New Forest Ponies
When you think of the New Forest, you immediately think of the ponies. These natives of the forest are undoubtedly one of the National Park’s main attractions. Nowhere else in the UK can one find ponies wandering freely not only throughout the countryside but also in the towns and villages – shopkeepers will scurry to shut the door when they see ponies approaching.
The New Forest pony is a recognised breed in its own right but they can vary quite widely in appearance and colour. This is largely to do with the introduction of other breeds, and strains of Welsh, Arab, Thoroughbred, Hackney, Highlands and Exmoor ponies can be recognised. New Forest ponies can vary quite widely in colour and markings and according to the New Forest Pony Breeding Society, they may be any colour “except piebald, skewbald, spotted or blue eyed cream”. New Forest ponies can have white markings only on their head and/or limbs and a maximum height of 14.2 hands (144cm) from the ground to the top of their shoulder blades.
It is widely believed that New Forest ponies are completely wild and free, but although they roam freely they are in fact all owned and cared for by New Forest Commoners.
Commoners have the right to graze their ponies in a tradition dating back to the times of William the Conquerer. All ponies are marked and the owners register their mark with a body called the Verderers. Commoners pay to graze their ponies in the New Forest. The unique landscape of the New Forest is largely due to the grazing of the ponies which over centuries has allowed the open forest and heathland to thrive. During the winter, once most of the grass has been eaten and doesn’t grow back as quickly, the ponies may also eat holly and gorse to help supplement their diet. Foals are born in the New Forest every spring, and can often be seen with their mothers, helping to bring the forest to life at this colourful time of year. The breeding takes place every year between April and July, with the mares’ gestation period lasting around 11 months. Breeding is very tightly controlled, with the Verderers deciding which stallions can be released to breed with the mares. At other times of year, the stallions are kept on private land, so for the most part, the ponies you will see across the New Forest are females.
It can be very tempting to get a little closer to the ponies and feed them, however, there is a bylaw which bans the feeding of New Forest livestock. Feeding the ponies can leave you with a £200 fine and a criminal record, and although the ponies may look gentle, they can also kick and bite if you get too close to them.
The National Park also advises taking care on the roads and obeying the maximum speed limit on unfenced forest roads of 40mph. New Forest ponies and other animals also have right of way on the roads of the New Forest. These measures have been put into place as many ponies and other freely roaming animals get injured or killed by cars each year. If you’re driving in the New Forest during your holiday, be aware of not only the ponies, but all wildlife roaming the forest.
Visit The New Forest National Park website for more information about the forest and its ponies
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