Sunday, 4 July 2010

The Ponies on Stanpit Marsh

A hot, breezy Saturday afternoon in late June. On Stanpit Marsh, the saltwater, marshland nature reserve on the eastern edge of Christchurch Harbour, a herd of New Forest mares live with their foals and a stallion. All summer long, they will graze the lush marshland grass and herbage, growing sleek and round. The foals, still less than three months old, are sturdy and tall. Safe in the disciplined herd environment, they begin to leave their mother`s sides, to find friends to play with.

As we walked down the gravel track, the mares and foals were stirring from a mid afternoon sleep by the water side. The stallion, not a New Forest Pony, is a sturdy little horse of around 15hh. He is a spotted Appaloosa horse, chosen to sire these foals because his progeny should produce New Forest Cross horses with spotted coats, who may grow slightly larger than the average New Forest pony. In these times of recession, the commoner owners have decided to breed animals more likely to make the size of adult riding horses. If the young horses also have Appaloosa or coloured markings, they will be deemed even more desirable and should sell more favourably.

Here is the stallion, who left his flirtations with a bay mare to come and meet one of his foals. I loved the way the youngsters walked along the wooden bridge, which raised their height and made it easier to have a mutual grooming session with their sire. Three foals lined up for a turn to bond with the stallion. To each of them in turn, he gently gave his time and attention. A good father to his foals.

Some of the sleepier foals and their mothers still rested or grazed out on the waterfront, until they realised that their little herd was moving on without them. It was time to catch up and join the others.

Past the salt water inlets where young fish hatch in the shelter of the reeds.

Past the wide marshes where reeds, lush grass and wild flowers grow.

Sometimes venturing ahead of Mum.

Following the lead mare and her foal, down to the edge of Priory Marsh, to drink.

Mares and foals begin to gather. Wading into cool water. Pawing and splashing, and then settling down to drink their fill.The little beach on Priory Marsh is just downstream from the confluence of two rivers. The River Stour drains down from Dorset to meet the Wiltshire and Hampshire River Avon in Christchurch Harbour, just south of the Priory Church and the town. The Saxon name for Christchurch was Twyneham, which means " the place where two rivers meet". As the two river currents flow south towards the sea, they wash the shores with fresh water, diluting the saline of the harbour enough for horses to safely drink.

One of the stragglers, not wanting to be left behind, this bay foal was careful to avoid the gravelly path and to walk on easier grass.

Slaking the thirst of a hot day.....

...and then moving on to graze beside the path.

The herd seemed to settle after their drink. We left them grazing, with the stallion cropping grass just a little way apart. It was time for the mares to eat companionably together while the foals found a friend to groom amongst flower studded grasses. Behind these two, a flock of starlings whirled and landed to feed on the insect-rich marsh.


rachel said...

I've just learned rather more than I ever knew before about horses - thank you! So interesting. I had no idea that stallions took an interest in their foals...

Kath said...

I will be very interested to see the Appaloosa cross foals. I understand many different breeds have been introduced into the Forest over the years.

Bovey Belle said...

That looks like a stallion with a great temperament as well as the desired spots! Makes sense to breed better ponies when passporting is involved, and taller coloured or spotted ones will bring much better money too.

Dartford Warbler said...

BB -He is a lovely stallion. I`m not sure what he would be like to handle, but I`m sure they would be careful about the qualities of a stallion who is going to be living in a very public place where people walk every day.

Kath - I think at least some of these foals are his.I`m sure he is the same stallion as last year. The foals have all kinds of permutations of spots and patches!

Rachel - I think most stallions at least tolerate foals, especially if they want to get friendly with their mothers......

ChrisJ said...

I"m glad you explained about the salt and freshwater being diluted. I was wondering about that. Your posts are always so interesting.

Valerie said...

A really interesting post, I feel as if I've just been on a lazy day out in gorgeous scenery. Hope you'll allow me to visit again.

Goosey said...

I feel that I have walked along with you on this post, I must go over to Stanpit again soon and have a walk.

Morning's Minion said...

I viewed this post when you put it up and later realized I hadn't commented how interesting this is.
When we first moved to Wyoming in 1998 a frequent route took us past a small ranch where Appaloosas were raisied. Their spotty hides are such a marvel and make me think of the phrases in Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem which pay tribute to animals brindled, spotted and dappled.
In the American west the two-colored horses are called pinto or paint.
I have photos of wild horse herds in Wyoming and Colorado--destined for a blog post that never was created.
I hope you will do follow-up on these lovely creatures.