New Forest Ponies
When you visit the New Forest there are a group of about 3000 locals that you can't but help noticing. They have been hanging around for about 2000 years and what they don't know about the forest is not worth knowing! I am talking about of course, the wonderful New Forest Ponies.
Are they really wild?
All of the ponies found in the forest are wild in the sense they can roam freely but in fact they are owned by New Forest Commoners. A commoner is defined as someone who owns or occupies land to which rights of common are assigned. The rights are attached to the holding rather than to its owner. There are six common rights in the forest, with the Common of Pasture being the most important one. The right is free but the practising commoner has to pay an annual marking fee in respect of each animal to pay towards the cost of employing the agisters. Commoners are also required to brand depastured animals, the individual owners' marks being registered with the Verderers.
Verderers are a body of ten persons appointed to administer the law concerning the New Forest. Five are elected and five are appointed as representatives of the Crown, the Forestry Commission, the Countryside Agency, Hampshire County Council and Defra. The verderers sit in open court at regular intervals throughout the year and any member of the public may make a 'presentment' to them, raising any issue concerning the forest. Verderers hold the register of brands and they also have complete administrative control of all the stallions on the forest.
Agisters are employed by the Verderers, their work is to assist in the management of commoners' stock in the Forest. Specifically, they watch over the Forest to ensure that the owners of depastured stock, and others, meet the requirements of the Verderers in respect of stock welfare. They must inform the Verderers of any possible breaches of the Verderers' byelaws; attend road accidents and other incidents involving commoners' animals, they also deal with injured animals at the scene and humanely destroying animals if necessary. Agisters organise the construction and ongoing maintenance of stock pounds within their area, they arrange and manage the rounding up of ponies and cattle in the autumn and at other times as required. When agisters have collected marking fees from commoners; they will clip the pony's tail to a set pattern to show proof of payment.
Recognising a New Forest Pony
A combination of colour and 'markings' such as the owner's brand, make each pony easily recognisable, particularly to the practised eye. For the everyday visitor you can rest assured that the ponies you see on the forest are pure New Forest breeds - the verderers have made sure of that!
The upper height for a New Forest pony is 148cm there is no lower limit on height. New Forest ponies can be any colour except piebald, skewbald, spotted or blue-eyed cream. The most common colours are bay and chestnut. More information on the breed.
Breeding New Forest Ponies/keeping the blood line pure
The Verderers decide which registered stallions are allowed on to the forest to breed. To keep the forest-bred stock healthy, stallions are moved every three to four years. The stallions are let out onto the forest between April and July to breed with the mares.
Advice: If you come across New Forest stallions and their mares please keep away from them as they can become aggressive and dangerous.
The gestation period for New Forest mares is approximately 11 months. New Forest foals are born in the spring and summer months and truely bring the forest to life. Foals are rounded up with their mothers are assumed to be the property of the owner of the mare.
Advice: Please keep your distance from mares and their foals - the mares are VERY protective!
Controlling the stock
Pony 'drifts' are held each year in the summer and autumn, when both commoners and agisters ride out across the open forest to round up the animals. Herding the animals together in a pound allows several jobs to be done at once with help at hand (such as tail clipping and veterinary checks). Any colts are taken off the forest before they can breed, as are ponies that are to be sold or kept on a holding through the winter.
The Verderers have confirmed that the New Forest Drifts are NOT a public event!
Pony sales can be attended by the public. They are held several times a year at stockades at Beaulieu Road.
Doing your bit to keep the ponies safe
Visitors are asked not to feed the ponies; there is a forest byelaw which forbids the feeding of forest stock and can get you a £200 fine and a criminal record if you do! Remember, too, that these animals are not tame - the gentlest looking pony can also kick and bite!
Sadly, many animals are killed or maimed by car drivers. Ponies (and cattle) are likely to cross in front of traffic at any time. Please remember animals have the right of way in the forest. There is a maximum speed limit of 40mph on unfenced forest roads. The use of reflective collars on ponies is a measure some commoners use to attempt to reduce the number of accidents involving ponies.
If you are involved in a road traffic accident with a pony it is an offense not to report it. Make sure you carry an animal emergency hotlines card - it gives you all the contacts you may need.
Advice: Admire from a safe distance! Look but don't touch! Remember the warning signs!