When the clocks go back each autumn the daylight hours become fewer and the weather is generally more inclement. It’s a testing time for the commoners and can make searching for stock on the Open Forest quite an undertaking. I like to check on my mares as often as I can to make sure that they are healthy and injury-free. Of course in the summer walking or riding on the New Forest is an absolute pleasure and checking on the stock becomes a leisurely activity. With the majority of visitors coming to the Forest in the summer it’s also an opportunity to take advantage of all those extra pairs of eyes, who will alert the Verderers if they notice any ponies looking unwell. But in the winter it’s an entirely different proposition.
At the moment the sun rises at about 7.30am and there is simply not enough time in the mornings for me to get onto the Forest in the daylight and back in time to get ready for work. I am faced with the prospect of only being able to check on my ponies at weekends and relying on the other commoners to keep an eye on them during the week. There are fewer visitors around too and so the added bonus of other people looking over the commonable animals is also much reduced. In view of this I came to the decision that I was going to catch them up and bring them home. At least if they are on the holding I can check them daily and, if necessary, give them supplementary feeding to keep them in good condition when the worst of the winter weather arrives. Even in the deepest snow the ponies on the Open Forest are still able to find grazing by scraping back the snow with their hooves or by browsing the tips of the gorse. But even so I wanted to bring them home.
Generally speaking gathering the ponies from off the Forest would involve organising a colt-hunting team to go and round them up. However, my mares saved me the bother by one day simply turning up and asking to be let in. It was almost as if they had read my mind! It’s not unheard of for me to go out looking for them on the Forest and for them to turn up at home, usually with a bunch of their friends in tow. My mares know where they live and will, every now and again, come by and check on us! So on this occasion I was able to take advantage of their ‘homing’ instinct and when they appeared I opened the gates to the pasture and, seeing the plentiful grass, they needed no further invitation to move back home for the winter.