GILL WRIGHT – NEW FOREST PONY BREEDER
Gill Wright, owner of the Burley New Forest Pony Stud, is a New Forest person through and through. Her grandfather, Frank Shutler, was a New Forest Agister, employed by the New Forest Verderers to oversee the Commoners’ stock, including the ponies, turned out on the Forest. He was also an NPS judge, a racehorse trainer for Thoroughbred Pony Racing up to 15 hands, and won the pony version of the Derby. He ran ponies out on the Forest, using the prefix “Burley”, and gave Gill a Forest-bred pony, Jillee, the day she was born.
Gill’s mother, Joan, was also brought up with ponies, and used the prefix “Randalls”, from Randalls Farm, Burley, where Gill now lives. Mrs Wright was an NPS judge, and when Gill herself became an NPS judge in the nineteen-eighties, she was one of the first of that Society’s third generation judges.
As a youngster, Gill was a very keen rider, and show-jumping with the ponies was her real love. Her mother had bought her elder sister, Theresa, a Forest-bred stallion called Sovereign. “He had been ordered off the Forest”, explained Gill, “because, in the days before the Forest was fenced and gridded, he kept on going into (the town of) Lymington and making a nuisance of himself. He was shut into Lymington pound, but he consistently jumped out – the wall was nearly six feet, and he was 13.2 hands!”
Theresa got Sovereign going really well, and when Gill ‘inherited’ him, he was the best jumping pony in the district, and was very successful in local shows. Mrs Wright was offered £1000 for him – a huge amount in 1962/63 – and she turned it down!
Unfortunately, Sovereign got into the turkey shed and ate a lot of very high protein food, which eventually affected his heart. “He was retired”, said Gill, “but came out later with my younger sister, Liz, and at the ripe old age of about nineteen, he went out and won another jumping class, having been retired for about seven years. He was a wonderful pony.”
Gill had various other jumping ponies. Her mother used to buy young ponies, get them going, and sell them on. They were mostly Foresters, and as Gill said, “I developed my riding, with so many different ponies to ride – it was a fantastic education”.
She also, like so many Forest people involved with the ponies, took part in the exciting and, at times. quite dangerous pony drifts, when the Agisters and Commoners round up the ponies to the various pounds in the Forest, to be checked, foals taken off for the sales, or branded if remaining on the Forest.
Gill built up her own small herd of New Forest pones from that original mare, Jillee, by buying odds and ends, and her mother gave her a few more. “I’ve never had too many,” she explained, “ as I always deal with them myself. I’ve not had help, and with too many you’re too stretched. I run some of them out some of the time, but with the increasing traffic, it’s such a risk running them on the Forest, and being hit by cars. Years ago the traffic was quite light, but now it’s so heavy I just can’t risk my ponies out there.
If I get one that consistently stays too fat, there are one or two spots in the Forest where you can put a pony away from the roads, and run them out just to slim them down and get them fitter. I chose my ponies and the areas where I put them very carefully. It’s a real shame, because that’s where they’re designed to be. I’m lucky I have access to quite a large acreage, and with them being such good doers I do have to watch their weight very closely – they live on fresh air! I really do not like to see these grossly over weight ponies in the show ring, so it’s a good thing to practice what you preach!”
When it comes to breeding, I don’t like to go too far away from the Forest lines. If I use some stud lines for a generation, I like to go back to the Forest-run line if I can. I find that you can get too far away from type quite quickly, and you need to come back to the Forest line to get your type re-established. You do have to be careful that you don’t lose your type, good movement., etc.
I definitely go for performance ponies. I try and ride most of my mares. It’s part of their education, and I like to see how they take to training, because that is so important. They need to be biddable, and they need to have that willingness of temperament, without being difficult, so I think it’s a good thing to ride them and test that side of their nature. Temperament has to be THE most important thing. I think when you spend so much time and money rearing and training ponies, you want them to try for you, and have easy, biddable temperaments.
I have had stallions in the past, but I find that, as a policy, it is best not to have your own stallion. Each mare needs a different horse. If you have your own stallion it’s much easier, but it’s more successful if you look at each individual mare, and match them accordingly.
I have had my own little stallion. I was very worried that we were losing the very small pony – they have become extremely rare. The smallest pony that I knew was about 12.2 hands, which isn’t that small. So I made it my quest to breed a small one, and that I managed to do. That was Burley Showman. I used a very small Forest- mare called Mallins Princess, and she was very small – barely 11 hands. I also had Longslade Moon Daisy, bred by Colin Moore, and Tip Toe Holly, bred by Lynn Richardson . These were my three main mares. Moon Daisy and Holly both produced show winners at the Breed Show and locally.
I put Mallins Princess to Peveril Peter Piper, and got Burley Showman. He has been a very successful sire, and also went to HOYS in the Workers – and he’s 11.3 and a half. He’s a very good jumping pony with a lovely temperament, and he has his own very nice stock, including Burley Rain. (She was born in the year we had that terrible summer when it didn’t stop raining!). She actually won the championship at the New Forest and County Show in ?2009. That was a real achievement, as she had to beat about 125 entries, and she was a two-year-old at the time. She’s now in Sweden, flying the flag for the small Foresters there.
I’ve sold most of the little ponies to local families with young children, but the ones I have broken myself , I do as much as I can on the ground, and then get a local girl to back them and get them going before a child takes them on. I think when you’re breaking ponies for young children it’s essential they are broken really properly by someone who knows what they are doing. They’re very strong, so they can take a bigger rider. I get a few miles on the clock before young children get on top. I really was so worried we were going to lose the small ones altogether – and once they’ve gone, they’ve gone.
Most people who’ve had them say they’re more steady than some other small breeds, and tend to be more even in their temperaments, so the child can ride better with more confidence, and the pony goes with the child, which is a lovely way to have it.
Some judges think the small Foresters aren’t typical, but I have made showing small ones my mission for about ten years. I have actually been told “I love your pony – it’s a shame it’s small – it’s not typical”. It’s worrying when judges do say that. They normally see the larger ponies at the shows, but the majority of the breed would be under 13.2 hands. It’s not often you see mares over 13.2 hands on the Forest, and that is what judges need to remember. The majority of the breed is on the Forest, and there are about four and a half thousand of them (not all purebreds). But the commercial ponies are the bigger ones, because everyone can ride them.
I still breed the bigger ones as well. I try to breed the up-to-height ones with an eye on keeping a good type, which isn’t easy. The bigger ones quite often lose type – not always, but it is quite common. I make a real effort to try and keep the bigger ones typey.
Burley Fantasy (Moortown Bright Spark x Melissa) has been youngstock champion at the Breed Show as a two-year-old and three-year-old, and also reserve supreme in……. I also had a mare reserve champion, Burley Dunlin (Burley Gold Blend x Gosdon Teazel), who was produced by Tracey North, and had a very successful season under saddle. That cross has produced some very good ponies – Burley Holly, who had a successful showing career, and Burley Hallmark, who qualified for one of the big championships – I think it was HOYS – last year. It’s a very successful performance line. I’ve also had Burley Gossip, who has also been to HOYS, and she was only 13.1hh.
In a Forester, at first glance I like to see depth of body – that is what is lacking in so many natives now. I like to see the depth of body matching the length of leg. I like to see well put together limbs, with well let down knees and hocks, and short cannon bones are very important. That is the impression you get when they’re walking round the ring, and those proportions are what I look for.
It’s advisable to have a nice front if you want to ride them, – if, in my experience, you ride something with a very short front and straight shoulder, it’s very uncomfortable. In terms of action, I think it’s important that you can get a good length of stride, and you can get an extravagant action, but you must still have a slight roundness about it. Ponies that drag their toes straight through and then put them down is going to be horrible to ride over rough terrain. They need the freedom of shoulder, and that slight roundness of action has to be there, in my view. It is proper native action, and native ponies must be able to do a job . We’re not breeding ornaments, we’re breeding ponies that will do a job, and we must not lose sight of that. When you start breeding something just for the way it looks, you’re in real trouble.
Foresters are often judged in the same class as Connemaras, and can come off second best. I think this is because Foresters are less heavily built than Connemaras, and judges seem to penalise them for that. They often appear to be lighter of bone than Connemaras, but they have that hard, flinty bone, and if you actually put your hand round the limbs, you’ll be surprised at just how much bone they have.
Some Foresters have also been accused of having big, ugly heads, and if you go back to the nineteen-seventies, that was true – but not in all cases. I think that some big stallions came in and had that rather heavy square heads, and these ponies were used because of their size, but I think we’re getting away from that influence now, and it is being bred out. Of course, you have to have room for good teeth, as the herbage on the Forest is so coarse and hard, and it is important to remember that.
When ridden, the pony must be well-balanced and move from behind. I do not like overbent ponies, and many riders seem to think judges expect to see ponies with their noses touching their chests – and nothing can be further from the truth in my experience. When a pony is held so tightly, it can’t move freely, so I would rather see a longer line and more freedom – which comes from behind. The more tightly riders hold them, the more they drop onto their forehands.
It’s important that people give their young ponies time to balance and come to themselves – don’t push it. I tend to ride them quite lightly as four-year-olds – just hacking about the Forest. I might do a four-year-old novice class at the Breed Show at the end of the summer, but I don’t like to see four-year-olds tracked around the shows. It’s better if you can just hack them around and get them used to carrying a person, and seeing life”.
Gill was first elected to the New Forest Pony Breeding and Cattle Society Council in about 1978, and has been Chairman since 1995. She has been on the NPS Council for two terms of three years, and was Treasurer when Caroline Nokes resigned as Chief Executive, and she helped Margaret Benton Jones keep the Society going through a difficult period. Gill has done her three years as M&M representative on the NPS Council.