The New Forest pony is one of the recognised mountain and moorland or native pony breeds of the British Isles. Height varies from around 12 to 14.2 hands (48 to 58 inches, 122 to 147 cm); ponies of all heights should be strong, workmanlike, and of a good riding type. They are valued for hardiness, strength, and sure-footedness.
The breed is indigenous to the New Forest in Hampshire in southern England, where equines have lived since before the last Ice Age; remains dating back to 500,000 BC have been found within 50 miles (80 km) of the heart of the modern New Forest. DNA studies have shown ancient shared ancestry with the Celtic-type Asturcón and Pottok ponies. Many breeds have contributed to the foundation bloodstock of the New Forest pony, but today only ponies whose parents are both registered as purebred in the approved section of the stud book may be registered as purebred. The New Forest pony can be ridden by children and adults, can be driven in harness, and competes successfully against larger horses in horse show competition.
All ponies grazing on the New Forest are owned by New Forest commoners – people who have “rights of common of pasture” over the Forest lands. An annual marking fee is paid for each animal turned out to graze. The population of ponies on the Forest has fluctuated in response to varying demand for young stock. Numbers fell to fewer than six hundred in 1945, but have since risen steadily, and thousands now run loose in semi-feral conditions. The welfare of ponies grazing on the Forest is monitored by five Agisters, employees of the Verderers of the New Forest. Each Agister takes responsibility for a different area of the Forest. The ponies are gathered annually in a series of drifts, to be checked for health, wormed, and they are tail-marked; each pony’s tail is trimmed to the pattern of the Agister responsible for that pony. Purebred New Forest stallions approved by the Breed Society and by the New Forest Verderers run out on the Forest with the mares for a short period each year. Many of the foals bred on the Forest are sold through the Beaulieu Road pony sales, which are held several times each year.
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