Skewbald, The New Forest Pony
|BY THE SAME AUTHOR|
|EXMOOR LASS, and other Pony Stories|
|With frontispiece in colour and about 76 illustrations from drawings by the Author in the text, and with coloured jacket. Large crown 8vo, cloth. Price 3s. 6d. net. (By post, 4s.)|
|“These are jolly stories of the ponies not only on Exmoor, but in the heaths of the New Forest, on the Moorlands of Wales, and the stony spaces of Shetland. . . . The author’s sketches are delightful.”—The Times Literary Supplement.|
|THE BIRDS OF THE AIR; or, British Birds in their Haunts|
|Second Edition. With 100 illustrations, including 8 plates in colour. 5s. net. (By post, 5s. 6d.)|
|“He writes with sympathetic simplicity of the birds he has watched and sketched. His drawings are wonderfully characteristic; in a few lines he catches expression, attitude, ‘jizz’ as the Irishman said, of the living, alert bird.”—Manchester Guardian.|
|BY ANNA SEWELL|
|BLACK BEAUTY: The Autobiography of a Horse|
|With frontispiece and jacket in colour. Crown 8vo, cloth. Price 2s. 6d. net. (By post, 2s. 10d.)|
|This is a new edition of the classic of the horse. Today as many readers as ever are enjoying the tale of Black Beauty’s early life and pleasant friends, his fall to the hard lot of a London cab-horse, and the happy ending of his story.|
A. & C. Black, Ltd., 4, 5 & 6 Soho Square, London, W. 1
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|BOMBAY CALCUTTA MADRAS|
THE NEW FOREST PONY
By ALLEN W. SEABY
“EXMOOR LASS, AND OTHER PONY STORIES”
AND “THE BIRDS OF THE AIR; OR, BRITISH BIRDS IN THEIR HAUNTS”
A. & C. BLACK, LTD.
4, 5 & 6 SOHO SQUARE, LONDON, W. 1
MADE IN GREAT BRITAIN
First Published in 1923
Reprinted in 1927, 1929, 1931 and 1934
All the characters, human and
equine, in this story are fictitious.
|IV.||DEATH ON THE ROAD||29|
|VII.||THE RIVAL LEADERS||52|
|VIII.||SKEWBALD IN TROUBLE||58|
|X.||THE BRANDING OF SKEWBALD||69|
|XII.||CHANGING THE BRAND||86|
|XIII.||THE BROKEN LEG||94|
|XIV.||HOW SKEWBALD RANG THE FIREBELL||107|
|XVI.||SKEWBALD THE SWIFT||129|
|XVII.||HOW SKEWBALD ESCAPED THE MINES||141|
THE NEW FOREST PONY
One hot June afternoon, a group of ponies withtheir foals and yearlings stood on the edge of atableland or “plain” in the New Forest. Theground about them was covered with stuntedheather and fern, with here and there patches ofmoss and bare white gravel showing the povertyof the soil.
Beyond the company was a great expanse ofblue sky flecked with pinkish cloudlets, and, onthe horizon, blue and violet wooded heights, acrinkly contour denoting oak and beech and anevenly serrated line, plantations of firs. Aseveryone who has journeyed from Southamptonto Bournemouth by road or rail knows, a greatpart of the forest is open heath or moorland; but,unlike the barren wilds of the Highlands, the NewForest has also extensive woods full of giganticoaks and beeches, while the open ground inmany places is becoming choked with self-sownfirs.
Therefore, looking into the distance, the massesof woodland largely concealed the open spaces.Emery Down showed on the horizon, the sun fellon the spire of Lyndhurst Church, and in themiddle distance a white curving ribbon showeditself as a forest road, before it was lost among thetrees.
Below the ponies was a wide valley, coveredwith coarse grass, and dotted with hollies, gorseand stunted firs. The mares had chosen thehill for their afternoon siesta because up therewere fewer flies and biting torments than downbelow in the swampy bottoms, where, earlier inthe day, the ponies had been feeding. They stoodmostly in pairs, head to tail, so that the swish ofthe latter drove the flies from their noses andflanks. Once in a while, a yearling—that is, oneborn the previous year—finding the sun too hot,butted in between the mares.
The foals or “suckers” lay half-hidden in theheather, wandered here and there nibbling at theherbage, or drew nourishment from their mothers.These varied greatly in colour and size. Thetallest was a black mare with the graceful lines ofthe racehorse, as well there might be, seeing shehad some of the blood of that breed in her veins.Next her stood an old white mare, bleached withage, for, while the forest ponies exhibit the usualequine diversity of hues, there are none all white.In her prime she had been a grey, perhaps abeautiful pearl grey with a few darker dapplings,like her neighbour, a young mare with her firstfoal, black of coat except for a white foreheadblaze and fore-foot. Close by stood, and dozed, achestnut mare with a mane and tail of pure gold,or so it seemed in the sunshine. There were alsobays, with black manes and tails, but the commonestcolour in the group was a dark brown. Itwas noticeable that most of the foals were darkerin colour than their mothers.
Standing by themselves were two dingy brownponies, a mare and a two-year-old, shorter of legthan the other adults. Their necks showed littleof the arch of a well-shaped animal—indeed, bothponies were almost donkey-like in shape, withhollow backs, drooping bellies, and “cow-hocked”hind-legs. The mare had a beard hanging belowher chin.
Almost their exact counterpart, even to thebeard, had been set down, ages before, in the wall-paintingsand drawings scratched on bone of theold Stone Age. These two, one might suppose,were throw-backs to the old forest pony, whichwas hunted, or possibly domesticated, by the menwhose remains were interred in the mounds dottedover the forest. Indeed, close by stood a greattumulus, and some way off was a group of ninemounds, big and little, like parents and children.
Of the other ponies, several showed theattempts at improving the breed practised of lateyears. One had the short leg of the Exmoorpony, another the tiny ear of the Shetland, othersthe shapely line of the polo and even of the Arab,for at one time or another all these, and others,have been used as sires. In some cases the importationthreatened to improve the race off theforest altogether. It is no land of milk andhoney, for the green pastures and lush spots arenot in themselves extensive enough to supportthe stock of ponies, and only those which canexist on the coarse tussock grass, the sweet butprickly shoots of gorse, and the astringentheather tufts, are sure of surviving. Also a goodproportion of the ponies stay out in the forest allthe winter; and though snow does not fall frequentlyor lie long in this locality, yet theweather is often colder than in the Shetlands,where the little pony of the far North, his earsburied in his shaggy mane, and a doormat-likethatch on his back, winters without difficulty.
But here, at the other extreme of Britain, ifthere come a long spell of bleak wet weather, andespecially if sharp frosts intervene, the youngerponies are likely to suffer, and a man, seeing hisneighbour’s yearling looking “seedy,” will thinkit his duty to inform the owner, who, unless carelessand improvident, will have the creature“caught in,” and give it shelter and food.
Perhaps the most striking in colour of thegroup on the hill was a chestnut mare, of thatrich hue known as “liver” chestnut. In the sunher coat flashed bright orange-red, while by contrastit appeared deep purple in the shade. Herfoal at the moment was lying in the heather, outof sight. When at length he arose, one saw whyhe could lie hidden so completely, for he was sosmall and evidently had not long been born.Compared with the other foals, which were nowwell grown, though still leggy, the colt seemedabsurdly disproportioned, and with his big head,long ears, and bent hind-legs looked, apart fromhis colour, more like a fawn than a pony in themaking. His body was so meagre that it seemedmerely a connecting-link between his fore andhind quarters. As he stood up he swayed to andfro. His little napping tail looked exactly likethe strip of goatskin nailed on to form the tail ofthose wooden steeds which were being made, notso far away from where the ponies stood, in thetoy factory at Brockenhurst.
But the interesting thing about him was hiscolour, for he was a “skewbald,” patternedboldly in chestnut and white. Nearly all theother foals were dark, and it was as yet almostimpossible to foretell their exact adult colour.Alone among the youngsters, the skewbald foalshowed what his coat would be like when he wasfull grown. Although so young, he possessed theagility of young creatures which have no periodof sheltered repose, unlike fledglings in the nest,or the young fawn hardly able to stand, andhidden by its mother while it gathers strength.In his way the foal was as nimble and alive asyoung partridge or lapwing chicks. He trottedto his mother, took nourishment with the curioustwisted neck characteristic of the attitude of afoal when feeding, and relapsed from sight amongthe heather.
Nearly all the mares had shaggy manes andtails, and the hair hung down over their foreheadsso as almost to conceal their eyes. Thefoals had manes standing up along their necks asif they had been “hogged,” and their fore hairrose in a curious tuft between their ears.
The ponies, to all appearance, were as tameas any stable animal, and they would not haveretreated if a man had quietly approached themor gone past at a distance of a few yards; unless,of course, he had used a binocular or camera,when the flash of light from glass or metal wouldhave caused them to start and make off. A horseman,however, would be a different matter, andthey would have been on the move long before hereached them.
At a nearer view the branding marks on themares and yearlings could be seen, mostly on theback where a saddle would cover it, but sometimeson the shoulder. These marks indicated theinitials or devices of their owners, commoners ofthe forest, or Crown tenants, who have the rightof pasturing their ponies, the Crown demandinga small annual sum for each animal put out in theforest.
These marked ponies had the