Who Looks After The New Forest Ponies?
If you have taken a drive through The New Forest then you will have be charmed by the New Forest Ponies which are a common sight throughout the area. There are roughly 3,000 ponies roaming freely in the New Forest each year but they are not wild in the true sense of the word, as they all have owners.
Ponies have been grazing in the New Forest for thousands of years. Archaeological finds suggest that early humans hunted horses in the area. People have discovered the remains of a hunting camp dating from the last Ice Age. In the eleventh century, William the conqueror claimed the region as a royal hunting ground and shipped some 2000 horses across the channel when he invaded England in 1066. It was William who first allowed commoners to graze their animals on the Crown Estates provided they adhered to strict laws.
Commoners own the ponies which currently roam free. These are people who own or occupy land with rights of common are attached. This entitles the ponies’ owners to turn them out into the New Forest to graze. The rights are free of charge but a marking fee must be paid as each animal is marked annually to prove that its welfare has been checked.
A group of ten people are appointed to oversee animal welfare and land use in the New Forest. Five of the group are elected officials, the remaining five are representatives of the Crown, the Forestry Commission, the Countryside Agency, Hampshire County Council and . These administrators are called Verderers and they appoint Agisters to look after the ponies.
The Agisters ensure that the ponies’ owners meet the required standards of welfare with regard to the ponies and adhere to the rules of the New Forest. They also attend road accidents, which are sadly quite common, and any other incidents involving the ponies. The Agisters also manage the annual round-ups of the ponies which are called drifts.
The drifts are conducted in the late summer and early autumn and enable several important tasks to be carried out at the same time. The animals receive welfare checks and veterinary treatment if required. Ponies that do not remain free in the winter months are withdrawn from the forest. Colts are removed before they can breed and some animals are sent for sale.
New Forest Ponies are up to 148cm in height and can be any colour except piebald, skewbald, spotted or blue-eyed cream. The most common colours are bay and chestnut. Verderers decide which stallions are allowed into the forest each spring and early summer in order to breed. The resulting foals are the property of the mares’ owners. The ponies are known to be good all-rounders and therefore great for children to ride. They generally have a calm temperament but it is not advisable to approach the ponies when they are roaming in the New Forest as all horses’ behaviour can be unpredictable. If the ponies are spooked this can lead to road accidents and so it is best to admire these gorgeous animals at a distance.