Thursday, 18 November 2010

Doppelganger Ponies

The Ginger Pony is nine years old. Born in the gorse on the Forest heath outside, we watched him grow from his first day, and he came to live with us that winter. It was the year of Foot and Mouth Disease and animals could not be moved from the Forest or transported anywhere. Ginger needed a home, and he found one here.

Below is his pretty yearling chestnut niece, grazing on the Forest green this summer. They are both the spitting images of Ginger`s mother, an old chestnut mare who died last winter. If this young pony survives the Forest roads, she will go on to produce foals of her own in New Forest springtimes still to come.

Here are two of our New Forest boys; best friends sharing a stable while they waited to have their hooves trimmed on Saturday. Look to the left and you will see an almost identical matching pair. They are a mother and daughter pair bond who were peering through the back gate from the Forest heath, hoping for a scrap of hay at feeding time.

Many New Forest ponies are related in some way or another, particularly if they are hefted in the same area and if their mothers and grandmothers have been grazing there for generations. Chocolate, our dark bay pony in the stable, is the younger brother of the dark bay mare (called Micro as she was once a very small foal) outside. She helped to look after him when he was a young foal on the Forest. Their mother, a small dark bay mare who we called Muffin, used to wander off a short distance and leave sister and brother grazing and sometimes playing together.

That winter, Muffin managed to avoid the annual round up and still had her foal at foot during the worst of the weather. We kept an eye out for them , with the knowledge of their owner who lives many miles from our village. Eventually, with mare and foal losing weight and with the foal gaining confidence in us, we offered to buy him and he was invited through the gate to join our little herd of New Forest ponies. Muffin was in her late twenties at this stage. The following year, when her newest foal was hit by a car, her owner took her off the Forest and we understand that she has now joined her ancestors.

The Grey One in the stable is half brother to the grey filly foal outside the gate. They are both three years old and share the same father, who is a beautiful steel grey New Forest pony . The Grey One came to us as an orphaned six week old, after his mother had been killed by a Hit and Run driver in our village. A friend found him trying to suckle his dead mother beside the road. The Agister was initially preparing to shoot the foal, as his commoner owner is an elderly man who was unable to rear an orphan. My friend pleaded for the little one`s life and the foal was given to her. We cared for him together for several weeks until he was given to us as we had the time and facilities to raise him.

That summer, 2007, we had three needy and motherless foals with us. All are now lovely, thriving youngsters so it was well worth the night feeds and the hours of work involved. The Grey One is now a fine, sturdy gelding who is growing well and who has the kindest temperament. He was integrated with a kind, older pony as soon as was practical. The Chocolate pony, himself grown from a poorly Forest foal, took over his role of Big Brother and has been a good companion ever since.


Kath said...

How interesting, I do like reading about the ponies. We had a NF from the Priory stud, many years ago.
Lovely story about the orphaned foal.

Bovey Belle said...

Hah! Just like a village - everyone's related to everyone! Loved the photo of the doppelgangers.

chinecats said...

I love your photos. Happy faces! Are your ponies fenced in, or do they roam about? I would not be able to stop worrying about cars. When I drive through the forest, I see a lot of the main roads are fenced off, but I'm usually just passing through.

Morning's Minion said...

It sounds as though life in the New Forest is precarious for the ponies. Its good that you are able to care for some of them.
There are a number of wild horse herds in the west near where we used to live. We've been told that those who oversee some of these horses introduce a new stud every few years hoping to keep the bloodlines strong.

Dartford Warbler said...

Chinecats - yes, ours are fenced in. Our paddocks edge the Forest heath so that the ponies can still see their "wild" friends and relatives through gaps in the hedge. We do have commoning rights here and I originally hoped to run a few mares on the Forest - a childhood dream when I was a pony mad child living on the other side of Southampton Water.

I soon realised that I just could not cope with the worry of having my animals out on the roads day and night. In the old commoning families, they hate the accidents too but they still carry on. If there were no ponies on the Forest there would be no New Forest landscape as we know it, so I do admire the commoners who keep the old tradition going.

I reached a compromise by taking in some of the young colts who are in trouble, like our 2007 orphans, and then either rehoming them carefully or keeping them here. I don`t ride much nowadays due to an old injury, but get as much pleasure from the groundwork training and " looking after" that comes with having these young ones.

We keep an eye on the local ponies and contact owners or the Agister if we see a problem, so hopefully that helps.

In our local paper today, there were several more pony accidents reported, including yet another Hit and Run where a damaged pony was left to die in the road. It must be so hard to be a commoner who gets that dreaded phone call from the Agister to say that one of your ponies has been hit by someone who didn`t even have the decency to stop.

MM - the New Forest stallions undergo a rigorous assessment every spring and they move to different areas each spring to try and avoid too much inbreeding. However, it does seem that a lot of our local ponies seem to be related in some way!

WOL said...

How cruel and heedless people can be. The thought of somebody leaving an injured horse to die in the road breaks my heart! That is the main reason my cats are strictly indoor cats. My street is very busy with people vrooming up and down it all day, and they never pay attention. I have no patience with or respect for people who say, "It's only a (cat, dog, horse, etc.)"

So good that you are able to take in some of the orphaned and sickly foals and find good homes for them.

chinecats said...

Interesting post! Next time I drive through (sticking to the speed limits, despite the impatient drivers up my tail) I will look at the ponies with better insight to their welfare. They are a beautiful sight!

Karen said...

I'm thinking maybe you should start a barn quilt byway over there in the New Forest. I bet one would look great on the side of your stable.

I'm trying to get a world-wide thing going here. . .