Footing Sense 4

Willowtrail Wild RoseWe had a break in our wet weather, so I went out to get reacquainted with Willowtrail Wild Rose.  It had been a few days since we’d worked together, so I started with a simple on-line exercise, asking her to walk in a circle around me.  She refused.  She would take a few steps then stop and look at me.  I encouraged her to start again, and she would take a few steps then stop and look at me.  I was stumped.  Why was the circling game broken?  Had she never really learned it?

I wracked my brain, trying to remember our past sessions.  My memory was that we’d had it working well, but then why was it broken now?  Was Rose having a pony moment, being stubborn?  Certainly that was a possibility, but it wasn’t like her.  I took off Rose’s halter and gave her some hay and went off to think about the situation.

Rose had been unresponsive to visual cues.  Perhaps her forelock was preventing her from seeing them?  This is an important question when working with Fell Ponies since some of them have very thick forelocks and shouldn’t be expected to see visual cues.  That didn’t make sense, though, since Rose doesn’t have the heavy forelock of her father.  Her eyes are usually visible, unlike Apollo’s; I’ve never had to braid her forelock for training sessions like I have his.

During the next break in the wet weather, I went out again to test circling with Rose.  This time, though, I immediately got the answer as to why the game was broken.  It was the footing.  The answer came when I was a little more insistent, still at the walk, and Rose immediately slipped.  Ah ha!  We moved to a different place in the paddock that was drier and firmer, and she executed the circles perfectly.  Ah ha!

Last year when I was riding my Fell Pony mare Restar Mountain Shelley III during the spring thaw, she taught me about footing sense, the ability to discern a safe route through treacherous conditions, in that case through patches of snow and ice and mud.  Footing sense was a revelation to me because I’d ridden other ponies that didn’t have the ability that Shelley showed for choosing a safe path.  I don’t know whether the judgment Rose showed about ground conditions while circling is unique to Fell Ponies, but it certainly reminded me of the lessons Shelley taught me.  I am thankful that I didn’t push Rose to circle and that when I did get more insistent, I immediately recognized the problem.  She wasn’t being stubborn at all, just self-preserving.  Can’t blame her for that at all!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2014

Shelley’s lessons on Footing Sense are included in the book Fell Ponies:  Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here.

Posted in Fell Ponies, Natural Horsemanship, Partnered Pony (TM)

First Woods Loop!

Willowtrail Wild RoseThe woods loop is a ½ mile route down the driveway then off onto a trail through the woods ending back up at the house.  Because the mountain pine beetle has killed a substantial amount of our forest and we have logged some of the dead trees, the woods loop is now more than half out in the open rather than in the woods.  The vistas are incredible, though, so while the experience is different than it used to be, it still makes for a pleasant outing.

A milestone in developing my ponies for riding is ‘doing’ the woods loop.  Since I do nearly all my pony work solo, doing the woods loop alone is a common occurrence.  Sometimes a pony’s first experience with the woods loop is scampering loose beside its dam, sometimes it’s being ponied.  Riding the woods loop is one of my favorite things to do which is why it has become a milestone in developing my ponies for ridden work.

I’ve had Willowtrail Wild Rose, my seven year old mare, at home for the past several weeks.  I had to bring her in off pasture because she was gaining weight so quickly.  She’s in a paddock by herself, which is definitely not her favorite thing, so I’ve been doing things with her numerous times a day to take her mind off her solitary confinement.

I don’t remember ever taking Rose on the woods loop before, and we hadn’t ever progressed our ridden work enough to ride the woods loop.  It therefore became a goal to do my favorite trail ride with Rose.

The woods loop has many opportunities for surprises.  The dogs are the most likely sources of surprise: chasing squirrels, popping in and out of brush, and sometimes being in front and sometimes behind.  Then there is always the possibility of seeing a deer or a moose, with a bovine cow or bull less likely.

Because I haven’t had Rose in many unusual situations, I worked to set her up for success by hand-walking her around the woods loop two days in a row at the same time of day.  The third day, I mounted her and we headed down the driveway.  I didn’t expect we’d ride the whole loop; my plan was to ride her as far as she was comfortable and then hand-walk her the rest of the way so that she understood my goal.  To say I was thrilled when she took me the whole way that first time is an understatement!

We’ve now ridden the woods loop numerous times together, and it’s still a thrill each time.  There is one place where the vista of mountain ridges to the west is particularly nice, and Rose makes me laugh because she always wants to stop and take in the view there.  I’m so fortunate to share my life with Rose!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2014

A Humbling ExperienceIf you like stories like this one, you might also like A Humbling Experience, available internationally by clicking here.


Posted in Fell Ponies, Natural Horsemanship

Sleeping Beauty

Beauty asleep in the winter

Beauty asleep in the winter

I had pulled into pasture with two ponies in the trailer.  As I went by I had seen the ‘pasture herd’ in the far northeast corner, their favorite spot in the West Bank pasture.  I put the boys in the North 40 pasture then entered the West Bank pasture through the metal gate by the shed to check minerals.  As I clanged the chain on the gate, I heard a nicker and when I rounded the corner of the shed, I discovered a pony there.  Sleddale Rose Beauty, my senior Fell Pony mare, was alone and as surprised to see me as I was to see her.  I gave her a treat and two hugs because I needed them; she was uncharacteristically in the mood to receive them.

My next chore was to get the feed buckets out of the trailer for the pasture herd, so I told Beauty I’d be right back with hers.  Before I’d even gone through the gate, though, Beauty called urgently to her herd and trotted off looking for them.  I watched her head for an opening in the willows where she could cross the river, and she was gone.  By the time I’d walked across the bridge with the buckets, Beauty was intermingled with the herd as though she’d been there for hours.

It seemed strange that Beauty was alone in the shed, so here’s my guess about what happened.  The twenty-seven-year-old had fallen asleep in the shed with the herd nearby, but then they headed out for the day while she was sleeping.    As she’s aged, I’ve noticed she falls more deeply asleep and takes longer to come awake.  I woke her up when I banged the chain on the gate, and she accepted my hugs because she wasn’t fully awake even then.  By the time I left her to get the buckets, she’d regained her full faculties and realized she was alone and immediately rectified the situation.  I’ll remember those wonderful hugs for a long time now that I know they came from my sleeping Beauty!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2014

If you like stories like this one, you might also like A Humbling Experience, available internationally by clicking here.

Posted in Fell Ponies, Partnered Pony (TM)

An Affectionate Side

Restar Lucky Joe helps me with a selfie.

Restar Lucky Joe helps me with a selfie.

It’s important when we think about our ponies (or any other animal for that matter) that we not assume they experience the same emotions that we do.  Nonetheless, when we see behaviors that are similar to our own, it’s hard not to say that our ponies are happy or angry or loving or stubborn.  Rather than assuming the emotion is the same as our own, it’s better to let them express whatever they need to express and receive it as information to benefit our relationship.

With that disclaimer, I will admit that I’m starting to think my new stud colt Restar Lucky Joe has an affectionate side.  Like most of my ponies, he greets me at the fence, and then again like most of my ponies he wants to interact.  More than some of my ponies, though, he seems to relax when I pet him or scratch him or talk to him, as though he likes the attention.  And then he’ll put his head on my shoulder or lip my clothes in a way that makes me think he’s returning the affection I’m giving to him.  (Then again, these could be interpreted as actions of dominance.  I’m staying open to both interpretations to inform our developing relationship.)

The word ‘selfie’ was apparently added to the American English dictionary recently (though my computer’s spell-checker doesn’t include it yet!)  A few weeks ago I got a camera that allows for taking selfies.  I’m not much interested in pictures of myself, but ponies of course are another matter.  Lucky Joe was ready and willing to be included in the first one and display his affectionate side.

The other day I watched Lucky Joe interact with one of my mares over a tall gate.  The mare was in heat; on other days she’s wanted nothing to do with Lucky Joe.  But on this day she was interested, and I watched Lucky Joe ‘caress’ her neck (the only part of her body he could reach) with his lips and teeth.  It was very gentle and tender and quite touching to watch and quite a contrast to how I’ve seen some stallions behave around mares.

It’s still eight months at the earliest before I introduce Lucky Joe to a mare without fencing between them, so it will be awhile before I get much more new information about how he feels about them and they about him.  In the mean time, I’ll continue to observe his reactions to my gestures of affection.  So far he seems to be as special as his breeder described after he was born.

(c) Jenifer Morrissey, 2014

A Humbling ExperienceIf you like stories like this one, you might also like A Humbling Experience, available internationally by clicking here.

Posted in Fell Ponies, Natural Horsemanship, Partnered Pony (TM)

“They’re So Friendly!”

Willowtrail Mountain Ranger being friendly while the rest of the herd went back to grazing

Willowtrail Mountain Ranger being friendly while the rest of the herd went back to grazing

Pony visitors are such blessings.  They don’t come often, but when they do, the comments they make are always educational.  For instance, shortly after yesterday’s visitors arrived, one of them said:  “This is like Alaska – you’re a long way from everywhere!”  Yesterday’s visitors were already indoctrinated into Willowtrail Fell Ponies since they have one at home.  Nonetheless, I was flattered when the senior member of the party stated, “If we get another pony, it has to come from here!”

Since the pony that my visitors have at home is still young, one topic we discussed was which of his ancestors in my herd he will most resemble.  His owner is quite tall, and the mother expressed concern that her daughter will look too big on her pony.  I explained about the barrel of a good Fell Pony ‘taking up leg.’  I then suggested the pony in my herd that their pony is most likely to resemble, and when my visitors agreed, I suggested the owner mount that pony.  Indeed the owner didn’t look too big or have legs too long once the barrel of a mature Fell took them up.

After we had visited the half of the herd that is here at home, I took two of the visitors to summer pasture to see the rest of the herd, including the other foals.  As usual the entire herd came to greet us, and then when it was clear that nothing interesting was happening, the older ponies went back to grazing.  The two foals, though, remained with us, and one in particular was stuck to us until we left.  “They’re so friendly,” my visitors exclaimed.  When I only nodded in agreement, they replied, “No, you don’t understand.  We’ve been to other farms with horse foals and with pony foals, and none of them are this friendly.”

When the visitors were bidding us goodbye, one of them commented, “I learned so much!”  Another complimented me on how much I’ve learned about the breed in a relatively short period of stewardship.  Of course I gave credit to having a mentor who has been around Fell Ponies for more years than I’ve been alive.  They were fascinated to learn about the hundreds of ponies that Joe Langcake handled before he was even twenty years old.  I am very fortunate that Joe so willingly answers the endless questions that I ask of him.

Willowtrail Timothy charming one of my visitors

Willowtrail Timothy charming one of my visitors

The photograph here shows my youngest foal, Willowtrail Timothy, entertaining one of my visitors.  I have a bad habit of not carrying a camera when I have visitors – usually I’m carrying a lead rope – so I don’t have any pictures from yesterday of my visitors and my Fells.  (Fortunately my visitors took pictures and have graciously shared them, including the one at top.)  Timmy got more attention than the rest because of the circumstances.  My visitors locked their keys in their vehicle, and because of our Alaska-like location, it took nearly two hours for help to arrive.  Because Timmy was in a pen very close to the locked car, many of my visitors passed most of their time watching Timmy and exclaiming about his antics, and I was able to grab a camera when I saw what was going on.

Visitors give me the opportunity to see my herd through their eyes.  While I happen to think that my stallion is gorgeous and my stud colt is handsome and my ponies are beautiful and my foals accept handling awfully well, having similar words spout spontaneously from visitors’ mouths is nice confirmation.  And the friendly part – I take it for granted, so it’s good to be reminded how fortunate I am!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2014

Book Fell Pony ObservationsI have captured much of what my mentor Joe Langcake has taught me so far in the book Fell Ponies:  Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here.

My friendly foals are for sale.  Click here for more information.

Posted in Fell Ponies, Inspirations

A Safety Trick for Loading & Unloading Foals

Mya and Willowtrail TimothyWhen Mya the Wonder Pony had her first foal, I made an erroneous assumption.  I assumed that she would be the same cooperative pony with a foal at foot as she had been the previous eight years of our partnership.  One day when it was time to load Mya and one-week-old Willowtrail Meg into the horse trailer at pasture, Mya pointed out the error in my thinking.

Rather than waiting to be haltered and led to the trailer as she had previously done, Mya  took advantage of a gate that was ajar and bolted for freedom with Meg close on her heels.  My concern for their safety was heightened by the fact that they were loose on a highway with a speed limit of 65 miles per hour, fortunately not heavily traveled.  I began running up the highway after my loose charges; within moments a sympathetic passerby picked me up and we pursued the loose ponies for nearly a half mile before we caught up to them and I was finally able to disembark and halter Mya and bring her under control.

Since then I’ve devised numerous strategies to prevent a repeat of that frightening episode.  While part of the problem that time was that I didn’t have Mya securely haltered before the gate was opened, I’ve also had situations where the mare loaded into the trailer normally but their foal decide to explore and went past the trailer gate towards the highway.  While not quite as scary as the Mya-Meg episode, it’s been motivation to create a safer loading situation.  The last few years I’ve put the ponies in a secure paddock while I back the trailer into the pasture and close the gate while I load.  While that strategy has worked, it’s been time-consuming, so I’m particularly pleased with the solution I’ve devised this year.

Safe and Secure

The cargo net gates are tough to see in this photo, but the dog is on the other side of one of them!

I had on hand one cargo-net made of snap cord (bungees) and numerous hooks.  I then bought a second larger one.  Now I back the trailer close to the gate and before opening it, I create a fence with the cargo-nets between the end of the trailer and the fence on either side of the gate.  When I open the gate, there’s essentially a second fence preventing the foal from wondering off course.  My anxiety level is significantly lower now when I’m loading mares and foals at pasture.

The other day a visitor was asking about my start with ponies and observed that I didn’t have much equine experience when I brought my first pony into my life.  I responded as I usually do, that Mya was a great teacher in those early years.  And even now, after sixteen years together, she remains a source of inspiration.  I’m very happy that she inspired me this year to create a safer foal-loading strategy.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2014

The Partnered PonyIf you like stories like this one, you might also like The Partnered Pony™ Inquirer.  Browse the back issues by clicking here.



Posted in Natural Horsemanship, Partnered Pony (TM), Work Ponies

Are Ponies a Lifestyle?

Accustoming my easy-keeper to an opening umbrella

Accustoming my easy-keeper to an opening umbrella

I was out of town for four days recently.  It was the longest I’ve been away from my ponies in a few years.  My husband stayed behind in part to care for my friends.  Every time I talked to him, he’d just come in from some pony chore, despite my fevered attempts before I left to prepare things to minimize his workload.

My travel destination brought back many memories of my career in high tech.  My hours then were as long as they are now but passed of course in an office building not a home office or farmyard.  I often ‘vacated’ that life, taking trips to enjoyable destinations to do entertaining things that took my mind off my job.  By contrast, my recent trip felt more like temporarily abandoning where I’m meant to be.

I’ve been in touch recently with someone whose equine herd has weight issues and potentially laminitis.  They are employed full time off the farm as I used to be, and their situation caused me to ponder the question, “Are ponies a lifestyle?”  Prior to hearing this person’s plight, I had taken for granted how my current lifestyle allows me to keep my ponies.  After my trip brought back memories of my previous lifestyle, I realized there’s no way I could have kept ponies then the way that I do now.  Using a dry lot to manage their easy-keeping qualities where I feed them four times a day, interacting with them regularly during the day to keep their minds happy, moving them on and off pasture as their weight and health require – none of these would have been possible when I was gone from home for as many as twelve hours a day.

I am currently dealing with a management challenge that seems impossible to have managed in my previous life.  I had to bring one pony home from pasture because she was gaining weight too quickly.  She is at home in a paddock by herself, with the rest of her herd still at pasture, a situation she is none too pleased with.  In an attempt to keep her happy, I’m spending time with her several times a day, sometimes doing on-line work, sometimes ridden.

I know there are people who have a lifestyle more similar to my old one than my current one and who have figured out how to keep ponies.  Ponies are just too enjoyable not to figure it out!  I know that if my lifestyle ever reverts to the one I used to have, I too will figure out how to keep my easy-keepers.  For now, though, thanks to the person who shared their struggles with their herd, I feel even more fortunate to live life with ponies the way that I do.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2014

A Humbling ExperienceBook Fell Pony ObservationsJenifer Morrissey is the author of A Humbling Experience and Fell Ponies:  Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, both available internationally by clicking here.

Posted in Fell Ponies, Natural Horsemanship, Partnered Pony (TM), Work Ponies