Great Britain's Mountain and Moorland Ponies
The New Forest
The New Forest pony is one of Britain’s mountain and moorland pony breeds. It is classed as a large pony along with the Highland, Welsh Cob Section C, Welsh Cob Section D, Connemara, Dales and Fell.
The New Forest is found in the forests of south west Hampshire in southern England. Like the Connemara and Dartmoor, the New Forest has had input from several other breeds.
Forest ponies are mentioned in the Forest Law of Canute, proclaimed in Winchester in 1016, which granted rights of common pasture to local farmers.
In 1208, eighteen Welsh mares were introduced to the native stock and in 1765, the Duke of Cumberland’s thoroughbred stallion Marske, was let loose in the forest. However after the outstanding success of his son, Eclipse, Marske was quickly rounded up and returned to stand stud in Yorkshire.
By the 19th century, the forest ponies were inbred and of poor quality. Queen Victoria used her Arab stallion Zorah over a few select mares then Black Galloways (now extinct) were introduced, followed by virtually every native breed bar the Shetland. Eventually the lack of substance, insufficient bone and lack of hardiness was halted and corrected.
Another strong influence on the modern-day New Forest pony was the polo pony Field Marshall. After the Second World War, five stallions had great influence on the breed and these are now regarded as the founding sires of the modern New Forest. The Stud Book was produced in 1960 by the New Forest Pony Breeding and Cattle Society.
The forest-bred ponies are generally somewhat smaller those bred under better conditions. The height range is from 12 to 14hh. Bay and brown ponies are most common with only piebald, skewbald and cremello being barred from registration. White markings are permitted. Like most native breeds, the mane, tail and forelock are profuse and silky. The profile is straight and the eyes small. The back is long and straight and the quarters rather sloping. The chest is deep and the legs strong with well shaped hooves.
Interestingly, the New Forest has a tendency to canter rather than trot as the swathes of heather are more easily traversed at a canter. Like all native pony breeds, he is naturally sure-footed and quite fast.
His versatility means he is used for most equestrian disciplines including dressage, driving, jumping, long-distance riding and polo. He is solid and big enough to be a real family pony.
As well as the native ponies, horned cattle and donkeys are run in the forest. The forest bred ponies are sometimes sold from the forest or from sales held at Beaulieu Road. The ponies are well used to traffic and of all the native breeds perhaps the most familiar with humans.
Ms Valerie Russell’s book ‘New Forest Ponies’, written in 1976, gives some fascinating insight into the life of the forest and its ponies prior to 1976. Ms Russell mentions several adaptations which allowed the ponies to feed on the native gorse. The leguminous gorse is highly nutritious but also very prickly. The ponies bite off the stem carefully then pull the lips back and manoeuvre the shoot back to the molars. Some ponies grow a ‘moustache’ on the upper lip and/or have a 3 inch long beard of soft thick hair on the lower jaws. The upper surface of the tongue may become thick and tough. This adaptation also helps the pony when eating holly which is another main food source during the winter. The Basque pony from the region of the same name in south-west France also grows a protective moustache during winter when it may be forced to live on spiny vegetation.
The New Forest is a worthy representative of the mountain and moorland breeds and is a popular mount for both adults and children.