Annual Pony Drift Sale - Interview with Martin Smith

This years pony sale will be held on Thursday 8th October 2020 at Chagford.

DEFRA recognise the value of these ponies and to that end they have given us the opportunity to manage the sale in a way which is beneficial to the ponies and will make the new owners experience a good one. The Oct 2019 drift sale was run
by FDHP volunteers partnered with the Dartmoor Hill Pony Association (an Independent Voice for the Pony Keepers of Dartmoor). Despite complicated administration tasks, the sale was a roaring success. 284 ponies sold on the day for higher prices
than any fetched in the last 20 years.

Martin Smith at ChagfordInterview with Martin Smith April 2020.

  • Q. How did you get involved with the charity and the annual pony auction?
    • A. Bad luck, and purely by accident, whilst my wife was working with Charlotte I happened to have a conversation with Charlotte about the passporting issues and the Pony auction process. Charlotte explained that they have on previous occasions been producing passports until 2 am the following morning after the auction just in order for the buyers to take their ponies away from the auction site. So I got to thinking about how I could improve the process.
  • Q. So what skills did you think you had that could benefit the process.
    • A. I’m lucky that my career in industry gave me skills in planning, finance and project management, bid management and engineering, so was used to solving problems and delivering solutions and getting results.
  • Q. So what did you do to help Charlotte’s problem with the passports for the auction?
    • A. Initially I had to understand the requirements of both DEFRA and the farmers selling their ponies and the Friends of the Dartmoor Hill Pony Association and learn about a whole new environment/subject and all the issues it comes with.
  • Q. So after understanding the issues with the auction what did you then do. 
    • A. Essentially I redrew the whole process out from end to end on paper to show who, where and when things had to take place. Then I allocated owners for each part of the process, and identified where we needed hardware, numbers of people and where external support would be required. As an outsider I was also able to question why things had to be done a certain way and I wanted to challenge some of the existing ways things had always been done and also why DEFRA needed things to be done in a certain way.
  • Q. So what did you do next?
    • A. Having a better understanding of the process I was able to build a prototype database system that we could demonstrate to see whether we had covered all the requirements, I then presented this to the team (including the Pet ID passporting Office) and once it was agreed it with them, we then wrote to DEFRA in March 2019 explaining how we planned to produce the Temporary Identification Document (TID) with a photo of the pony for the 2019 pony auction at Chagford and provided a detailed process and the plan of how we were going to deliver it.
  • Q. What did DEFRA say to your proposal?
    • A. Due to Brexit negotiations DEFRA finally agreed to the proposal 2 weeks before the auction was to take place, we therefore had to take a big risk that they would agree the proposal. We had no choice but to get on with the job of organising everything before we had DEFRA approval.
  • Q. What were the biggest tasks you had to do for the auction.
    • A. Essentially we were in a field with no electricity or internet connectivity and so we had to build a network of computers, printers and laminators that would all work off a couple of generators. All the PC’s and printers had to talk to each other because each operator had to be able to access the common database which held all the buyers, sellers, pony lot numbers and the microchip numbers information as each pony was chipped. This then generated the one page Temporary Identification Document to which we then had to add the photograph of each pony (printed) for each pony sold. The ponies were coming through the auction process at roughly one every 30 seconds. So no pressure then!!
  • Q. So did it all work on the day of the auction?
    • A. Apart from a few minor technical issues which we overcame it did work and we managed to send off 285 ponies with Temporary identification Documents by the end of the auction and we were packed ready to go home about 17:00 on the day.
  • Q. So it was a big success?
    • A. Yes the auction was, the DEFRA requirement is complex, add in the environment and that several stakeholders needed to do their part, meant the process is not simple. From a Seller / Buyer prospective I tried to make it as transparent as possible so that that once the pony was sold all that was needed was cash from the buyer and the paperwork (TID) was handed over, and the new owner could leave the site. Behind the scenes 3 of us had to work hard for the following 3 days with Charlotte working several more days after to complete the full paperwork pack and send it off to the passport issuing office for the full passport to be generated post the auction and send it to the new owner.
  • Q. So what changes if any are you working on for this years auction in 2020?
    • A. Following the successful auction DEFRA came and visited us as we had proposed some further changes to the passport process. To simplify it and automate it further to enable the previously Temporary Passport to become the full passport for all ponies sold at the auction, to do this we had to agree that the silhouette page would be replaced by a photo of the pony and this was agreed in principle with DEFRA at our meeting.