An outbreak of strangles in native ponies in the New Forest is causing concern for riders in the area.

Riders have told H&H that although strangles — which is a highly contagious respiratory infection — is common in the forest, this is one of the worst outbreaks they’ve seen.

Cases started appearing in the Lyndhurst area several months ago, but they have now spread through to central areas.

But the Verderers, who manage the forest, are calling for riders not to panic.

“It’s taking its normal form, with ponies showing nasal discharge,” said head Agister Jonathan Gerrelli.

“It’s been rumbling on for a while now and is mainly affecting the younger ponies. On our vet’s advice we are just letting it take its course, as it would be more stressful for the semi-feral ponies to round them up and bring them in for treatment. In 99% of cases they are getting over it quickly.”

He added that so far only one pony has been put down as a result of the infection.

Several drifts, where ponies are rounded up, have been cancelled, as well as the Beaulieu Road Sale (18 September), to prevent the spread.

“It’s just not sensible to gather them together,” added Mr Gerrelli. “Even if they look OK they might be incubating strangles.”

Jane Murray from the New Forest Pony Breeding and Cattle Society told H&H that several classes at the society’s breed show — including those for forest run stallions and youngstock of the forest — were cancelled as well.

“We didn’t want to risk it if some of them were coming in off the forest,” she added. “It’s an unusual outbreak; I’ve never seen one like it.”

Several concerned readers have contacted H&H. Strangles is spread through shared water and grazing as well as direct and indirect contact.

“It’s definitely a worry,” said one reader. “Not much is seeming to be done. It’s been going on since about March and it’s awful to see.”

Another added; “We also want to urge tourists to wash their hands if they touch the ponies, to stop the spread.”

But Mr Gerrelli said it’s just about “common sense”.

“If you’re riding on the forest don’t let your horse drink, graze or ride among the ponies,” he said.

This news story was first published in H&H magazine on 18 September 2014