My friends and followers will know that the New Forest Boxing Day Point-to-Point is one of the highlights of my commoning calendar. Long have I held ambitions to one day take part myself and be one of those triumphant pairs of pony and rider who cross the finish line to the rapturous applause of the assembled race goers. I hugely admire the tenacity and ability of these native ponies to cover the ground so quickly and nimbly. After all, the races are not held on manicured turf but in the original style of the sport over unpredictable terrain. The Boxing Day race day on the New Forest is very special, being organised to the same amateur principles that established the sport in the mid-1700s, and it remains the only authentic point-to-point in the country. The location of the finish line is made known two weeks prior to the date of the fixture but the start line is only revealed 24-hours beforehand, which is basically on Christmas Day. When asked how he’d enjoyed his Christmas Day one race goer replied; “I had to walk the course with my daughter. Twice!” Races held include veteran jockeys 55 years and over, children 10-16 years, ladies, and novice ponies. Riders have to choose their own path to the finish line and can cross the line from any direction. The adult races are over three-miles and the children’s races are one-and-a-half miles. The races are a test of the physical stamina and sure-footedness of the ponies, and the navigation skills and riding ability of the jockeys. They are great fun to watch and I am sure they are exciting to ride too.
How to enter
In order to be eligible to enter the race the runners and riders must meet certain criteria. The ponies, for instance, must be purebred or part-bred New Forest and have taken part in at least six drifts during the autumn. The riders must be members of the New Forest Pony Breeding & Cattle Society and adhere to strict Health & Safety protocols. The ponies and jockeys need to be fit to take part because the races are a feat of endurance, particularly if this last Boxing Day meeting was anything to go by. The wind was blowing directly into the faces of the competitors as they galloped uphill towards the finish. All the ponies and jockeys that passed the finish line were plastered in mud and some of them were soaked through. A veteran jockey was the first to experience an ‘unplanned dismount’ into a bog and eventually passed the finish line looking drenched and muddy to wild applause from the crowd. The atmosphere is very good humoured, which is helped along by the banter from the race commentator. It is a very informal event that is attended by a family audience and, thanks to the support of local business sponsorship, is free to attend. Roll on next year!