It is often hard to imagine that in this day and age of agriculture, travel, and the growth of human populations that there are still herds of wild horses running relatively free as their ancestors did. Wild and semi-wild herds of ponies are relatively rare, but the New Forest ponies, located in the New Forest reserve in the southern part of England, are one such group. In reality the New Forest ponies are not like the Mustangs of North America, the New Forest ponies are actually owned by individuals known as Commoners. These are individuals that have "Rights of Common of Pasture" or grazing rights to the over 37,000 hectares of the New Forest. Owners of the ponies will mark their ponies by either cutting the tail or branding to clearly identify to which Commoner the pony belongs. These horses are known as "Forest Bred" and since only approved New Forest stallions are allowed on the grazing reserve the offspring that are Forest born can be registered.
The ponies in the New Forest grazing area are monitored by professionals known as Agisters. These individuals manage the grazing area and carefully monitor the ponies, cattle and donkeys that are grazing on the reserve. The Agisters are in turn monitored by the Verderers, which are a regulatory group that works with the Forest Commission to set the standards and laws that all Commoners must follow when grazing their ponies on the reserve. Each group works in conjunction with each other to ensure that the health and well being of all animals on the reserve is carefully maintained.
Some of the regulations that Commoners grazing their ponies in New Forest must follow include:
Ponies must be vaccinated and treated as per the disease control regulations established by the Verderers and the Agisters.
Commoners pay a fee to the Agisters for the grazing rights, but there is no restriction on the number of animals that each Commoner can graze on the reserve.
Any animals that are a danger to other animals through aggression or poor behavior are removed from the New Forest Reserve and are prohibited from returning.
All stallions must be approved and registered with the New Forest Pony Breeding and Cattle Society. There are typically over 130 stallions turned out in the breeding season, all which are approved and registered.
In any year there are over 3000 ponies wandering through the New Forest reserve. These ponies are the responsibility of the Commoner with regards to care should any vet services be required. The Agisters will contact the owner of the pony and inform them of any problems or concerns, and then a decision is made as to how to proceed. This careful control and monitoring of the grazing area allows the New Forest Pony to be kept in its natural state yet still in a safe environment. The careful selection of stallions for use each year in the herd prevents genetic problems and inbreeding to become a problematic factor in the breed as is sometimes seen in unmanaged wild herds or herds in isolation.