That’s a Horse of a Different Color
If you’ve ever watched The Wizard of Oz, you’re sure to remember the Horse of a Different Color.
From scene to scene, as it paraded through the Emerald City, the horse’s coat changed shades—from purple to red to yellow. Those who worked behind the scenes said this was achieved by dabbing Jell-O gelatin crystals onto the horse for each take.
A charity in Dartmoor in the U.K. is taking that concept a step further by adding its own wash of color to the free-roaming ponies in the area.
The Dartmoor ponies are getting a swipe on the side with a coating of blue reflective paint in order to raise their visibility at night, when they may wander onto the roads and into the paths of drivers.
It is hoped that the blue glow from the reflective coating will catch a night driver’s eye and slow them down, the BBC reported.
A rise in livestock deaths resulting from traffic encounters is credited with this move to make the animals more highly visible. More than 60 livestock animals have died on the roads of the Devon moor this year, The Guardian reports, which is up from past years’ figures.
A project of the Dartmoor Livestock Protection Society (DLPS), after testing the concept, the paint program will be extended to cattle and sheep as well.
The idea to use a reflective coating on the wandering animals came from Lapland, where shepherds sprayed a reflective paint on the antlers of their reindeer to make them more visible in the dark.
There, too, the intention was to prevent traffic accidents, in which approximately 4,000 Finnish reindeer die annually, the BBC reported in 2014.
Karla McKechnie, DLPS livestock protection officer, took this idea to an area manufacturer, who donated the waterproof paint so she could test its durability on the animals.
"The ponies are especially at risk in winter because they come down from the moors to escape the cold,” McKechnie told Sky UK.
"They like to lick the salt from the gritted roads—they get a taste for the salt—and some get hit by vehicles."
Reflective yellow collars and antler tags had been tested previously on reindeer in Norway as well, The Telegraph reported.
However, an earlier test of reflective neck and ankle collars on the Dartmoor ponies proved futile and expensive, as they were pulled off the animals as they wandered through the vegetation.
Protecting the Ponies
The Dartmoor ponies, which date back to AD 1012, aren’t wild animals, but rather farm animals that are let out to graze on the moors. Their numbers have dropped from 30,000 in 1950 to only 1,500 today, according to the BBC.
The waterproof paint has been tested effectively on two ponies so far. McKechnie also plans to embed reflective beads in the paint to aid in durability.
Unlike the Horse of a Different color, the whole animal will not be painted. Each pony will only get a stripe of color around their sides, their rear quarters and their tails.
In addition to the question of the paint’s durability, testing must take the ponies’ cycle of shedding into consideration. Ponies shed their coats twice a year.
McKechnie told The Telegraph that the testing was still "early days, but the trial was going well."
Of Ponies and Paint
Coincidentally, this isn’t the only time this month the Dartmoor ponies and paint have made the news.
When Saga Car Insurance shared details of the strange animal-related claims it’s seen in the past year, one case involved the Dartmoor ponies.
As the Mirror reported Tuesday (Oct. 6), a driver who parked to go on a hike in Dartmoor National Park came back to find twelve of the animals licking the paint off his car—leaving behind £1,200 (US $1,842) worth of damage to the paint job.