The strong & hardy New Forest Pony! We are celebrating them as our December Breed of the Month on #YourDressage!
Dressage riders who choose New Forest Ponies as their mounts are eligible for special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards program, as the New Forest Pony Society of North America is a participating organization.
Here, a competitor shares how she made the decision to move from warmbloods to ponies, and the joys she has experienced since bringing New Forest Ponies into her life.
By Emily Black
In 2017, I was horseless and unsure in what direction to go. For over a decade, like many dressage riders, warmbloods had been my mount of choice, but I found myself a little burned out from dealing with soundness or temperament issues. I was an adult amateur with two small children, and was in a place where I just wanted to go to the barn and ride. I didn’t want to deal with a fire breathing dragon because they were stuck inside for two days, or a lame horse because it threw a special (and of course very expensive) shoe. I came to the decision that at 30 years old, I wanted to buy my first pony.
I initially didn’t have a particular breed in mind. I just wanted something young to bring along myself, with gaits for dressage, and large enough to fit my 5’3 frame. I posted some inquiries on Facebook and received a message from Lesley Feakins at Trevelyan Farm, a New Forest Pony breeder, who had a 4-year-old for sale. Wishbone was a 14 hand bay gelding, who was cute as a button and had a great hind leg. I decided to take a leap of faith and bought him sight unseen.
It turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and just what I needed at that point in my life. Wishbone was so much fun! He was always up for a ride, no matter what the weather or how many days he had off, and I never saw my vet anymore which was a nice change of pace. He had a cheeky personality and a huge sense of humor, which made my barn time the joyful escape for which I’d been searching. He never made me nervous or feel unsafe. He had the solid, wide build that New Forest’s often have and a horse-like way of going so I never felt too big, despite his short stature. He was so smart and trainable that we soon started showing and made it all the way to the Great American/USDF Regional Championships!
It wasn’t long before I called Lesley again to see if she had any more ponies, just like Wishbone. She did! Forrest Fern, a stunning flaxen, chestnut, 3-year-old mare, soon joined my family. She was also a full New Forest and she really cemented my love of the breed. Her temperament is one of the best I have ever seen. She was a breeze to start and never puts a foot wrong. Fern is also a lovely mover and scores over 70% every time we take her to a show.
It was around this time I got more involved with the New Forest Pony Society of North America (NFPSNA) and volunteered my time as a board member. Although we are a small organization we have a fantastic show program with year-end prizes and also sponsor awards like Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds, as a Participating Organization, and National Dressage Pony Cup. I enjoy the close-knit community we build at the NFPSNA with quarterly newsletters containing updates on everyone’s ponies, and annual meetings that members are invited to join.
One thing that really shocked me was how small the New Forest population is in the United States. We often only have two or three full New Forest foals born each year. Yet, despite the small numbers, they can be found competing in so many disciplines. Not only competing, but succeeding! You will find New Forest Ponies in the FEI dressage ring, United States Hunter Jumper Association Pony Finals, 3* eventing, Driving competition, and on and on. It really is a testament to how special these little guys are.
Everyone who meets my ponies loves them. It really is a shame there aren’t more of them out there. So, I did something I never thought I would do and bred my beloved Forrest Fern. I surprised myself again by enjoying every aspect of producing a foal, and suddenly found myself creating a little breeding program. Because he was a gelding and my focus had shifted somewhat to breeding, I made the difficult decision to sell Wishbone and invest the proceeds into young stock. Wishbone went to a wonderful family and has been a great confidence booster for his little girl. I now have five of the best mares I could find, all of them with Dutch bloodlines. In the Netherlands they took the traditional English New Forest and modernized it a bit. They kept all the traits we love – the super temperament, the trainability, the hardiness, and solid body – but improved the gaits and athleticism needed for today’s sport. I imported two of my mares directly from Holland, and the other three are bred here in the US by myself and Lesley. My next hurdle to cross is finding more stallion options, but I’m getting there!
If you had told me ten years ago that I would be riding and breeding New Forest Ponies, I probably would have laughed. But now, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Life is much simpler and more enjoyable with these wonderful ponies, yet I can still compete and find success in the show ring too. I’m glad I took a chance on that little bay pony and am thankful for all the ways he changed my life.
You can keep up with my ponies on Instagram at @emilyblackdressage and visit poplarponies.com for more information.