Above: Riders preparing to set out in the New Forest to bring in the
Forest run ponies.
We left Italy in pouring rain and after what by Australian
standards was a short flight; we landed at Gatwick airport in
After collecting our hire car we headed for Hampshire where we would
be staying at Applewitch Stud with Kay and Alan Bailey, this is the
home of New Forest stallion Applewitch Pure Magic. This was to be
our fourth visit to the New Forest in recent times, it is a favorite
destination for Jim and I, not just because we breed New Forest
To truly understand the New Forest ponies you need to know and feel
the New Forest, this is what it is all about, why the ponies are
what they are, an all-round hardy pony with a kind temperament. The
New Forest is the only truly pristine forest and heath land left in
the United Kingdom. Not only does it still have ponies living wild,
it has deer, cattle, badgers and many other native species. It is
steeped in history, once the private hunting ground of kings, it is
still governed by ancient laws and charters.
The villages and pubs, adorned with flowers, are beautiful.
The ponies wander freely through the heath, forest and villages.
The summer months and holiday weekends see hoards of tourists
descend on the New Forest.
The roads become full of traffic and the villages and pubs are hubs
Much of the land is open heath where ponies and cattle graze on the
sparse grass and bracken and then there is the forest itself. Ride
deep into the forest and you enter a magical kingdom. The crowds
cease to exist and massive ancient trees filter an eerie yet
beautiful light onto the forest floor, the forest envelops you. Damp
ferns brush your legs and the smell of warm moist soil and grass
assault your nostrils. There are treacherous bogs and quicksand's,
which must be avoided at all cost. You might suddenly come across a
stallion with his mares and feel like an intruder as you quietly
ride away. You truly feel transported back in time.
The forest and heath are the ponies’ haven, but the heath is crossed
by roads and every year there are pony fatalities. Most of the
offending drivers are locals who have become blasé about the speed
This year the ponies are looking well it has been a good season with
excellent rain so feed is plentiful. Come winter and it is bitterly
cold, the forest and heath are covered in snow and the ponies work
hard to find enough feed to stay warm.
lose and enormous amount of weight, some are lucky and have caring
owners who bring them feed, many don’t. This is the natural course
of nature, then come Spring the feed becomes plentiful and the thin
ponies are able to graze to their hearts content with no fear of
founder. All the ponies on the forest belong to someone and
generally they bear little resemblance to the Foresters that are
We were lucky enough to attend a ‘drift’. This is when the mares and
foals are herded from the forest and yarded. Many of the foals are
removed for weaning and the ponies’ tails are cut in a particular
way to identify their owner. Riders set out in groups to various
parts of the forest to bring the herds in, they gallop flat out and
drive the ponies into the waiting pens.
Article and photos courtesy Sandra Barry, Bain Park
New Forest Pony Stud.