New Forest Pony Breed Guide
The New Forest pony has one of the largest height ranges of all the nine native pony breeds found in the UK and comes from an area in the south of England from which it takes its name. The New Forest is a large area of land of just over 200 square miles which sits in the counties of Hampshire and Wiltshire; it includes a mixture of heathland and forest. There is no minimum height limit for these ponies and some can be as small as 122 cm or as tall as 148 cm.
The New Forest was created as a Royal Forest for hunting purposes by William the Conqueror in 1079. It is thought that there have been ponies present in the forest for hundreds of years and in fact this presence completely shaped the evolution of the Forest through the grazing patterns of the ponies and other stock, turning it into what it looks like today. The origins of the early ponies have been lost in the forest mists but later influences are well documented. In 1852, Queen Victoria lent an Arab stallion to run in the forest for eight years. Prior to this a horse called Marske was also used to improve the breed in the 1760s; Marske was famous for being the sire of Eclipse, one of the most prolific racehorses of the eighteenth century and even into modern times. This connection to racing perhaps explains the popularity of racing the ponies in the nineteenth century.
The modern New Forest pony is now managed by the New Forest Pony Breeding & Cattle Society which formed in 1938 from earlier smaller societies and groups dating back to the 1890s. The modern Stud Book was opened in 1960. There are still ponies present in the forest today and animals which have been bred on the forest rather than at another location are described as “forest bred”. The regulation and control of ponies on the Forest is well organised by the New Forest Society and any forest bred pony will have been sired by an approved and registered New Forest stallion.
The New Forest is divided into four districts each area being managed by an Agister with a fifth Head Agister overseeing all of them. The Agisters are accountable to the New Forest Verderers who are the modern body sharing the management of the Forest with the Forestry Commission. The Agisters are responsible for the day to day management of all the stock which graze on the Forest including not just the New Forest ponies but also cattle and donkeys. Those entitled to graze stock are called commoners as they have common grazing rights or “Rights of Common Pasture”.
There are annual round ups of the ponies in the Forest which are called drifts and this is when the ponies are herded and caught and then removed from the Forest for health checks, worming and branding. Fees have to be paid by the Commoners and marks are cut into the tails of the ponies to denote that the relevant fee has been paid. In addition to the drifts, there are also regular pony sales.
New Forest ponies may be any colour other than piebald or skewbald although the most usual colours are bays, browns and chestnuts. The New Forest pony like many of the UK native breeds is tough and hardy through centuries of surviving in sparse conditions but as a lighter built pony it is perhaps fair to say, that it is a more suitable athlete due in part to its size and the fact that it is less square and stocky than some of the other native breeds.
The modern New Forest pony is a very popular choice as a riding pony and sports pony and features regularly on the thriving native pony competition scene in the UK. The size of the New Forest pony is perhaps one of the reasons why it is so popular as it can be ridden by child and adult alike and with a lighter frame than some of the other native breeds, it excels in the competitive disciplines. The New Forest pony has one of the largest height ranges of all the nine native pony breeds. There is no minimum height and so some ponies can be as small as 12hh. The maximum height of the breed is 14.2hh. The New Forest also makes a fabulous bigger sports horse when crossed with the Thoroughbred, a mix offering the advantages of both breeds and is a very capable eventer.