We’ve all heard the joke about a horse walking into a bar — but staff at a New Forest pub couldn’t have been more surprised when it actually happened.

Martin Barrett, landlord of The Oak in Lyndhurst, and barmaid Lizzy Peeling were preparing for the second sitting of Sunday lunch when they had an unexpected visitor recently.

“We’re a very small pub with only 40 covers. We were just turning all the tables round and getting the drinks orders in when someone said ‘there’s a pony in here’,” said Martin.

“I looked over and it was stood at the end of the bar.”

Fortunately Lizzy, who joined the pub a few months ago, had spent her career to date working with horses and knew exactly how to handle the situation.

“She just said ‘it’s alright, I’ll sort it’. She strolled round the bar, spoke to it, put her hand on its nose and guided it out of the door,” said Martin.

“We carried on with service, but then 10 minutes later it came back in again.”

This time the intrepid equine — who is thought to be called Inca — was a bit more reluctant to leave and it took a joint effort to evict him.

“I’m not sure why we didn’t close the door the first time,” said Martin. “This time he’d come right in and when we tried to get him out he got stuck by the door and that woke him up a bit.

“Lizzy managed to manoeuvre him into the right position and I gave him a quick tap and we were able to drive him out of the door.”

But their pony problems didn’t end there, as it wasn’t long before the equine’s mates arrived.

“He was stood in front of the door not letting anyone in and there were a lot of people taking pictures,” Martin explained. “Five minutes later another couple of ponies turned up and they all stood there in front of the door.”

Martin said it was not uncommon to see the New Forest ponies around the pub at this time of year.

“I’ve only been here for a year and I don’t know much about them, but having them about is quite fun,” he added. “They congregate outside sometimes and stand and stare or wander round leaning against people’s cars. Our customers have lunch and shuffle towards their car and the ponies will just stand there.

“Eventually the customers manage to get in the doors, and then they turn engine on and the ponies doesn’t move — eventually they look to us to go out and move the ponies. The kids love it as they like to take photos.”

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When Martin posted pictures of the unusual visitor on Facebook the next day, it quickly caught the attention of newspapers, and also the ponies’ owner — who contacted the pub.

“She said she’d be down to check on them and said she hoped it hadn’t been a problem, but I told her not to worry and to pop in for a bit of lunch!” he said. “It got a lot of interest on social media and we had more than 11,000 people see it in the first 24 hrs.”

Martin joked that Lizzy would now be “running staff tutorials” on what to do if a pony walks into a bar.

“If she wasn’t there I don’t know what I would’ve done. If the pony had gone off into the pub it might have gone a bit mad,” he added.

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