A Different Hand-Off

Willowtrail Mountain PrinceWhen ponies leave Willowtrail Farm for new homes, they typically go in one of two ways.  Most often we deliver them to a transport truck to go off to an owner that neither they nor I have ever met in person before.  The second most common type of hand off is to someone who came to the farm to visit and ends up buying a pony then returns to pick it up to take it home.  I’ve just experienced a variation on these two common types of hand-offs:  someone purchased a pony sight-unseen and then came to pick the pony up.  It’s always a pleasure to meet buyers in person.

Willowtrail Mountain Prince, a two year old gelding, has now gone off to Iowa to join two Thoroughbreds at his new home.  His new owner expressed excitement before meeting Prince and was thrilled when she finally got to see him in person.  It was wonderful to get to experience this first meeting firsthand.

The handoff of Prince to his new owner was accomplished on the edge of a field in a place Prince had never been before.  There was a busy highway nearby and cars occasionally passing by us as we prepared to transfer Prince to his owner’s trailer.  My trailer is a 3-horse slant load that Prince has been riding in since he was a few days old.  His new owner’s trailer was a 2-horse straight load, the kind with a split door whose lower half is a ramp.  When I heard this, I thought about how many people find trailer loading to be a real challenge.  I looked forward to seeing how Prince would do.

I asked if I could load him into the unfamiliar trailer, wanting to make sure it was as stress-free for Prince as possible.  My ponies rarely give professional transporters trouble when loading onto big trucks or large trailers, but this was the first time for a small straight load.  My first Fell mare refused to travel in a straight load trailer, so I knew firsthand the unacceptable end of the spectrum.  As expected, Prince was on the more-than-acceptable end of the spectrum.  He was hesitant about the ramp at first, but then he followed me with only a little coaxing right into the narrow stall with hay awaiting him.  Prince’s new owner was suitably impressed because he loaded better than one of their Thoroughbreds who knows the trailer well!

While I might take some credit for the smoothness of this hand-off of Willowtrail Mountain Prince, mostly Prince deserves the credit.  He showed me over and over again during preparations for this handoff how level-headed and willing a pony he is.  I look forward to hearing what Prince’s new owner discovers about her first Fell Pony.

A Humbling ExperienceFell Pony ObservationsIf you enjoy stories about Fell Ponies like this one, there are more in the books A Humbling Experience (click here for more information) and Fell Ponies:  Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding (click here for more information).

© Jenifer Morrissey


Posted in Fell Ponies, Natural Horsemanship

A Miniature Clydesdale?

1988 Parker, Colorado Christmas ParadeI have heard Fell Ponies called miniatures of many things, but I admit that when I heard the other day that they are miniature Clydesdales, it was a first.  The Fell Pony Society, of course, is correct in adamantly asserting that Fell Ponies are not miniatures of anything.  They are a unique breed, and genetic studies have confirmed that fact.  (1)

Because I stand on the fringe of the draft horse world, I occasionally have visitors who are acquainted with the draft horse breeds.  Usually when they see a Fell, they think miniature Percheron, at least in part because of color.  Clydesdales, though, make more sense, not in the color department but from a perspective of geography.  Clydesdales are from Scotland and were used on farms in Cumbria when real horsepower was in common use.  When I perused the beautiful book Cumbria:  True to the Land by Tony Hopkins, I was surprised by how many Clydesdales were shown and how few Fells.  For me Fells and Cumbria are synonymous; apparently not so for everyone.

The connection between Clydesdales and Fells goes further.  For instance, I’ve heard of Fell/Clyde crosses; I’m not familiar with Fells being crossed to any other draft breed.  And when excessive white markings appear on a pony, it’s often remarked that there’s Clydesdale blood somewhere in its background, often theoretically via a Dales Pony.  (Interestingly, in one genetic study, Clydesdales do appear on the same branch of a phylogenetic tree as Fells, Dales, and Highlands. (2))

So when I heard the statement that Fells are miniature Clydesdales, while it was a new one, it made more sense than many of the other ‘miniature’ statements I’ve heard.  In the end, though, Fells are of course Fells and nothing else.

  1. Fell Pony ObservationsSee for instance the chapters on Genetic Diversity in Fell Ponies:  Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available by clicking here.
  2. Prystupa, et al.  “Genetic diversity and admixture among Canadian, Mountain and Moorland and Nordic pony populations,” Animal, The Animal Consortium, May 2011, p. 1

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2014


Posted in Uncategorized

The Royal Mail’s Working Horses Stamps

Royal Mail Working Horses Commemorative StampsI’ve just received as a gift the Royal Mail’s Working Horses Commemorative Stamp Set.  That Fell Ponies are mentioned is of course a bonus!

There are six stamps in the set, one each representing The King’s Troup Ceremonial Horses, Royal Mews Carriage Horses, Riding for the Disabled Association, Dray Horses, Police Horses, and Forestry Horses.  Fells and Dales are mentioned in the Forestry Horses category:  “Stocky breeds, such as the Dales and Fell Pony, as well as larger draught horses, excel at this sort of work.”  Two other rare breeds are mentioned in this category:  “It also offers breeds at risk, such as the Clydesdale and the Suffolk Punch, a way back to safety by providing a role for the future.”

As a pony enthusiast I was pleased to see ponies depicted throughout the cover booklet, including on the RDA stamp.  Shetlands and Welsh Cobs are specifically called out on the spectrum of working horse sizes.  What appears to be a large pony is also shown on a tow path drawing a boat on a canal.

I was most struck by the confident assertion that equines will continue to play a role in human culture just as they have for more than 6,000 years.  “Through changing ages, the role of the horse has varied and new roles always develop.  In human history, the horse is rarely far away from the main events, no matter what the culture, time or situation.”  This statement got me wondering what role might be on the near horizon.

In the Fell Pony community, we talk about the advent of recreational riding and driving following previous roles as fundamental motive power, in the mines and as pack ponies for instance.  Maybe it’s just where I sit, but it seems possible that the therapeutic role might be expanding beyond just with the disabled.  I’m intrigued by how people are using equines in leadership coaching (for more info, click here) as well as with veterans (for more info, click here), troubled youth (for an example, click here), and the disadvantaged (for an example, click here).

It is of course really only in hindsight that we can definitively describe ‘the role of the horse.’  I appreciate the Royal Mail’s decision to commemorate the working horse and identify the many current ways that ‘work’ manifests.  And I’m very thankful to have received these stamps as a gift!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2014

Posted in Uncategorized

Lazy or Spunky?

Willowtrail Mountain PrinceA new Fell Pony enthusiast asked whether the breed is lazy or spunky.  The inquirer’s most recent equine experience has been with off-the-track Thoroughbreds, so it seemed important to answer carefully.  I replied that in my experience, Fells are generally mellow but ready to go.  In all the ponies I’ve had, I’ve only had one that I would consider lazy, and he was my first stallion, so it was a blessing that he was that way while I learned to manage that male energy!

I think about the ‘lazy or spunky’ question in terms of the jobs Fell Ponies were historically asked to do.  For instance:

  1. Commute ponies:  driven to the train station in the morning; stabled all day, then driven home at night.  Mellow enough to stand all day but be ready to go when asked.  There’s a story about one pony that would cause the local pub to empty at a particular intersection because she was so fun to watch take off when it was time to head home!
  2. Shepherding ponies:  ridden high into the fells to tend to flocks, expected to stand while the shepherd was checking things but then able to cover ground and not waste time getting home.
  3. Pack ponies:  expected to walk at a brisk pace all day every day, with time off overnight.  Covering ground was of the essence.

The question about lazy or spunky came after the new enthusiast had watched a video of a pony they were interested in buying.  The video showed the pony being routinely handled (feet, leading, standing tied), and the pony was very mellow, which the person found a little alarming.  Like many horse people, they find spunky equines easier to motivate than ‘lazy’ ones.

I shared the lazy versus spunky question with a fellow Fell Pony owner, and she replied, “Being thought lazy might be common for Fells.  People often can’t believe when my pony gets her thoroughbred minutes when flying free in the arena, or when I tell them it’s difficult to keep her from running when we are out….  They only see her calmly tolerating kids, noises, vet, etc.”

I must have done a good job allaying the new enthusiast’s fears because they are making the transition to Fell Pony owner.  Of course time will tell how they get along, but at the moment the new enthusiast/owner is excited about the differences between Fells and Thoroughbreds.

A Humbling ExperienceFell Pony ObservationsIf you enjoy stories about Fell Ponies like this one, there are more in the books A Humbling Experience (click here for more information) and Fell Ponies:  Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding (click here for more information).

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2014

Posted in Fell Ponies

Feeding Elevation

Willowtrail Farm Fell PoniesWhen I feed the ponies right now, I’m putting their hay up on snowbanks to keep it out of the muck that is a sign of spring here.  This has me thinking about elevated feeding – not the 9,000-feet-above-sea-level type of elevated feeding but the above-ground-level variety.  A friend, for instance, shared that their pony develops diarrhea when fed from a tied-up hay net, so the pony is now always fed from the floor of its stall when it’s not on pasture.

A number of years ago I read the following about elevated feeding:  “As a grazer, the horse is designed to both eat and drink with its head down and is subject to choke, poor thyroid function and even strain on the front hooves and legs if they must eat from a head-raised position.” (1)  While I have no argument with the idea that equines evolved to eat at ground level rather than elevated, I’ve always felt these assertions about adverse health implications were very serious without any scientific support offered.  After all, there are a lot of equines who eat out of feeders or hay bags on a regular basis and that likely wouldn’t be the case if these sorts of health effects were prevalent.

Given these ponderings about feeding elevation, I was interested to read an article recently that did indeed mention health effects related to feeding elevation.  More specifically, the article discussed the effect on mucocillary transport when a horse is tied, as when being shipped.  “[Cilia are] the tiny finger-like projections  lining the airway that help carry dust and other particles toward the nostrils or pharynx, where they are expelled via sneezing or coughing.  ‘The cilia act as an elevator, carrying foreign material out of the lungs where they can cause infection…’” (2)  I realized after reading this that indeed whenever my ponies cough or sneeze, it is when their heads are down, so it makes sense that standing tied would interfere with this natural expelling function.

Researchers simulated shipping by putting horses in stalls for an extended period in a way that prevented them from lowering their heads.  They then measured mucocillary transport time, the time it takes for the cilia to move a particle up and out of the trachea.  They found that mucocillary transport time slowed in the simulated-shipping/head-elevated conditions.  This is obviously a very narrow consideration of the effect of feeding elevation on health.  I don’t think feeding my ponies their hay on snow banks, for instance, is likely to have adverse effects on mucocillary transport since they aren’t being forced to keep their heads up.  It is, though, interesting, to learn more about the nature of one of their elimination mechanisms.

If stewarding your equine’s health consistent with their nature is of interest, you’ll also find of interest the stories and testimonials on the Natural Health page at willowtrailfarm.com (click here).

  1. Emrys, Rowan.  HorseSense:  A Practical & Natural Handbook of Horse Management Featuring DYNAMITE® Specialty Products, Tarryall Farm, Fort Collins, Colorado, 2005, p. 7
  2. Barakat, Christine and Mick McCluskey, “Bronchodilator May Help Prevent Shipping Fever,” Equus, March 2014, Volume 438, p. 10.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2014

Posted in Natural Health, Partnered Pony (TM)

Kindness, Concern, or Something More

Sleddale Rose Beauty 26 years youngAs usual the ponies greeted me at the fence, with the two dominant mares in the front row.  I stepped through the fence, something I’ve done a thousand times before, and my foot slipped on the ice and I fell sideways, banging my head on a fence post as I went down.  I lay on the ground holding my head with my eyes tight closed.  It was fascinating to experience the ponies’ reaction.

Actually it was only the nearest ponies whose reaction I sensed.  I opened my eyes just long enough to make sure no one was going to step on me, then I closed them tight again and took several deep breaths to will the injury to be small.  The most dominant mare had moved off due to my unusual activity with the rest of the herd beyond her.  Except one.

Within just a few seconds I felt and heard breath being blown on my head.  I opened my eyes again briefly to see who it was.  I saw grey hairs immediately and knew it was my senior mare Sleddale Rose Beauty.  When she saw me make eye contact, she too stepped back.

I never fail to be amazed at this mare.  Since my fall, I’ve thought about Beauty’s reaction.  Was she blowing on me out of kindness?  That’s not really her style.  Out of concern?  Maybe, but blowing breath isn’t her normal statement of concern; usually she stands up with pricked ears when that’s her state of mind.  I’ve been surprised how few after-effects I’ve had from banging my head as hard as I did.  I often send healing energy to my ponies when they are down.  Is it possible Beauty blew healing energy my way?  I’ll never know, of course, but I think I’ll choose to believe so!

HE Cover SmallStories like these about life with Fell Ponies are collected in A Humbling Experience, available by clicking here.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2014

Posted in Fell Ponies, Inspirations

Illuminating Stories about Fell Pony Movement – 2

Willowtrail Mountain PrinceThe other day I haltered one of my Fell Ponies and led her to the fence to tie her. As usual she out-walked me. Sleddale Rose Beauty is 27 this year, and since the first day I met her, her walk has been notable and even with age it’s still impressive. It’s easy for me to imagine that an active walk was desirable when these ponies were used in pack trains. Time was money then.

In the May 2013 issue of the Carriage Journal, Tom Ryder tells of encountering Fell Ponies in London in 1938 when he was headed to the National Pony Show at Islington. Ryder had just unloaded the two Welsh ponies in his charge off the train, with his companion handling a high-value Arabian colt. “Our new companions had come from the far north of the country and they had brought five Fell Ponies. The owner was Roy Charlton… Roy Charlton and his man put saddles on two of the ponies and between them led the three others. When they were ready, Mr. Charlton turned to us and said, ‘I suppose you’re off to Islington, so just follow us and we’ll show you the way. We’re only going to walk.’ Off we went, with Rogers leading [the Arabian colt], followed by me with the two ponies, onto the London streets! We set off half expecting the worst as these young things found themselves in unfamiliar, busy, and noisy surroundings, but all went reasonably well; cars slowed down as they passed us, and the most alarming things on the road were the ‘trotting vanners,’ which were pairs of half-bred horses trotting merrily away with their iron-tired parcel vans and rattling chains. The Fells were smart walkers and they soon left us behind, but we reached the Agricultural Hall safely….” (1) I had previously read about the amazing transit of London required of ponies going to the national show, so what struck me in this story was the author making particular note of the smartness of the Fell walk.

I recently took a pony to my veterinarian for a pre-purchase exam. Part of the exam is to move the pony at liberty in the round pen so the vet can assess gaits and look for any signs of lameness. As expected, no signs of lameness were evident. I did appreciate, however, the spontaneous comment the vet made to his assistants: “Look at him pick up his feet!” The vet punctuated his words with active movement of his hands and arms. I was reminded of a tidbit I found last month on the Fell Pony Society Museum website: “The late Bob Atkinson, farrier and horsebreaker of Brough, used to say a Fell should move as though the ground was red-hot.” (2) During the pre-purchase exam, my pony wasn’t demonstrating particularly high knee action (since that’s not what is characteristic of Fells), but he was definitely picking up his feet ‘as though the ground was red-hot.’ I would never have thought to describe it that way… Leave it to a farrier!

  1. Ryder, Tom. “My First London Show,” The Carriage Journal, Vol. 51, No. 3, Carriage Association of America, May 2013, p. 161-2.
  2. http://www.fellponymuseum.org.uk/fells/breed/jenny.htm#w-prince

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2014

Posted in Fell Ponies