The ponies probably are my absolutely favourite thing about The New Forest. I still remember the very first time I visited The New Forest and meeting the lovely and often even very friendly ponies under trees and even in Brockenhurst Village Centre.
As my parents in law live in Burley, I have had quite a lot of experience dealing with ponies blocking the road. As it gets hotter during spring and summer, horses like to seek out shady spots where they can nozzle each other and scare away nasty flies in peace. More often than not this shady patch happens to be in the middle of the road.
I remember my husband and I were driving from Burley to Brockenhurst to pick up some Indian take-out. We were avoiding the busy road as we knew it would be full of tourists with massive campervans and Google Maps told us there was an accident on the road that we were eager to avoid.
That’s when we hit gridlock.
Gridlock being 5 cars waiting patiently for a group of 7 horses to move out of the way.
The people in the cars in front of us were tourists and had no idea what to do. “Can we leave our car?” the woman in front of us asked me as I had left the car to lead the horses off the road. Yes off course you can leave your car. I just wouldn’t go too close to the horses when you are not used to handling or working with horses or a local who for whom this scene is just another Wednesday afternoon.
Sure, it is safe to leave your car, and it is a great time to take pictures! But knowing horses, you might be standing around or sitting in your car for quite a while if you are waiting for them to leave the road out of their own accord.
So how do you get rid of horses blocking the road?
90% of the time you can safely drive around the horses
Seeing horses on the road is part of every day life in The New forest. When you see a horse on the road, you do not necessarily need to stop.
When you drive past the horse, keep in mind to drive slowly and keep an eye on the horse and its position on the road.
Please always keep to the speed limit in The New forest and be sure to slow down when there are horses on the road. A horse on your bonnet is a dead horse.
Kill your speed, not a pony!
Stay calm when you see New Forest Ponies blocking the road. Always.
This one time we were hit by a massive line of cars entering Burley. We literally were behind 25 to 30 cars waiting for horses to move out of the way.
I know it might be annoying, and you might be in a hurry, but it is very important to stay calm. Always.
Although the horses are incredibly kind, friendly and very used to people, they are still (mostly) wild horses. When they get spooked, they can bite and kick like any animal in a panic.
When you want to take pictures of horses in the road, approach them with calm movements, a low and soft voice and do not make any sudden movements.
When a horse panics in the middle of the road with cars around, there is a big chance the horse damages a car or even hurts itself by scraping its legs on a car of falling on a hood.
If you have no idea how to handle horses it is best you keep your distance.
Find a local to help you move the horses.
When you are unsure of what to do, your first and best option is to look for local residents in the other cars. It has happened multiple times that my husband and I did not do anything to get the horses out of the way as we were not pressed for time or had nowhere pressing to go.
Knock on the window of other cars and ask nicely whether they are local and they can help you to move the horses out of the way.
People in The New Forest are very kind and eager to help so I am very sure you will find someone who can move the ponies for you.
Do not honk your horn at New Forest Ponies
If there is nobody around to help you, the last thing you should ever do is honk your horn at New Forest Ponies.
Although the horses in The New Forest are used to seeing people and being around cars, hard noises like car horns can anger or spook them.
A horse that is spooked or angered can be very irrational. The horse can hurt itself on your car leading to life-ending injuries such as broken legs, in very rare cases the horse can also kick your car leading to bumps and probably a new paint-job.
Edge forward when the New Forest Ponies are moving
When the group of ponies blocking the road are moving away from you, it is a good idea to edge forward. Ponies and horses are incredibly intelligent animals and will understand that you want to pass them.
When you decide to edge forward you still need to keep a safe distance from the horses. Keep your speed incredibly low – maybe even in neutral when the road slopes as they often do in The New Forest.
When the horses are moving and you edge forward, they will catch on to the fact that you want to pass them and will often get out of the way within a couple of minutes.
As a last resort you can get out of your car to move the horses along
As a last resort you can get out of your car and move the horses along. You can do this by making “shoo” sounds and waving your arms towards the horses as in to say “go!”. A bit like what you would do to chase away a nasty cat that’s peeing in your nicely kept flowerbed.
This will do the trick 9 times out of 10.
Do not go too close and keep an eye on the body language of the horse. When a horse flattens his ears, it means he is angry or annoyed. When this is the case you will want to keep a safe distance between you and the horse. When it is your flailing or “shoo’ing” that made the horse angry, simply go back to your car and sit and wait.
Also keep in mind that in summer the flies are relentless. They annoy the horses greatly which might mean the horses have less patience than they normally would have.