Boxing Day this year (2016) began with a glorious sunny aspect, which warmed the early morning with the promise of a good day. The drive to the meet was pleasant and punctuated at important road junctions with signage pointing the way to the finish line, where all the spectators were asked to assemble. I turned up in good time to join the small queue at the mobile catering unit for a coffee and an egg and bacon bap, which is the prerequisite meal when attending any New Forest Point-to-Point. Having purchased a programme that listed all the runners and riders, I took up my usual position close to the finish line and within easy hearing distance of the commentary box. From this vantage point I usually get a good view of the proceedings and can hear any important announcements. Everyone was in good spirits and there was a feeling of excited anticipation in the air.
New Forest Boxing Day Point-to-Point
The Boxing Day Point-to-Point on the New Forest is very special. The races are conducted according to the same amateur principles that established the sport in the mid-1700s, and remains the only authentic point-to-point in the country. The location of the finish line, where the spectators are invited to assemble, is revealed only two weeks prior to the date of the fixture. However, the start line is disclosed only 24-hours beforehand! Those riding in the race are informed on Christmas Day of the location of the starting point and, if they so chose, are able to walk the course to inspect the ground. There are several races held on the day, including veteran jockeys 55 years and over, children 10-16 years, ladies, and novice ponies. In order to be eligible to enter the race the runners and riders must meet certain strict criteria. The ponies, for instance, must be purebred or part-bred New Forest ponies and have taken part in at least four drifts (pony round-ups) during the autumn. The riders must also be members of the New Forest Pony Breeding & Cattle Society or the New Forest Pony Enthusiasts Club. All participants must adhere to strict Health & Safety protocols.
A feat of stamina and knowledge of the Forest
The ponies and jockeys need to be fit to take part because the races are a feat of endurance. Although this year the going was very good, with the approach to the finish line on beautifully, flat, green tuft, on previous occasions the course has been an entirely different proposition. I have seen freezing rain and strong winds blowing directly into the faces of the ponies and riders as they galloped uphill, over heather, towards the finish line. Previously, some of the ponies and jockeys have passed the finish line plastered in mud and some soaked through. On one occasion, a veteran jockey experienced an ‘unplanned dismount’ into a bog and eventually passed the finish line looking absolutely drenched and muddy, but to a wild applause from the crowd. Riders have to choose their own path to the finish and can cross the line from any direction. This year one jockey finished in a different direction from the rest of the riders in her class and received rapturous cheers as a result. The adult races are run 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 New Forest ponies, and the navigation skills and riding ability of the jockeys. They are great fun to watch and I am sure they must be exciting to ride too. The atmosphere is very good humoured, which is helped along by the banter from the race commentator. It is an informal event that attracts a large, family audience and, thanks to the generous support of local business sponsorship, is free to attend. There is a strong presence of volunteers on the day performing important functions, such as course designers, stewards (ridden and on-foot) and programme sellers, which ensures that the event runs smoothly and everyone has a good time. Well done to everyone – organisers, runners and riders – for a fabulous day out!
Abridged results: New Forest Boxing Day Point-to-Point
Race 1a – no entries
Race 1b – Veterans 55 Yrs and over on New Forest ponies – won by Judith Cutler, riding her own Yewtree Stroller II.
Race 2 – Children 10-13 Yrs on New Forest ponies – won by John Lovell, riding Erika Dovey’s Ipersbridge Whisper.
Race 3 – Children 14-16 Yrs on New forest ponies – won by Lizzie Wilson, riding Linda Crow’s Willoway Fancy Free.
Race 4a – Ladies on ponies – won by Heidi Whetren riding Lily Wiltshire’s Easter.
Race 4b & 4c – Open ponies not exceeding 15.2hh & Heavyweight Race minimum height 15.2hh – won by Mark Adams, riding his own Woottonheath Herbie.
Race 5 evens – Novice New Forest pony – won by Cody Green, riding Sonja Waite’s Silverlea Spartacus.
Race 5 odds – Novice New Forest pony – won by Amy Howells riding Roly Bessant’s Samsons Scandal.
Race 6 & 7 – Open New Forest ponies & Young Commoners on pure bred New Forest ponies – won by Anita Smith, riding her own Janesmoor Jasper Conran.
NB: If anyone has photos of this years NFP-2-P that I could use, for a link/acknowledgement, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.