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Use and characteristics of the New Forest Pony
The ponies of the New Forest are the outcome of a combination of both nature and nurture. They have the benefits of a natural grazing regime along with all the regular care, such as foot trimming and worming, that is required to keep them healthy. Anyone considering whether to buy a New Forest pony will soon discover the advantages of this semi-feral existence. Over the centuries, these ponies have developed into a strong and handsome breed that stands between 12 hands (48 inches/122 cm) and 14.2 hands (58 inches/147 cm) high. Standard coat colours are bay, grey and chestnut, and piebald and skewbald are excluded from the registry. Breeders who sell a New Forest pony prize their conformation for riding, their strong legs, and hard, round hooves.
Origin and history of breeding New Forest Ponies
The New Forest was one of the hunting domains established by William the Conqueror, and despite its name, much of it consists of open ground with gorse, heather and bushes. There is also some ancient woodland, as well as newer commercial forestry plantations. This means the ponies have access to plenty of grazing, with herbs and shrubs to supplement their diet, as the New Forest is one of Britain’s few remaining unenclosed areas. The first records of ponies living here date from just after the Norman Conquest, though bones of much earlier date have been found within a 50-mile radius. It’s often said that the forest made the ponies, and the ponies made the forest. Certainly, they are part of a unique ecosystem that owes much to their grazing habits. The way they are managed also contributes to the maintenance of the landscape, and it is a way of life that began in medieval times. The commoners who graze their animals in the New Forest by right have their privileges protected by officials called Verderers. They hold regular meetings known as courts. Five Agisters are in the employ of the Verderers, and it is the Agisters who are responsible for the daily well-being of all the stock in the forest. Every autumn, the ponies are brought in by the commoners and officials, all usually mounted on New Forest ponies. This is known as “the drift”. The ponies will be checked and treated if necessary, and some will be taken home to overwinter, while others will be sold.
New Forest Ponies in equestrianism
Though the stud book is now closed, various stallions were used in the past to create the modern New Forest. In this way, additional speed and athleticism have been added to their innate common sense and hardiness. New Forest ponies are now divided into two height categories and can be found participating in every equestrian discipline, including a dedicated point-to-point race.