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Stallions in the New Forest for eight busy weeks by Mark and Hugh

Eight busy weeks in the New Forest

The annual workload of the carefully selected magnificent stallions of the New Forest, concentrated into just a few weeks each summer, ensures the continuation of this vital element of New Forest life

Article updated for 2022

The release of the stallions onto the New Forest for 8 weeks in early summer is an annual ritual essential to ensure the continued survival of pure-bred New Forest ponies. This year in a bid to protect the shrinking population 20 stallions have been turned out. 

Click here to see the names of this year's stallions and the areas into which they were released on Monday 9 May 2022.  

With thanks for the stallions images below to the website of New Forest Pony Stallions

 

New forest stallions banner

Meanwhile last year our erstwhile cartoonist Hugh and editor Mark (who've gone on to other things and we now fondly miss) took a serious whilst entertaining look at one aspect of New Forest life about which many will know a little but most not a lot. Their research including the help they received from our wonderful agisters will enlighten if you read on.  

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So now with Mark...

"Recently I read in this august organ about the release of the stallions, an annual event which, up until a short time ago, was a complete mystery to your clueless scribbler. This raised so many questions in my tiny mind that I simply had to find the answers. So, if you want to learn yet another aspect of how this enormous and beautiful area is managed, read on. But first some equine guidance for those that need it (me), these are the modern names for the different ages and sexes of ponies.

Terminology Mark and Hugh signoff 600x400

  • FILLY. A female horse or pony under four.
  • COLT. A male horse or pony under four (not gelded).
  • FOAL. A female or male horse or pony under one. Sometimes referred to as filly foal or colt foal.
  • YEARLING. Female or male between one and two. Sometimes referred to yearling filly or yearling colt (not gelded).
  • MARE. Female horse or pony four years or older.
  • STALLION. Male horse or pony four years or older (not gelded).
  • GELDING. A male horse or pony that has been castrated (gelded).

 

The original cordless lawnmower

New Forest stallionThe New Forest pony has been around for a while along with the commoners who both live in and manage the Forest. In life our mistakes and the lessons learned from them are generally referred to as experience and managing the Forest is a craft that has been honed over many years through just this; it’s a truly multi-faceted organism. It seems to me that the more research I do and the more I discover about the Forest, the less I seem to know.

Through hard won experience the Verderers, Agisters and Commoners have learned how to manage this huge natural area which we are so fortunate to have on our doorstep. New Forest ponies clip the grass, prune gorse and, as described in a previous article, even eat holly leaves. I know! For this they ask for no payment, they certainly don’t need our doughnuts, apples or carrots; they’re more than capable of nourishing themselves. But here’s the question, how many ponies can the forest support, how much natural food is out there? When is the best time for foals to be born? The commoners know the answers; they also have a clever system.

A few busy weeks, this year, eight busy weeks

New Forest stallionStallions, (males which are entire and capable of breeding), are kept in paddocks away from the mares (females) for all but a few shohrt weeks of the year. During this period in May and June the stallions are set free in order to do what comes naturally; this year it will be for eight weeks. This ensures that the desired number of foals will be born eleven months later in early spring when the weather is kind and there is fresh spring grass for them to eat. Hugh tells me that a foal born in winter would be lucky to survive.

The Verderers limit the number of stallions released onto the Forest to breed. This year, out of a stock of just over thirty breeding stallions, twenty were released. This number is reassessed each year depending on the pony population.

Those lucky few

Fillies are allowed to enjoy the forest as nature intended but for the colts it’s a different matter. Before they are two years old they undergo a detailed inspection by Verderers and only certain selected colts will be allowed to become part of the breeding stock. As you will have gathered by now, the vast majority of colts are gelded which is a polite term (sensitive male readers should look away now) for castration. Geldings then have complete freedom of the Forest for the rest of their days. By contrast the stallions can look forward to forty-eight weeks of isolation in a paddock. They’re well fed but the scenery stays the same.

If you thought they were frisky before

New Forest stallionWhen the stallions are released from captivity the behaviour of the ponies changes completely. The mares and fillies flirt outrageously with the stallions; there is a buzz in the air and this annual mating ritual has a huge effect on the herds. As far as we visitors are concerned, we would be crackers to get too close to ponies at this time of year. Never has the telephoto lens and binocular been so useful. Geldings retain a great deal of their competitive nature and will fight with stallions for a favourite, often winning the contest. In general ponies are fizzing with excitement and for this short period we two legged ones should stay well away. I’m told that the risk of a pony running into the road increases too so when driving we need to be even more cautious.

Those fortunate enough to be able to ride in the Forest have to be even more careful. Jonathan Gerrelli who is the Chief Agister recommends that riders use caution at this time of year. Upon seeing an approaching horse a stallion might either see it as a threat and chase it away or see it as part of its herd and try to round it up. He suggests that riders might change their route or, perhaps, not ride.

‘Time for bed’ said Zebedee

I was curious as to how on earth you went about finding just twenty stallions in such a vast area, so I spoke to two agisters, Mike Lovell and Andrew Napthine. Apparently the stallions are released into pre-arranged specific areas and tend not to roam far; but then I suppose they’re rather pre-occupied. I also asked how they are brought back in to the paddocks; visions of lariats, campfires, coffee and beans. I imagined that they might be reluctant to return to the imprisonment of a paddock. This is not the case at all and in most cases the stallions are spent; there’s an air of ‘thank goodness that’s over’. If anything, they welcome the opportunity for rest and in most cases the owner can simply walk up to them with a halter in one hand and a bucket of food in the other. I can just imagine the stallion whispering to the owner ‘can I go home now please?’. These days the stallions are halter broken and will ‘come along quietly’ as it were. Mike tells that back in the day when the stallions were unbroken they had to be rounded up on horseback, drift style. Exciting and, I suspect, rather dangerous.

NB To see the names of this year's stallions and their areas click this link

On a personal note

I have always loved the Forest with its sheer sense of space and the peace and quiet that can easily be found. In carrying out research for these articles I have learned so much more about the flora and fauna and as a result I’m enjoying it even more, I sincerely hope it’s the same for you. Our thanks to Jonathan Gerrelli, Mike Lovell and Andrew Napthine for their time. *"


ponies in forest cartoon

 

Hugh who concocted this cartoon this time last year (last year's news!) added: "Hopefully most readers will know that the FA Cup Final was held yesterday and that Leicester beat my team Chelsea (sob,sob). The background picture is in the forest just off the Hale Purlieu road. East Boldre Flash Harry was sold to a commoner up in the north end forest. 

 

More tales and cartoons for Lymington and the New Forest from Mark and Hugh

If you'd like to read other articles on diverse subjects written by the inimitable Mark and illustrated by Hugh's cartoons, just click here!

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