Your guide to finding and spotting the New Forest ponies as you explore
Covering 140,000 acres, the New Forest’s glorious glades and wild open moors are home to over 5,000 native ponies, who’ve inhabited the heathlands for over 2,000 years.
Although they have permission to roam free, the New Forest ponies are actually owned rather than totally wild. They are cared for and managed by the New Forest ‘agisters’ — a group of officials whose role we’ll explain!
Getting a glimpse of these beautiful creatures is not difficult, but of course there are no certainties as to where they will be on any given day — which is, of course, part of the fun when it comes to seeing them in the wild! There are some hotspots though, which we’ve highlighted for you.
All about visiting the New Forest native ponies & visiting them
If you’re particularly set on spotting some of these equine beauties, it’s worth blocking out a day or two to explore the New Forest at a leisurely pace. This will drastically increase your chances — and at the very least you’ll take in the stunning surroundings. There are also a number of New Forest by-laws and other tips that you might want to acquaint yourself with…
Top tips for driving around the New Forest
When driving through the New Forest, you’ll see that the speed limit is 40mph; this is to keep the livestock and the ponies safe, because they can and do wander around close to roads — and occasionally they will cross them! The speed limit is for safety, but it also means you can really take in the beauty of the area, keeping your eyes peeled for pony-seeing pit stops.
The ponies also have right of way at any part of the roads within the New Forest, so be especially aware of your speed and keep a close eye on your surroundings at all times. Some owners do place reflective collars on their horses, but not all do so. The cows that roam tend not to have these, so seeing them at night can be difficult.
If you do see any animals, be mindful of speed, give them plenty of space and allow them to pass calmly. It’s also important that you do not feed the animals. If they get used to being fed near roads, it will increase their risk of injury and death — plus it is also forbidden under New Forest law.
How to behave around New Forest native ponies
It surprises many people to learn that the New Forest ponies aren’t actually truly wild, but to all intents and purposes they live a very wild life — which means they are used to seeing people, but should not be expected to behave in a completely tame manner.
For this reason, approaching the ponies is dangerous and you must bear in mind that a bite or a kick from a pony can be very serious. It is better to watch from a distance and give them the space they need and will appreciate.
Best described as ‘semi wild’ and ‘semi feral’, the New Forest ponies are actually owned privately, but are released into the forest by their owners to roam free. Numbers dropped as low as 600 in 1945, but thankfully this has increased drastically to over 5,000.
Under a New Forest by-law, feeding the ponies is actually forbidden, with the penalties including a £200 fine and a criminal record. This may seem dramatic, but it’s actually for good reason.
The ponies play a vital role in maintaining the area’s delicate ecosystem and changes to their diets not only pose a risk to their health and safety, but threaten to impact the other flora and fauna. Typically between 4 and 5 feet tall, they are valued for their strength and hardiness. They’re actually indigenous to the New Forest, with equines having lived there since before the Last Ice Age.
Since the ponies have lived in sync with the other wildlife and plants for so long, they do a great job of managing much of the plant life in the New Forest. They have even developed thicker lips which means they keep the holly bushes in order. This crucial role in the balance of their surroundings means they can be thanked for the thriving population of birds such as the Dartford Warbler!
The New Forest ‘commoners’, 'Verderers’ & ‘agisters’
Given their long-standing role in the New Forest, it should come as no surprise to learn that there’s some fascinating history behind caring for the New Forest ponies. Much of the archaic terminology and many of the traditional administrative roles involved with managing the equine population still remain today.
All the New Forest native ponies are owned by ‘commoners’, the people who occupy the land or property in the New Forest. First laid out in a 1217 charter, there are a number of historic ‘common rights’ attached to the property or land, including ‘rights of common of pasture’. Many of these rights survive today and are protected by law.
Commoners pay an annual fee — a ‘marking fee’ — which allows the native ponies to roam freely and graze.
The Court of Venderers is composed of ten officials. The roles of the Verderers include ‘protecting and regulating the New Forest's unique agricultural commoning practices’ and ‘conserving its traditional landscape, wildlife and aesthetic character’ — part of which includes caring for the native ponies. They also dealt with offences relating to the New Forest.
Dating back to the 13th century, this court is believed to have been authorised by the Crown. Over time, the roles, powers and constitution of the court has changed. Nowadays, with the New Forest Act of 1949, five of the 10 officials are elected by the commoners, four are appointed by the government with the remaining position — held by the Official Verderer, the chair of the Court — appointed by the Queen.
As we mentioned earlier, there are currently five ‘agisters’ in the New Forest. These officials are employed by the Court of Verderers to look after the welfare of the free-roaming ponies and other animals in the New Forest, doing things ‘on the ground’, including checking on their health and the condition of their land. Each agister is responsible for a particular area of the New Forest.
Just like the New Forest and the ponies themselves, the role of agister is mediaeval in origin, stemming from the word ‘agist’ — to take in to graze for payment. Taking these fees from commoners is still part of the agister’s role today.
These officials often roam the New Forest on horseback dealing with issues relating to the free-roaming animals’ health; it’s also their job to watch out for unauthorised animals and enforce the New Forest Verderers’ by-laws, one of which we touched on earlier relating to feeding the ponies!
What if I have an accident or spot an injured animal?
Any accidents must be reported as soon as possible and within 24 hours — it’s actually an offence not to do so. Should you end up in an accident involving an animal (horse, cow, pig, sheep, dog or deer) then you must call the police either via 999 (or the non-emergency 101).
If you find an animal in distress or injured, you must call the Verderer’s Office on 023 8028 2052 (Mon–Fri, 9am–5pm) or the Forestry Commission on 0300 067 4600 (24 hrs).
Where to find and see New Forest native ponies
Because they are allowed to roam, the ponies are not necessarily going to be in any one spot on demand! It’s important to accept there are no guarantees. However, if you are planning to take a relaxing drive, cycle or walk through the New Forest and are in no particular hurry, then there are some places you are more likely to get a glimpse of them — as well as the opportunity to soak up some beautiful scenery and villages.
The picturesque village of Beaulieu is an absolute must-visit if you’re in the New Forest — if not for the incredible National Motor Museum or the to-die-for afternoon cream tea, but the New Forest native ponies that often frequent Culverley Green and Hatchets Pond.
Beaulieu is what we like to call a true ‘chocolate box’ village; pretty and traditional yet characterful and lively — a perfect epitome of the seclusion, charm and quirkiness of the New Forest. A great place to spot its native equine inhabitants!
It’s very common to find some of the New Forest ponies in and around the Watersplash in Brockenhurst. This is a ford that’s found at the end of the western end of the main street, Brookley Road. Usually the water level is calm and gentle, although take care in a car or on a bike if there’s been heavy downpours.
It’s worth making a day of your visit to Brockenhurst to truly sample the atmosphere in this traditional-yet-lively New Forest village — this gives you more time for pony spotting, too. Free-roaming ponies can be found in the areas away from the main road, too, as well as occasionally in the large central Brookley Road car park.
Brockenhurst boasts beautiful cottages and lots of wonderful places to refuel after your adventures from tea rooms, to pubs, so even if you don’t see any (which we’re sure won’t be the case!), it’s never a wasted visit.
Sometimes referred to as the capital of the New Forest, Lyndhurst is surrounded by beautiful heathland and gorse in the right season. It has become synonymous with sightings of the New Forest ponies.
To maximise your pony-seeing chances, check out Boltons Bench or take the 10km Lyndhurst Hill and Swan Green circular walk through wide open moorland, untamed heaths and shady woods. The Forestry Commission HQ is situated here, as is the New Forest Heritage Centre. Worth a trip on your exploration of the area!
This is a stunning riverside town, on the banks of the River Avon. A great base for a walk into the New Forest’s heathlands, where you’ll have ample opportunity to spot the ponies, particularly around Abbots Well Road.
There’s attraction to explore including Breamore House, a grade-II listed Elizabethan mansion where you can take a tour, peruse the farm shop and countryside museum. For a quick refuel, there’s also a lovely café.
The hub for everything charming about the New Forest’s villages — independent tea rooms, gift shops, art galleries, cosy country taverns, winding lanes, and beautiful traditional scenery. It’s even famous for its witchcraft! What’s more, it’s a top draw for New Forest ponies. Try the relaxing Burley village circular walk for maximising your chances of seeing some.
Tanners Lane Beach
This is a special spot to catch a glimpse of the ponies. Here, if you’re lucky enough, you’ll find them paddling in the sea or rolling around on the sandy shores. The car park is very small, so it might be worth packing the velos or walking boots and heading closer by pedal or on foot.
Enjoy a walk along the beach and take a look across the water to the Isle of Wight — a great place to make a day of all the different aspects of the New Forest. The incredible beaches of the New Forest don’t get enough praise!
You could even head into the colourful Georgian coastal town of Lymington, head to Hurst Castle or take a walk along The Solent Way for some more unbeatable coastal panoramas.
Roger Penny Way
This winding stretch of road at the heart of the New Forest is great for glimpsing all kinds of wildlife, not just the native ponies — so of course be sure to watch your speed. There’s a number of car parks and viewing points from which a nice circular walk could start, including Ashley Walk and Telegraph Hill.
Roger Penny Way is only a brisk walk through the village of Nomansland (or very short drive) from our Green Hill Farm Holiday Village, if you were after the perfect place to stay!
Stay a while in the New Forest…
There are also a number of great horseback riding experiences if you want to get truly up close to the New Forest native ponies. They’re celebrated as incredible, hardy workhorses.
The ponies are a huge draw and sight to behold, but are simply only one of many reasons to visit the New Forest. Connect with the coast, hop between picture-postcard villages, explore underneath its ancient tree top canopies and wander through ancient heathland. A true escape to nature.
Experience it all with a luxury lodge, holiday home, camping our touring getaway at Green Hill Farm Holiday Village, our stunning park located at the heart of the New Forest National Park.
We even have a range of stunning holiday homes and luxury lodges for sale if you were wanting to make the ultimate commitment to the New Forest!