The New Forest Pony, the Architects of the Forest
One of the most iconic and distinctive features of the New Forest are her ponies. New Forest ponies still roam freely and ‘wild’ through much of the New Forest. They are not completely wild though, they belong to The Commoners of the New Forest. These Common rights date back to the time of William the Conquerer. The Common right of pasture; is a right afforded to New Forest Commoners who can keep ponies, cattle, donkeys or mules and pigs on the Forest. These animals are known as the Commoners’ ‘stock’. In 2011 there were around 4500 ponies ‘depastured’ on to the Forest.
A hardy breed
The New Forest Pony is not a descendent of any ponies who made it to English soil when the Spanish Armada was wrecked as some have recorded, but an ancient breed of pony who even before history grazed and foraged in the forest. These are hardy, robust animals, able to withstand the harsh winters but are free to roam where they wish. Learn more about the New Forest Pony History. The upper height limit is 148 cm and can be any colour except piebald, skewbald, spotted or blue eyed cream. They are bred for temperament, and are generally easy to train.
Once a year the New Forest ponies are rounded up in a “Drift”. Herded into stockades, checked by vets, wormed, and the foals are branded by their owners before all are once more set free to roam where they wish. Several times a year some of these ponies will be traded at the New Forest Pony Sale at the Beaulieu Road Sales Yard.
The Common Right of Pasture
The most important right at the moment, is the right of pasture. Which is the right to turn out cattle and ponies. And they are the architects of the Forest and without them, it would all grow far too course and then you’d lose, first the insects and then the birds that eat the insects, and the nice little flowers which only grow where it’s close grazed. So the Forest would be completely different. Enormously impoverished.
~ Dionis Macnair MBE, Podcast 2
Never feed the ponies!
Never feed the ponies as this encourages them to car parks and roads increasing their risk of injury or death, plus it is illegal to do so! It is also a very dangerous thing to do. New Forest ponies are bred for their temperament, but all the same these are not pets. They can bite and have a tremendous kick when they feel threatened.
And of course people feed them. Which is disastrous because normally a group of ponies on the Forest will be a mare, her daughters and her grandchildren. If one of those has to be removed because it has kicked a visitor and is put in another part of the Forest it will be among strangers, it will be taken away from its family where it is part of the group. And it will be the interloper and the others will be beastly to it. The new herd will be beastly to it. Sometimes they will manage to get assimilated, sometimes perhaps they will go off and meet up with another lot of miseries that have been turned out. But its not a happy situation. It’s actually unkind. They will normally stay in those family groups. The fillies. So it’s not kind.
Acorns, the killer fruit
The fruit of the mighty oak tree can cause a problem for ponies and cattle. Particularly in ‘mast’ years the large numbers of acorns can poison the ponies. In 2013, a ‘mast’ year some 90 ponies and cattle were killed by acorn poisoning. Typically about 5 animals die in a normal year. Traditionally pigs are let out onto the forest to try and sweep up the acorns. This right of ‘pannage’ or ‘Common of mast’ is another traditional commoners right.
Man, the motor car & the pony
In 1903 the first pony was killed by a motor vehicle in the New Forest. Since then literally thousands of ponies and other commoning stock have been killed or injured by cars. The introduction of speed limits helped reduce these accidents. Please slow down in the Forest especially at dusk or twilight when the ponies are difficult to spot.