I’ve been doing a bit of sums recently and calculating the cost of being a commoner on the New Forest. I can tell you that it’s not cheap. After registering my mark, having my brand made, joining the New Forest Pony Breeding & Cattle Society and the New Forest Commoners Defence Association, paying my grazing fees and getting the Agister to brand my ponies, I’m rather out of pocket. Then of course I need specialist insurance to cover me if, God forbid, a hit and run driver should injure or kill one of my ponies; or in the event that someone leaves a gate open on the perimeter of the Forest and my ponies wander outside the area. Of course I’ve paid all this without yet having calculated the purchase price of a pony!
In the company of nature
Many of my friends think I must be mad to commit such hard earned resources to a project that, when I sell my first foal, will not yield any higher return than you’d pay for a round of drinks in the pub. But of course they’re missing the point. Nothing can be more rewarding than supporting a way of life that has been practised for generations, or in going out on the Forest looking for your stock and finding them safe and well. For me, riding or walking on the tracks across the heathland of the New Forest is just about the most perfect way to spend a few hours. Being in the company of nature, in all seasons and all weathers, is time well spent.
Less than favourable weather
This week the weather has been less than kind at times. On a very wet and windy morning I set out to find my mares. On days like these the only sight of other people I get are those of really hardened ramblers or dog-walkers. In these less than favourable weather conditions it seems to me that I generally have the Forest to myself. As I crested the rise overlooking the valley where the girls usually are I couldn’t see a single pony anywhere. I knew they’d be taking shelter but I wasn’t sure where. It was only a matter of time before I spied a pony inside a gorse thicket trying to shelter from the elements. I decided to walk around the thicket, which extended about thirty metres down the hill, to the side protected from the prevailing wind to see if my mares were there too.
Sentries at Horse Guards Parade
A peculiar sight greeted me as I rounded the end of the thicket. In a line snaking back up the hill were ponies at regular intervals all backed into the gorse. They looked like the sentries at Horse Guards Parade, in London, peeking out of their sentry boxes. The line consisted of black, bay, grey and chestnut ponies all tucked into the gorse and guarding themselves against the wind. Their thick tails were fanned out behind them to add an extra layer of protection and keep them warm. My two mares were among the herd and though wet, looked very well. I had been amply rewarded in my efforts to find them. My experience of commoning may have indeed cost money but in many ways has also left me much richer.