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   Inside Out - South: Monday 24th February 2003


New Forest ponies drinking
HORSING AROUND | Discover the amazing history of the breed and what the future holds

A high pitched whinny, the clatter of hooves, there's been ponies running wild in the New Forest for thousands of years. But what is the future for this breed? Inside Out investigates the incredible history of these ponies.

Around 3,000 New Forest ponies can be found wandering freely in the Forest and its surrounds and have done so for many years.

In recent years however, the future of the breed has not looked so healthy. With plummeting prices, many ponies have been sold for meat.

Inside Out investigates how improvements to the New Forest ponies may ensure a rosy future for this ancient breed.

Commoner, Richard Stride
Commoner Richard Stride hopes to improve the breed

Canute’s Forest Law, confirms that wild horses were present in the New Forest as early as 1016.

Although they may appear wild, they are in fact owned by the 400 or so, Commoners, who have the right to allow animals to graze in the forest.

New Forest ponies are valued for their pleasant nature, hardiness and strength, but that has not stopped concerted efforts over the years to improve the breed.


Initial improvements to the breed were of a royal nature, beginning in the middle ages when Henry III introduced Welsh ponies.


Commoning dates back to the creation of the Forest

The restrictive Forest laws set out by William, were too harsh so a system of rights was established to enable Forest people to survive. These rights remain today.

A Commoner is a person occupying land to which common rights are attached

Around 800 houses and smallholdings in the forest have such rights

Only about half of the occupants exercise their rights

The Common of Pasture is the right to graze animals on the open forest.

About 5000 animals are depastured in this way, of which some 3000 are ponies.

Not content to stop at just his wives, Henry VIII had the smaller animals killed, whilst Queen Victoria lent the forest her Arab stallion.

The desire to improve the breed was not just confined to royalty and the Society for the improvement of New Forest Ponies was founded in 1891. The society offered a premium to suitable stallions to run in the Forest.

It was originally thought that the best way to improve the breed, was to introduce stallions from other native breeds and this was registered in the Forest’s first Stud Book, published in 1910.

Stud farms

Recent years have seen the increase of New Forest ponies being bred in private studs with many being exported.

There are now studs of registered New Forest ponies all over Europe, North America and even Australia.

But what is being done closer to home, to improve the breed?

Richard Stride owns native New Forest ponies and believes the answer lies in quality, rather than quantity. He wants fewer, better quality foals as part of a last ditch attempt to drive up prices.

A brighter future

New Forest Pony
Surplus New Forest ponies are sold at auction. Most go to private homes

Before you hold your hands up in horror, his methods bear no resemblance to that of Henry VIII. To reduce the numbers, Richard will simply reduce the number of stallions in the Forest.

Six times a year, surplus ponies are sold at the horse fair near Beaulieu. The event attracts large numbers, many hoping to buy a riding pony for their stable.

Animals are auctioned and sold either for riding or occasionally as meat.

In recent years, poor prices for ponies, resulted in many being sold for meat. Richard hopes that improvements to the breed will ensure that many more go to private homes, rather than the meat man.

See also ...

Forest wildlife - ponies
New Forest - Webguide
European boost for ponies

On the rest of the web
The New Forest Pony Breeding and Cattle Society
The New Forest Equine Directory
The New Forest
Equine World

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

i would like to rescue a couple of these ponies. i have two already and wondered where i would get information about this. if anybody could help i would be very grateful!

Zoe Cookson
I would 100% advise all horse and pony lovers to take a trip to see the New Forest Ponies. It's a day to be remembered.

Debbie Marie
I reccoment New Forest Ponies as the perfect all round family pony. I have 2 Foresters. One yet to be broken. My gelding, Whisky is very kind natured, not only do I ride him, being a 5'6'' adult. But also my friends, boyfriend and 4 year old Godson. I bought him as a yearling colt and he has turned out to be a 13.3hh valued and much loved member of my family.

Gemma Wattam
I have a beautiful New Forest pony called Pollyanna which i bought from a dealer as a wild foal, she was taken away from her mother far too young [approx 4 months old] she was dreadfully ill she is now 2 1/2 and she is healthy & so intelligent i am just in the process of breaking her in to ride.

It makes me so sick when these innocent, lovly animals are sold for meat. I have have a thoroughbred ex-race horse (Tynron Doon) a tiny shetland pony (Hercules) and my new forest pony (Pollyanna) and i love them all dearly and it upsets me when humans hurt them because horses are free spirits and deserve to be treated with respect.

Louise Clohesy
I love new forest ponies. Actually I love all ponies. Actually I love all ponies AND horses. I do not have a horse but I do riding lessons. I think I am going to jump soon.

I dont have a horse but I think that they are so clever and I do ride a horse called Taz and I have very thin reins and as I go into trot I shorten the reins and he takes some out so really I am not getting any more reins than I had so I call him Taz the Tazmanian Devil!

becky! (13)
Hiya! I have a new forest pony and he is the coolest!!!! He is great to ride and very cheeky with a great personality!!! So every one should love them too!!!! luv becky xxxxxxxx

I have a New Forest pony of my own so it was very interesting to find out all about them.

I love all ponies and was proud to see a site dedicated to all new forest ponies.

Mike Cooper. New Forest Pony Publicity Group
We would fully endorse Richard Stride's comments in all respects. It is sad to read S. Hill's comments, as he is making comments that cannot be justified or proven.

Yes, there may be the odd pony here and there that is a little plain, but one must look at the overall picture concerning how the animals system is geared to coping with natures way.

If the pony was fat in May/June, other problems can be encountered during the breeding and foaling season.

Our group was formed some two years ago, to address the demise of the New Forest Pony, and we are actively engaged in lifting the profile of them throughout the UK by attending major equine events up and down the country.

We are circulating literature and leaflets, as well as attending Agriculteral Colleges in the south.

Our group is made up entirely of practising commoners, who see the need to create a better market for our animals, and are dedicated to that cause.

Finally, I would say to the producers of this programme - not a bad effort. Shame you had to include a piece of unrelated material showing one of the handlers aiming his boot at a mare.

to put the record straight, the mare seen in the clip had just let fly with both boots, and caught the handler fairly and squarly on his body.

I say this to all that read this. Don't make off the cuff comments until you have taken the time to educate yourself fully about how these semi feral ponies live out their lives on the Forest.

We know that there are areas which need improvement, and over the course of the next few years, we will attempt to address many of the problems and concers that the public have.

With a little bit of luck and hard work, we hope to create a brighter and happier future for our wonderful New Forest Pony. Kind regards Mike Cooper

S. Hill
Richard Stride may be genuinely trying to improve the ponies but a big part of the problem is that there are too many greedy commoners who will leave poor quality, old or unthrifty mares on the Forest.

It costs them just a marking fee (£18??) per year and if all they get for a foal is 30 quid from the meat men they are still happy to take the profit. And a good proportion still go for meat as they have been for years and years now.

The commoners should be forced to pay a realistic price to keep stock out over winter so that in severe weather a basic hay ration could be fed.

Many mares are literally skin and bone by mid winter and are still having to find energy to produce foals.

Their condition is a disgrace and if a private owner kept a pony like that they would be prosecuted for neglect! That's the real story Inside out should be investigating.

Jack Weaving
I have for many years by presentment at the Verderers' Court, advocated just this method of improving the saleability and hardiness of the New Forest pony !

Tasha Ryan
I love horses and I think they should be treated as the same as other ponies,even if they are for slaughter they should be happy and comfy with the time that they have left.

People should realise how easy to train and what lovley riding ponies New Forest Ponies make.

Charlotte Blue Honey age:10
i think that it is a cheak that people traet the animals like this.

i do not have a hourse because i would not be able to look after one properly. i think that if every one thought this then all animals could be treated like they were very important.

i would do any thing to make shore that every houres was treated with respect.

Becki Lavender
I think the forest should be left as it is because we do not have many of our New Forest ponies and we shouldn't get rid of any more either.

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