little Catalina didn’t come with papers because her sire couldn’t be located, but she still had contact with the family of the original owner in B.C. who gave her names of people to contact, and she was able to track the sire, Dwyer’s Schooner, through a DNA test.
“We found her sire so she was able to be registered and that was really exciting because that’s a young mare that was not otherwise in the registry, and so we had the opportunity now to breed her and let her contribute to the herd, because every one counts when you have such low numbers. Literally every single pony counts. People who have Newfoundland Ponies should be breeding if they are breeding sound, if they’re healthy to do so.”
Boyd had bred Little Catalina previously, but she was unable to maintain a pregnancy. Boyd clarified that she was not breeding for profit.
“It’s nothing to do with money. There’s only so many ponies in the world and if somebody doesn’t do something about it now, there’s going to be no ponies.”
Aside from breeding, Boyd had a lot of plans for Little Catalina.
“I had visions of my daughter riding her in horse shows in the future. I really did. That’s where I was going with her. She was a keeper for sure.”
Boyd said Little Catalina was definitely a character.
“She was always the one running around and prancing in the field. Her tail was always up and she’s picking up her front legs like a fancy little show horse. If you’d pull up to the farm she would call out to you and come over to the fence. She would lead the rest of the ponies, no problem to come over and say hi,” said Boyd. “She was one of my smaller ponies. That made her extra cute. She wasn’t very big. She was only about 400 pounds.”
The day before Little Catalina passed Boyd quickly realized the little mare was in severe pain. The previous day Little Catalina did not exhibiting any symptoms.
“This day, the Friday this all started, she looked like she had lost at least 100, if not 150 pounds, compared to the day before. Her hip bones were sticking out, stomach sucked in. She looked bad,” said Boyd. “She looked very gaunt. She was very reluctant to get to her feet and when I managed to get her to her feet, she was staggering and pawing and kicking at her belly, throwing herself down. She was in pain and she was trying to relieve it by launching herself to the ground and rolling.”
Boyd, who is actually a vet working in Stephenville, called a large animal vet immediately. Both veterinarians did everything they could, and Boyd stayed overnight in the barn with Little Catalina, monitoring her levels, managing her pain, and administering fluids. Even though Little Catalina seemed in better spirits the next day, her vitals told a different story.
Boyd said that many times ponies can seem better, but in reality they are getting sicker, unable to express their pain and discomfort because they are running out of steam.
“She was in just as much pain. She had spiked a fever at this point so we were worried there was an obstruction that’s rupturing internally and there’s no other treatment. We had done literally everything we could between the two of us.”
Unfortunately, Little Catalina was unable to recover and Boyd had to make the heartbreaking decision to end her suffering.
“I knew that’s what needed to be done, but still, she was my pony and I didn’t want to do it. It was really hard. Start to finish it was a really awful time for her and me. I knew it was bad when I found her, but I was hopeful that we could fix it, but we couldn’t fix it.”
Sandra Devoe of Devoe Ranch in Doyles, another farm certified to breed Newfoundland Ponies, said she personally hasn’t had any issues with strangers overfeeding her ponies.
“Mine are right on my property. Our house is right there. Our Newfoundland Ponies, I watch them every morning through my window. They’re only like 20 feet from me. We do farm tours here, but I don’t let people feed the horses.”
Devoe said it’s most likely an occurrence caused by a basic human reaction.
“I think it’s a normal reaction as a human to see a horse and say, ‘okay horses love apples and carrots,’ and I’m honestly thinking they think they’re doing them a favour by giving them treats, but on the other note it could be some random act that could be on purpose as well. But I know that the people that come here, it’s just an act of kindness where they want to feed the animals.”
Devoe has six Newfoundland Ponies on her ranch. She is actively trying to help save the breed.
“I got the stallion from Jessica and we have him with our mares now. He’s been with two already. We’re hoping to have foals in the spring.”
Devoe agrees that the population of the Newfoundland Pony is critical to maintain.
“It’s part of our heritage and they’re such a beautiful creature. I use mine in my riding lessons. We ride ours and they’re just such a gentle creature and they’re so hardy. They are just beautiful all-around animals and they’re a perfect size.”
Boyd said this is not the first time she has had issues with strangers feeding her ponies, who are easily accessible at the paddock in Noel’s Pond, and that, while devastating, this loss serves as a grim reminder for people to not feed animals that they don’t own.
“Just don’t do it, especially without permission. Just ask the owner, ‘is it okay if I feed,’ because they might say yes to a couple people, but it doesn’t mean they want everyone coming up and feeding. It’s about quantity control and when you have someone else’s animals in a public area, and there is people coming by all day long, saying hi to these ponies, if everybody shows up with two apples and there’s 30 people in the run of the day, that’s 60 apples. That’s way too many apples. It’s not good for them. It can make them sick. It can kill them.”