New Forest Pony

The New Forest Pony is a native breed to the British Isles. Although written records of the pony date back to around 1066, bones discovered 50 miles from the New Forest area date back to 500,000 BC, show the pony was around before the last ice age.

In 1066, William the Conqueror invaded England and shipped more than 2,000 ponies across the English Channel when grazing rights was granted to the local inhabitants.

During the 1850s and 1860s, the breed’s quality began to decline and the Arab was introduced to improve the breed. In 1875 there were around 3,000 ponies, but by 1884 the population had dropped to 2,250 as a result of the crossbreeding.

The Burley and District NF Pony Breeding and Cattle Society opened a studbook in 1905. They two merged in 1937 and formed the New Forest Pony Breeding and Cattle Society, but the population still declined to only 571 ponies by 1945. Since then the population had steadily increased to 4,604 by 2011. However, because there are less than 3,000 breeding mares it is considered a “minority breed.” As of 2013, there are only 423 foals being born yearly, a result of a declining market and a quest for quality foals instead of quantity.

To be registered as a New Forest Pony the maximum height is 58.25 inches. There is no minimum height requirements and the average is 48 inches tall. The pony should be strong, with sloping shoulders and powerful hindquarters. It should have strong and straight legs and hard, rounded hooves. The New Forest is sure-footed with speed and agility. Common colors are bay, chestnut or gray. Other colors are not accepted for registration. The pony is mild tempered, intelligent and very versatile.

Ponies not allowed for registration in the stud book are registered in an appendix known as the X-register.

The smaller ponies were used as pit ponies in the past, but today are used by local farmers for work as well as riding. The New Forest is also used for show jumping, dressage, driving and events.

Mares can run freely in the wild, but registered stallions may not. The stallions are assessed for breeding suitability, if the stallion fails the assessment, it is gelded. If it passes, then it is released into the wild to breed with the mares.

The New Forest Pony is raced yearly in a point-to-point event through the forest. There is no set course and riders will pick their own route. The riders don’t know the starting point until the morning of the race.

Image Caption: New Forest Pony. Credit: Jim Champion/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)