Despite the obstacles Netta LeDrew continues to open her heart to Newfoundland Ponies
CHANGE ISLANDS — She has a gentle face with red hair that hangs on either side and she’ll nuzzle your hand for extra petting if you pull it away too soon. Her eyes are warm and intelligent as she regards you, checking to see if you might have any treats for her. She’s gentle with the children as they poke grass through the fence. She is still young — just two — and likes to frolic with the other youngsters her age.
The pony’s name is Kate and she is royalty in the corral, named after Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge. The choice of a name for this beautiful pony born at the Change Islands Pony Sanctuary Inc. wasn’t random. She was named by Sharon Johnston, wife of Governor General David Johnson during their visit to Change Islands in 2011 to commemorate the marriage and visit by the youngest royal couple with a promise to inform the Duchess of the naming when they met. Mrs. Johnston had said that it was ironic to name the pony after the Duchess, considering she is allergic to horse hair. But Kate she became and she’s one of 11 ponies currently calling the sanctuary on Change Islands home and one of three born that year on the island.
The facility is in need of upgrades but it’s not as simple as just picking up a hammer.
But Kate’s home isn’t a castle. In fact it is just barely sufficient. Warm and humane certainly and far better than the fate the ponies faced before Netta LeDrew became part of the organization. And when she set about enthusiastically with a goal of securing land and funding for the new barn and pastures, every step she took towards that end seems to encounter a road block.
But first some background information starting with Netta LeDrew. Ms. LeDrew is a remarkable caretaker of this, still endangered, breed of ponies. An amateur horsewoman when she started, she had only dreamed of owning her own horse since she was a small child.
“I would tear off home from school, change out of my good clothes and head up to the barn,” she said.
The family’s first pony was Joe and later they had a second named Dawe.
“I did all of the work with the horses just for that moment when Dad handed me the reins,” she recalls. But the time of the workhorse faded away with the introduction of snowmobiles to do the work that horses formerly had done and the pony population on Change Islands disappeared over time as it did throughout the entire province.
That delight is evident in her eyes as she relays how she came to be involved with the refuge that has become a destination for horse lovers from all over the world.
In 2004 Beverley Stevens contacted her. Ms. Stevens lived in Ottawa and was interested in purchasing a Newfoundland pony. Ms. LeDrew was working at Seven Oakes Tourist Home at the time and her name had been suggested as a potential candidate to take care of a pony. But there was no barn for the pony and although it was suggested it could just graze outside, she personally felt that they needed a shelter, both for the pony and for herself as a worker. So as much as she wanted to take the offer, she declined and there was no purchase of a pony at that time. She had all but forgotten the offer when she received a second call that spring with a more intriguing offer.
Ms. Stevens had researched the breed and to her chagrin had discovered that there were less than 100 Newfoundland ponies in existence. Her shock and the near total extinction of this sweet and purely Newfoundland breed of ponies had put an idea in her mind.
“How do you feel about starting a breeding program?” she proposed to Ms. LeDrew.
Her love of horses and the opportunity to be paid to care for them made the decision easy. A location was found, shelter was built and the Change Islands Newfoundland Pony Refuge was formed.
Their first pony from Fogo Island was brought over in the pan of a truck. His name was Prince.
The organization then acquired three mares from Carl Clouter — Colby, Princess and Charm. They set the mares on pasture that summer with the stud Comfort Lamont to let nature take its course.
And while she was somewhat of a novice, Ms. LeDrew admits in retrospect, all of the time in the barn with her father when she was a girl came back to her the very first time she put a bridle on one of the new ponies. Her past experience, her eagerness to learn and her unquantifiable love of the animals in her care guaranteed her success.