Feeding at Five

Willowtrail Farm Fell PoniesThe moon was to be my consolation
For going out before the day had dawned.
I usually want the sun fully up
Before I first experience a pony bond.

But the temperature was enough below zero
That my hooved friends deserved some hay,
So I bundled up instead of snuggling deep
To begin a cold mountain day.


I had hoped bright moonlight would guide me
From house to paddock to road.
Instead it seemed just a dull pinpoint
High overhead in the hazy cold.

When I appeared at the door fully bundled,
The dogs were excited to be going outdoors.
To keep warm they played together constantly
Rarely standing still on all fours.

The ponies were happy to see me too,
If not a little surprised at the hour.
And I was surprised that the extreme weather
Hadn’t caused their moods to sour.

The night before I had put out portions,
Knowing it would be early and cold.
I’m usually not fully awake at five am;
My thoughts are significantly slowed.

So I found it extremely helpful
That all I had to do was walk
And say hello and then throw hay
And count heads to quickly take stock.

After everyone was happily munching
And I was headed back to go indoors,
My eyelashes were frosted from my exhales;
I was happy to be done with chores.

Normally November doesn’t hand us
This type of extreme cold so soon.
I’m grateful that at least I was able to go out
With some help from the light of the moon.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2014

A Humbling ExperienceIf you enjoy recountings like this one, you might also enjoy the book A Humbling Experience, available internationally by clicking here.

Posted in Inspirations

Pondering Bonds with Ponies 2

Restar Mountain Shelley IIIHow does one achieve a deep and fulfilling bond with a pony?  What are the necessary ingredients?  I don’t consider these questions particularly easy to answer.  After having more than two dozen ponies pass through my life, though, I have formed some opinions.

Someone suggested that having a pony from a foal was the key.  I understand this thinking; as a breeder, there are indeed foals who capture more of my heart than ponies who’ve been with me for many years.  On the other hand, though, I know that there are some foals that I never bond with at all, and I’m thrilled when I find them a home where they can be loved and appreciated in a way I never could provide.

I also know that I am not alone in finding a pony-of-a-lifetime in a mature animal.  One of my strongest bonds is with a pony who was seven years old when she entered my life.  When I think about my bond with her and about the other ponies with whom I have bonded most strongly, there is a common ingredient that has nothing to do with age at time of meeting.  It has to do with my temperament and theirs.

There are a number of equestrians these days who have defined systems for categorizing equine temperaments.  The one that makes the most sense to me so far has just four categories.  Perhaps it makes sense because the first time I was introduced to the idea of categorizing temperaments was in a system that also had four quadrants.  It was when I worked in the high tech industry, at a time when it was fashionable to train people about how to work well with other people.  When one of my co-workers returned from a class, he told me which category I fit in.  I found the information helpful, as was the advice he offered about working better with our teammates.

On the other hand, of course, there are pitfalls in labeling ourselves or our equine friends.  None of us is unchanging, for instance.  And we all want and need to be treated as the individuals that we are.  Charlotte Angin’s critique of labeling or typing also makes a good point:  “[It] may also be a trend that can limit our awareness of the subtle play of energy between our horses and ourselves.”  (1)

Nonetheless, there can be helpful information in systems of equine categorization.  The one that I’ve found most helpful has two axes.  One axis has thinkers at one end and feelers at the other.  The other axis has busy feet at one end and quiet feet at the other (these are my simplifications).  The two axes make four quadrants.  I tend toward the thinking and quiet feet part of the chart.  When I look at the ponies with whom I have the strongest bonds, they tend toward that quadrant, too.  So, in my current position in my equine journey, I have the opinion that the strongest bonds are possible when my innate temperament and my pony’s are similar.

That, however, is not the full story.  My friend and colleague Doc Hammill has said that the strongest bonds he sees are those where a person has a single equine (or maybe two) and they can give lots of time and attention to developing that one relationship.  Perhaps I am biased, but I think this is particularly true with ponies.  Many of my ponies ask for more time than I am able to give them, and when I do give them more time, they give more back to the relationship.  The first pony that I bonded strongly to was my only equine for over a year, and I invented ways to involve her in as many of my activities as I could.  It’s really no wonder, then, that I can do just about anything with her and I hold her up as the example to which I want all my other ponies to aspire.  Of course they’re just waiting for me to show up!

My current opinion that what makes for a deep and satisfying bond is a similarity in temperament may be incomplete in another way.  As a breeder, I have a responsibility to train the equines I bring into the world until they go on to their next home.  There is no question that it’s easiest for me to train ponies that are in my quadrant, but that doesn’t mean I’m off the hook with the others.  I have to have skills that enable me to train equines in other quadrants even if that’s not natural for me.  I suspect it’s possible that a deep and satisfying bond could be established with a pony of a different quadrant for whom I learned the necessary skills.  I will be finding that out, as I have retained a filly that I’ve bred who’s a thinker like me but has busy feet.

Of course the key to matching our temperament to a pony’s is to be able to honestly assess our own temperament.  It’s harder than it sounds.  Back when I was in high tech, the work environment valued getting things done, so being in the ‘get things done’ quadrant seemed important to catching management’s attention for raises, promotions, and other perks.  My co-worker, however, identified me in a different quadrant, though he acknowledged that my back up mode was to get things done.  I think it was easier to hear that information from him than to have to evaluate myself.  Today, being busy seems to be high on the hit parade, and if we’re not out there on social media, we’re considered odd.  Yet for many of us, quiet time alone for thinking is what suits us best.   Admitting it can be challenging.

If we are honest with ourselves about who we are, then we may have a better chance at choosing an equine partner with which we can have a deep and fulfilling bond.  As a breeder, my best buyers are those who see a picture of a pony and are immediately captivated, not because my pictures are artful but because I try to capture a pony’s essence and communicate it in a photograph.  I know how rewarding a deep and fulfilling bond is, and if I can help another person achieve one, that’s pretty rewarding, too!

  1. http://www.thebreathofthehorse.com/2013/09/06/to-type-or-not-to-type-the-pitfalls-of-labeling-our-horses/

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2014

The Partnered PonyIf you enjoy ponderings like this one, you might also enjoy The Partnered Pony™ Inquirer, available by clicking here.

Posted in Inspirations, Natural Horsemanship, Partnered Pony (TM)

The Galloway as a Hobby Horse

Midnight Valley TimothyThe relationship between the Fell Pony and the Scottish Galloway has never been clear to me.  I have read that they are one and the same, with Fells often called ‘galloways’ by older breeders.  I have also heard that they are different, with the Galloway contributing to the Fell.  An article in the latest issue of Equus magazine helped make some sense of the subject.

The Galloway is generally considered to be extinct.  The pictures I have seen show an equine slightly larger than today’s Fell Pony with a little less bone and substance.  Yet it has been said to have had many of the most valued characteristics of a Fell Pony, including being sure-footed, with flat and clean bone, equable temperament, and substantial endurance. (1)  The Galloway also seemed to be valued primarily as a riding horse.

The article in Equus is spectacularly titled:  “The World’s Most Important Horse Breed.” (2)  The author posits that this most important breed is the Hobby, which manifested in many forms, with many of those forms now being extinct.  The Hobby, suggests the author, resulted from crossing eastern-Mediterranean-type horses on western European types, often resulting in a gaited animal.  The Hobby is said to have become extinct because of its very popularity.  It was so sought after for cross-breeding that purebred animals became increasingly scarce, a problem with which rare breeds enthusiasts are well-acquainted.  The Galloway, or Galway as identified in the article, was considered to be a Hobby type.

Andrew Fraser’s book The Native Horses of Scotland has been on my bedside stand for a few years now, so I picked it up to see what he had to say about Galloways and how it meshed with the Equus article.  I found the following quote from an historical text from 1845:  “A variety of horses, differing from the ordinary pack-horses in their greater lightness and elegance of figure, were termed Galloways.  They exceeded the pony size, and were greatly valued for their activity and bottom.  They were derived from the counties near the Solway Firth; and an opinion frequently expressed is, that they had been early improved by horses saved from the wreck of the Armada.  There is nothing beyond tradition to support this opinion…”  (3)  This statement seems to clearly differentiate Galloways from Fells.  It also describes an animal similar to ones I’ve seen in pictures and to those described in the Equus article.  For now, I’ve concluded that Galloways and Fells were indeed distinct.

One question that remains for me is why the Galloway went extinct and the Fell Pony did not.  I’m sure at least part of the reason is the dedicated stewards in Cumbria.  And I’m sure I’ve more to learn about Galloways and their relationship to Fell Ponies.  As always I look forward to the journey.

  1. http://www.kirkcudbright.co/historyarticle.asp?ID=349
  2. Bennett, Deb, PhD. “The World’s Most Important Horse Breed,” Equus, issue 446, November 2014, p. 41.
  3. Fraser, Andrew F. The Native Horses of Scotland.  Edinburgh:  John Donald Publishers, Ltd, 1987, p. 159.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2014

Book Fell Pony ObservationsIf you enjoy learning about Fell Ponies like I do, you might also enjoy the book Fell Ponies:  Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here.

Posted in Fell Ponies, Rare Breeds

A Woods Loop Surprise

Restar Mountain Shelley IIIAn unseasonably beautiful fall day called for something special, and of course it had to be pony-related.  I was past the stress of shipping two weanlings off to new owners, and I had a few minutes after a big project and before doing chores.  I decided that showing my Fell Pony mare Restar Mountain Shelley III what ‘doing the woods loop’ meant was just the thing to celebrate.

The woods loop is a twenty minute trail ride, and riding it is a milestone in training my ponies under saddle.  While I’ve ridden Shelley dozens of times, the rides had always been similar.  They were always one direction, then I let her loose to run back to her paddock or to graze.  I had never ridden her without food being involved in some way, so I assumed she’d express her opinion about a different agenda.

Earlier this fall we’d ridden the first half of the woods loop several times with her foal Willowtrail Mountain Storm at foot.  When we got to the clearcut, I would let her loose to graze.  This time of course I intended to keep riding.  If she got uncomfortable with the idea, I intended to dismount and walk the rest of the loop leading her so she understood what the ultimate goal was.

In the past when I’ve ridden Shelley a little further than previous outings she has expressed concern about the new surroundings.  I fully expected something similar when we passed our usual stopping point for grazing.  Again I intended to dismount and lead her if necessary to familiarize her with the part of the loop she hadn’t seen before.  What I couldn’t anticipate was the surprise in store for me on our woods loop ride (and no, it wasn’t a close encounter with the bear that’s been frequenting this place!)

As I mounted Shelley, I explained to her that we were doing something different.  She hadn’t been out for a few weeks, so it was understandable that she made several suggestions on the way down the driveway that allowing her to graze would be a nice idea.  I returned her attention to the task at hand, and we continued to the clearcut where she point out a mare and foal grazing in the distance.  She asked if she could join them, and I told her I had something else in mind as we headed toward new territory.

I was surprised and pleased when she continued walking on the trail that I indicated to her without further discussion.  A few trees had blown down since the last time I’d been that way, and she accepted my guidance about skirting around them.  I told her she was a good girl and that she’d exceeded my expectations, and she continued walking at her ground-covering Fell Pony pace.  I began to allow myself to think I might not be walking much of the loop at all because Shelley was remaining calm though alert in what was new territory.  It was with surprise and tremendous delight that we arrived back at her paddock having ridden the woods loop for the first time on the first try.  Shelley seemed to know she’d done well, as though she understood my many words of encouragement and appreciation.  Rarely is a second woods loop ride as satisfying as the first, but I can’t wait to try it and see.  Thank you, Shelley!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2014

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

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

Hoofbeats After Dark

Willowtrail Farm Fell PoniesI had brought in the electric fence battery for charging.  It was the first time I’d turned the fence off since installing the two current residents in that paddock.  So when I went outside for last feeding and heard hoofbeats moving rapidly, I thought the likely loose animals were those two ponies.  I immediately headed in the direction of the out-of­-place sound to solve the mystery.

The two mares closest to the house nickered to me when I appeared, so I knew they were where they were supposed to be.  As I walked down the driveway toward the normally-electrified paddock, I heard the footsteps of the stallion in the mud, so I knew he was where he was supposed to be, too.  The moon was past full, so the night was reasonably dark.  I called the dogs to me periodically in case the hoofbeats hadn’t been of the equine variety.  I had no interest in surprising a moose.

When I found the two residents of the not-electrified-at-the-moment paddock where they were supposed to be, I breathed a little easier.  Maybe I wouldn’t be searching for black ponies on a dark night after all.  At the last paddock, my heart pony met me at the fence, and behind her I could see silhouettes of the two weanlings.  Then the final two ponies appeared out of the black shadows.   That was the final confirmation that the hoofbeats I’d heard were not equine after all.  Nonetheless I was happy I’d put on water for tea before I’d ventured out.  Relaxing with something hot to drink would be a welcome and necessary antidote to my short period of heightened anxiety!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2014

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

Posted in Fell Ponies

Storm and Princess Made My Day

Willowtrail Mountain Storm and his sire Guards Apollo

Willowtrail Mountain Storm and his sire Guards Apollo

The day started early.  Willowtrail Mountain Storm had to be in town for appointments prior to his trip to his new home.  Since it was to be Storm’s longest trip in the trailer and his first off the farm, I chose to have him travel with his father and paddock-mate Guards Apollo.  I fed them before dawn, and we left just after first light.

Storm made my day by handling lots of ‘firsts’ without much issue.  He traveled with a pony other than his mother for the first time.  He traveled in a stall in the trailer instead of loose.  He unloaded and loaded at the vet clinic despite never having been there before.  He endured being poked with a needle by a stranger (though not without a little dancing; while I hoped for better, I could hardly blame him.)  He stood quietly in the trailer while we attended a short meeting.  Given the number of ‘firsts,’ how could Storm not make my day!?

At the other end of the day, it was Willowtrail Storm Princess’s turn.  I had entered her paddock with my wheelbarrow to fetch a bale of hay.  For some reason, most of the ponies in that paddock have decided that the wheelbarrow is a monster.  Their heads pop up when they see me approaching, and before I get too close they trot off in the opposite direction.

On this occasion, Willowtrail Wild Rose, who is the exception in that herd, met me at the gate and was walking alongside as I headed towards the hay stack.  We were passing Princess, who was about fifteen feet away, and I was watching her to see how she would react this time. When she indicated curiosity rather than alarm, I stopped, hoping to encourage her to approach.  She did so, tentatively, and I stayed still and told her she was a good girl.  She stretched her neck out to sniff the wheelbarrow then eventually stepped close enough that she could put her nose into the belly of ‘the beast’ to see what it contained.  Only when she left calmly and of her own accord did I resume my travels.  Like Storm, Princess made my day by accepting my requests that they do things that might not be their first choice, from traveling in a big metal box on wheels to approaching a scary metal tub on a single wheel.  It’s such a privilege to share life with these ponies.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2014

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

Posted in Fell Ponies, Natural Horsemanship

Ranger and Timmy’s First Snow

Willowtrail Mountain RangerWhether I like it or not, it’s that time of year when we start to get snow.  When I have foals, one of my first thoughts is which pony hasn’t seen snow before.  Willowtrail Mountain Storm and Storm Princess were born during snowstorms, hence their names.  But for Willowtrail Mountain Ranger and Timothy, last night’s white stuff was a first for them.

I had to be gone for work during the afternoon.  When I left, it was a nice fall day, though somewhat overcast.  Timmy and his dam were out grazing as usual.  About 3pm, a front blew in with heavy rain, and over the course of the next hour the rain gradually turned to big white flakes.  We were working inside a house with a metal roof, and the change in sound during the transition to snow was notable:  rain was very audible but when it made the change to all snow, it was quiet.  I kept looking out the window to see if it was still precipitating (it was), and if it was sticking (it was).

When I returned home, it was still snowing, and Timmy and his mother were in their shed, though completely soaked.  Apparently they had only come in when the snow got heavy.  Timmy looked a little bewildered!  He has a heavy coat and plenty of cover, so I knew he’d be fine.  In fact, I’m not really surprised that we have an inch of snow this morning because of the coats the ponies have been putting on.

Willowtrail Timothy and Mya the Wonder PonyIn contrast to Timmy, Ranger seemed completely unfazed by the snow.  He’s such a mellow, uncomplicated guy, always ready to say hello, seemingly with a smile on his face.  Perhaps it’s because he was born in spring, even though he missed the snow, that Ranger was less bothered by our seasonal transition than Timmy.  This morning, though, Timmy was more than willing to go out into the white with his mom to find tendrils of green hidden beneath their cold cover.  Bless these tough ponies!

© 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, Partnered Pony (TM)