The iconic New Forest pony is widely considered as the emblem or mascot of the New Forest as a whole and is one of the primary reasons why forest holidays are so popular with visitors coming to the area, but, unfortunately, still so few of us know much about them.
This guide looks to introduce you to the history of the New Forest pony, right through to the present day where visitors can enjoy carriage rides and horse riding as a way to see the New Forest at its best and really make the most of their holiday cottage breaks in the New Forest.
Firstly, it is important to know who owns these free-roaming ponies. The Commoners’ guide to New Forest ponies is by no means an insult, to either reader or commoner, but, in fact, a term used to describe someone who owns or occupies land to which rights of common are assigned. The wild New Forest ponies are owned by New Forest commoners, or those who live in the forest and the rights to the ponies are attached to the holding rather than its owner. See the New Forest Pony section on the The New Forest website run by the New Forest District Council for more information.
“The New Forest offers the very best of England – with 300 square miles of idyllic woods and open moorland, charming towns and villages and 43 miles of wonderful coastline. Activities range from romantic walks to full-on family fun with high quality accommodation to match – from back-to-nature campsites to world-class hotels. There is so much to choose from . . . so why go anywhere else?” -www.thenewforest.co.uk
Important to the landscape
These ponies are not only an iconic part of the landscape, having been settled in the area so popular for forest holidays since before the last Ice Age, but they are also crucial to the local ecosystem and appearance of the landscape. Here the New Forest Explorers’ Guide explains further.
“Free-ranging ponies epitomise the New Forest. Attractive, independent, hardy creatures, these and other stock animals – cattle, donkeys and, in autumn, pigs – are so closely associated with the New Forest that it is difficult to imagine one without the other. Perhaps more importantly, though, the grazing pressure exerted by these animals prevents the significant landscape changes that would otherwise inevitably occur: heathland would become overgrown and revert to woodland; the character of the ancient, open woods would be lost; and many of the area’s most notable wildlife species would consequently be eliminated. The ponies, then, are an ever-popular feature of the New Forest scene, their character is to be greatly admired and they make a significant contribution to the maintenance of this important, historic landscape.”
- New Forest Explorers’ Guide
The New Forest Explorers’ Guide is a fantastic resource for those looking for forest holidays. With information on days out, the heritage and wildlife of the New Forest as well as walks, cycling and even a pub guide, the website acts as a one-stop shop for all of your visiting needs.
“The New Forest Explorers Guide is exactly what the name suggests: a guide for those who wish to explore the New Forest. It provides comprehensive information about wildlife, history, commoning traditions and, of course, the world famous New Forest ponies. Numerous walk and cycle ride routes are also described, there are lots of ideas for days out and things to do, and there is an extensive pub guide.”
- New Forest Explorers’ Guide
Getting up close and personal
While there is a byelaw in place that prevents you from feeding the ponies, there are other ways of getting up close and personal with these famous foals.
Horse riding is incredibly popular in the area and one of the best activities to enjoy on forest holidays and visits. Click here for an extensive list of riding stables in the area, where you can arrange a hack or a lesson if you are a first timer to the saddle.
If you’d rather just sit back and relax whilst enjoying the thrill of a ride, you can enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride during forest holidays in the area. Travel the New Forest Mail Coach routes and take a step back in time for a half-day excursion or full day out.
If you book seats online you can be collected straight from your English country cottage accommodation, and you can even build a bespoke carriage day to include stops at picturesque picnic spots, pubs for lunch and even a quick shopping trip. This is a great way of getting closer to nature without having to learn to keep your heels down and thumbs on top!
The forest itself
Next to the ponies, which you can learn even more about via the National Pony Society website, forest holidays are enjoyable for the forest setting as well as the wild animals that call it home. To really get a flavour of the forest and its atmospheric landscape why not take an open-top safari of the New Forest National Park?
The New Forest Tour offers the perfect way of seeing the forest if you’re not keen on horseback. With tours running daily from June until mid-September and a choice of three separate routes, there is endless choice for a family day out.
Once you have seen some of the most beautiful aspects of the New Forest and its ponies you might want to learn more about how to preserve the forest and its inhabitants.
The New Forest Trust was formed in 2003 with the simple aim of securing the well-being of the New Forest for both those who live in it and love it. Helping to improve the public’s understanding of the essential relationship between conservation and the methods employed by those who live and work in the forest, the Trust better supports the forest and helps secure its future. They have plenty of information on their website on the forest itself and their schemes such as the Love the Forest Scheme, where visitors can help protect the future of the forest, and the Stallion Scheme, which helps regulate the number of the New Forest ponies and ensures the improved quality of their welfare.