Sylvia Phillips unwittingly started the Devon Horse & Pony Sanctuary in 1976. Although of course she had no idea that it was the beginning of something that would consume her life. She rescued a broken down race horse called Aventura, who was once owned by the Aga Khan. Venture as Sylvia called this poor horse had once been a beautiful and exceptional race horse and had run in prestigious races over the flat. But, as time went by his tendons failed him so after many years of being sold on to different owners he ended up in a local Devon trekking yard. Sylvia had a battle on her hands to rescue him from this life. He was such a sorry sight, very thin and listless with terrible sores, but eventually she succeeded. Along with a 40 year old pony called Sue, these two poor animals were still being allowed to be ridden out on the moors by holiday makers, both were in a terrible state. After many months of good nutritious food, care and lots of love, she managed to return Venture to his magnificent self. Poor Sue died within the year, peacefully but safe and happy. Venture would always remain Sylvia's favourite to the day she died. Sylvia within the community became known as the eccentric lady from Dartmoor who helped animals. There were no other horse rescue charities in the area at this time.
By 1980 friends and family of Sylvia had convinced Sylvia to gain Charity status as by that time she had 30 equines of all different sizes and needs, all with a story of why they needed to be rescued. A few had even been tied to the gate posts or abandoned into the garden during the night. Her passion was to attend the 'Drift Sales' and make sure that foals and young Dartmoor ponies were helped. She would inevitably come home with one or more every year. Click here to read the story of Lucky a Dartmoor pony
The Devon Horse & Pony Sanctuary as a charity was born on the 1st July 1980 and so began the principle of maintaining a small and personal establishment, which allows for each animal to be cared for as an individual and given all the love and attention they deserve.
Since the beginning many children and adults including the disabled and the disadvantaged gained great benefit from close contact with the animals. Many families with disabled children visited, so a carriage was donated by another charity and 'Dolly' the carriage horse would take visitors round the village of Manaton. We still to this day get letters from some of those children who remember it as a happy time in their lives.
In her time Sylvia rescued hundreds of horses and ponies and became very well known within the wider horse rescue world, even helping other charities to become bigger and better but only ever wanting to maintain DHAPS as a small and unique sanctuary.
In later years, Sylvia took up a place on the committee for the prestigious National Equine Welfare Council, whose patron is Princess Ann. In 2003 she met with the Princess who commended her on her life long work.
Roland and Alison Phillips, Sylvia's son and daughter-in-law were always on hand to help out if needed. They have continued the Charity's work since Sylvia's unexpected death in 2009, expanding the sanctuary into France. Since 1993 Sylvia had been taking in retired Police Horses from forces within England but on her death, it was decided to move them to the sister sanctuary in France. If you want to read more about this please visit the website or look at Brantome Police Horses page.