VISITORS to the New Forest are being reminded not to touch the ponies after it was announced they could be carrying equine flu – said to be “prevalent” among UK wild horse herds.
All horse racing was banned across the country for six days last week after several racehorses tested positive for the illness. There were six confirmed cases at the stables of Grand National winning trainer Donald McCain in Cheshire.
The ban has now been lifted, but people living in or visiting the New Forest are still being urged not to touch wild ponies and horse riders are being warned not to let their animals near them.
Tony Hockley, chairman of the New Forest Commoners’ Defence Association, said: “Equine flu has always been prevalent in the UK amongst wild herds.
“The horse racing ban has highlighted the problem of equine flu and has given us the opportunity to once again warn people they should never touch wild horses in the New Forest.
“They could be carrying any disease, or virus, but not showing any symptoms, and chances are they have not been vaccinated against anything.
“By touching them you are running the risk of transmitting the disease to other animals. Similarly, horse riders should not let their animals near wild livestock for the same reasons.”
Dr Hockley added: “Our advice has always been not to approach New Forest ponies, they are unpredictable, unsafe and can spread disease. Our message is ‘Don’t touch them’.”
The New Forest Hounds cancelled two hunts, one last Saturday and another on Tuesday, because of the risk of equine flu.
Graham Ferris, a master with the hunt, said: “We took this action as a precaution. We felt it was the responsible thing to do after the racing world issued this ban.”
He said around 40 members were expected to turn up for the Saturday hunt, due to take place at Frogham, and another 20 on Tuesday at Brockenhurst. They were emailed to let them know they were suspended.
Mr Ferris continued: “Everyone thought it was the right thing to do. We have now resumed the hunt and one is scheduled for Saturday (tomorrow); although obviously if anything happens between now and then regarding equine flu we will review that.
“We are also asking anyone whose pony is not 100% not to attend. So, if your horse has a runny nose, or other symptoms of illness – which could be anything – then don’t bring them out just as a precaution. We have to be very aware of horse health.”