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Letters: New Forest pony myths must be countered

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SIR - Driving from Cadnam to Bramshaw, a few days ago, I noticed how much more careful the driver in front of me became passing the cattle grid on the way to Brook.

I was most impressed to see the driver ease down at every point where an animal could be concealed, and not at all surprised when he turned into Bramshaw village hall where the Commoners’ Defence Association were holding their mid-term meeting.

Those who know me will know that I have campaigned for years on the subject of unnecessary pony deaths on roads of the Forest. The letter to the A&T which raised the greatest reaction was published in 2005 after one of my ponies, not two years old, was killed on Hill Top around 10pm at night. Her back was broken and she had to be put down. Early next morning, I drove past her body lying in a ditch.

We have all heard stories about drivers travelling at excessive speeds and failing to stop after accidents. At one incident a commoner had to be restrained by the agister to stop him taking on a group of youths who were taunting him after hitting and killing one of his ponies. A young commoner, who slowed down for ponies on the road, was told by a driving instructor to “keep up with the traffic”.

These are the stories by which the Forest community judge their more urban neighbours and have become the focus of attention.

In contrast, over the years, I have talked to many people who have hit ponies on the Forest. All have been nice middle class people who have considered themselves good considerate drivers. None has ever said: “I was driving along paying no attention to the animals on the verge, so that when one of them stepped onto the road I was taken by surprise, my reactions were slow and I was travelling too fast to stop anyway.”

They were always the victims, most often the pony came from nowhere and the sun was in the driver’s eyes.

To the outsider, the situation is astonishing, a businessman from Bournemouth told me: “I tell all my drivers to be extra careful and to be aware they are driving in a farmyard. In 1965 a short time after I got married and settled down in Hythe, I was told by another resident: “Oh we don’t slow down for ponies, they are very traffic-wise and you will look like a tourist if you slow down”.

Until the mid-sixties the “New Forest pony is traffic-wise” line was often quoted when selling riding ponies which are generally calm in traffic because they do not appreciate the threat posed by vehicles.

A number of incidents over the years suggest that it is still a widely held view (albeit subconsciously) among the local residents that they will not look as if they belong in the Forest if they slow down for ponies. The situation is further complicated by the belief that the ponies have the same ability to judge speed and distance and to think logically like a human.

The myth of the poor ponies exploited by wicked commoners has further generated mistrust of whatever commoners say. We always concentrate on the ponies, but of course the carnage also includes cattle, donkeys, pigs, deer and occasionally sheep, not to mention the danger to ridden equines.

Chistopher Aldhous

Dibden Purlieu

(Full address supplied)

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