My friend Dee Ivey would have been 100 today, 28 January 2016, and so I am thinking of her especially, and the huge influence she had on me and numerous other pony-loving children. She introduced me to Dartmoor and to its champion Sylvia Sayer, and in so doing she set me on my campaigning career. I owe her so much. This is the obituary I wrote for the Western Morning News in February 2002.
‘There’s something romantic about travelling west’ Dee Ivey once said to me as I arrived at her Dartmoor farm for a childhood holiday. And I knew just what she meant. Hundreds of children travelled west, to be with Dee and her ponies.
Dee, who lived for 41 years at Hillbridge Farm, above the tumbling River Tavy near Peter Tavy, died on 3 February 2002 aged 86.
Love of horses
Dee’s love of horses started when, as a small child, her Uncle Douglas put her on a pony and slapped its quarters, telling Dee to ‘hang on’. Being more frightened of her uncle than the pony she remained glued to the saddle.
During the war she was on Exmoor, where she broke and rode Exmoor ponies. By intellectual contrast, she undertook a remarkable sociological study, for Mass Observation, recording everyday life of Luccombe. This was published in 1947 as Exmoor Village and only last summer Dee was still able to name the faces in the book.
Dee established her own riding school in Buckinghamshire where countless childen spent countless happy hours. Among the carefree chaos there was discipline, for Dee expected everything to be done absolutely correctly for her ponies. When Bucks became too traffic-ridden, she moved to Dartmoor with a lorry-load of ponies.
She arrived at the start of a wet winter in 1960 and her new neighbours were convinced she would not stay. But they didn’t know Dee.
Soon after, Dartmoor faced one of its worst winters and Dee was out on the moor in blizzards rescuing ponies—and there were no mobile phones then. She was a founder member of the Dartmoor Livestock Protection Society (DLPS) and later its chairman. There are still DLPS ponies on her farm today, such as Rufus, rescued from Ashburton market in 1972.
It was tough for a lone woman on Dartmoor. Dee, small and birdlike, but fly and resourceful, was a survivor. Soon she started riding holidays. Money was never her strong point and she charged only £12 a week. It was a week of heaven: lessons from Dee, enthusiastic ponies tugging to gallop on the moor, swims in the Tavy, barbeques by the river. Time was not Dee’s strong point either. On Saturday mornings the stationmaster at Tavistock station would hold the train until the green van full of children came bouncing up the hill. Always short of money, Dee ensured that any spare went to her growing family of ponies.
It’s impossible to count how many ponies found happy homes at Hillbridge in 41 years, or how many children like me discovered the moor—but Dee was the key to it all. She taught us so much and brought us all such happiness.
In 2000 Dee suffered a stroke which confined her to a wheelchair—a tragedy for such an energetic, outdoor person. She died in her own bed with a fire blazing in the grate, while outside 18 plump, contented ponies munched in the fields.
Postcript: Hillbridge is still a heavenly place and, in the efficient and sensitive hands of Marion Saunders with invaluable help from Karla McKechnie, it retains its character and is home to many happy ponies. I am so lucky to have known it all for 51 years, and to have known Dee for 37 of them.
Dee Ivey, 28 January 1916 – 3 February 2002