New Forest ponies have lived in the New Forest region of southeast England since the end of the last ice age. Equine bones found dating back to 500,000 BC suggest that they were hunted by early man. In 1507, ponies from the region were shipped to the French wars. Around the 1760s, the Thoroughbred stallion Marske (the sire of the great Eclipse) was bred to local mares, and in the mid-1800s, when the quality of the ponies was in decline, Arabian blood was introduced, likely to the detriment of the ponies, whose hardiness suffered and their numbers continued to decrease. The demand for horse meat during WWII further diminished the pony population.
A society for the improvement of New Forest Ponies was established in 1891, followed in 1905 by the Burley and District New Forest Pony Breeding and Cattle Society which started the Stud Book. Both merged in 1937. Today, the Rare Breeds Survival Trust lists the New Forest Pony on their “at risk” watchlist.
New Forest ponies continue to roam in a semi-feral state throughout the almost 600 square km New Forest region. They are owned and cared for by area residents who also employ agisters (livestock caretakers) to care for injured ponies and manage the annual health check roundups.
The New Forest Pony has a sturdy, well-proportioned and workmanlike body, with a sloping shoulder, powerful hindquarters, straight legs with strong, flat bone, and hard hooves. They stand between 12-14.2 hands. Normally bay or chestnut in colour, they may be other solid colours but not piebald, skewbald, spotted or blue-eyed cream.
The New Forest Pony is a very peaceful, intelligent and well-natured breed. They have free, even gaits and are sure-footed, speedy and agile. They are small and safe enough for children, but are also capable of carrying adults.
Once used as pit ponies in the mines, today’s New Forest Ponies are well-suited for driving, eventing, dressage, show jumping and Pony Club gymkhanas. On Boxing Day each year, a number of the swiftest ponies are raced in an annual point-to-point across the Forest lands.
For more information, visit:
New Forest Pony Breeding and Cattle Society