We're just back from three days riding in the New Forest area. This expanse of one hundred and fifty square miles was actually 'new' in the year 1079 when William the Conqueror ejected the population to create a deer park for his hunting. It's now a National Park and one of the largest expanses of heathland in Britain.
Brena and I stayed at a stud in the midst of the New Forest. In a nearby field lived a fine Trakhener stallion of superb quality. Meanwhile Brena's overnight pasture was sheltered by splendid oak trees of enormous girth.
Just take a look at the vast bole behind the resting mare. This tree might be five hundred years old. There are still numerous ancient oaks in the area, despite storms and wars.
The New Forest requires careful navigation. The trails are many, signposts few, and landmarks subtle. I took a map and compass, and needed both. Brena and I traversed open heathland setting our course by the sun. We dropped down into wooded valleys where the dense foliage restricted views to our immediate surroundings. But there is regular clean drinking water for horses. We didn't get lost, and mostly I knew our location on the map to within a quarter of a mile.
Ponies roam the forest freely to graze. Local people inhabiting certain properties have inherited traditional grazing rights. For six weeks a year stallions are allowed out to breed, and each Autumn mares and foals are rounded up for counting and sale. The ponies walk into villages and use the roads to get about, so there is a rather low mandatory speed limit for vehicles. These ponies tend to ignore ridden horses so they weren't a problem for Brena and I. But we were warned to avoid the weekend in May when the stallions are first turned out!