There are so many reasons why you should visit New Forest: from seeing the countryside, the coastline, eating fine food, getting out on a bicycle track or even trying forest bathing.
But one thing that is truly magical about the New Forest National Park is the 3,000 or more New Forest ponies which freely roam the heathland and woods.
There have been ponies in the New Forest since the end of the Ice Age and some of the earliest records include bones of a pony at Rockbourne Roman Villa. Today, Rockbourne Roman Villa is a unique archaeological site and museum, situated in a tranquil part of Hampshire, near the historic town of Fordingbridge, on the edge of the New Forest. Admission starts at £4.50 for adults.
The Ponies are very much the reason why New Forest looks the way it does and is always accessible on foot and does not revert to scrub that is inaccessible. The New Forest and Ponies are very much interdependent on each other. These magical animals keep plants in order and their lips have become thicker to allow them to eat holly. Their contribution to the ecosystem means that other species such as the Dartford Warbler and Southern Damselfly can thrive.
Whilst it may seem that the ponies are wild, they are in-fact owned by a Commoner, local people who have the ability by law to graze them and do so as a vocation. Owners look after their ponies, along with Agisters who oversee the New Forest livestock.
As the Ponies, along with all other wildlife and stock are allowed to roam freely in New Forest, the speed limit is 40 mph, however we recommend that you drive more slowly to appreciate the beauty of the landscape and ensure plenty of time if needed to react to a pony crossing the road. It is important to remember that animals have the right of way on all roads in the New Forest. Whilst some ponies have reflective collars, very few cows and not all ponies do – so be particularly careful at night when driving. If you are in an accident, it is an offence not to report it. It is important to carry an animal emergency hotline card so you have all contact details handy.
Whilst ponies are inquisitive and it is captivating to see a mare with their foal or even just a serene pony in its habitat, it is best to remember that whilst they have owners and are cared for, they are in essence wild and should not be approached. A pony’s kick or bite can be quite serious.
It is important to remember not to offer the Ponies food. There is a Forest by law forbidding the feeding of Forest stock and you can get a £200 fine and a criminal record. Feeding ponies (and other animals) is not only bad for your wallet, but also for them. It disrupts their grazing habits which in turn challenges the delicate balance of the New Forest ecosystem. It also attracts them to the picnic areas and roadsides which is dangerous for the ponies and visitors.
Best Places For A Pony Encounter
You will find the ponies everywhere in the New Forest! If driving through, you will see them gathered grazing on the moorland or close to the New Forest villages. Below are some of the top places to spot New Forest ponies. Remember, as the ponies are wild, where they will be on any given day is not exact, they roam as they please.
One of the best villages to see the ponies is Beaulieu. This gorgeous little village seems to be a magnet for ponies, and they almost appear to be happy to pose for a photo!
In the village, the ponies like to hang around Hatchets Pond and Culverley Green.
For those keen for a walk, near Lyndhurst is the Lyndhurst Hill and Swan Green Circular Walk, a 10.5km loop. Starting at Swan Green in Lyndhurst, this mostly flat scenic walk takes you through open land, dense, peaceful and lush forest, moorland and heaths. You will see many ponies along the way and there are plenty of pubs to visit if you need a rest or drink!
Brockenhurst is well known for the ponies that drink at ‘The Watersplash’ which is near the bottom of the main street, along with its quaint tea houses, pubs and restaurants. For those who are keen to cycle, Beachern Wood near Brockenhurst is the start of a fabulous off-road cycle ride to the pretty hamlet of Bank. Hire bikes are available at Cycle Experience in Brockenhurst.
Ponies (and cattle) roam freely around the village and thatched cottages of Burley, a town that oozes old world charm. Burley features everything you would expect from a traditional New Forest Village with tea rooms, gift shops, art galleries and its very own cider farm!
Tanners Lane Beach
Near Lymington is Tanners Lane Beach. It is a pebbly beach, picturesque and quiet. Whilst you stroll on the beach watching boats go by, you will often encounter the ponies paddling, rolling on the sand or even snoozing on the coastline! A bridge crosses the estuary where swans are often seen. Great views of the Isle of Wight and Hurst Castle in the distance. It is best to walk or cycle to the beach as there is minimal parking.