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.

  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)

An Entertaining First Day of Weaning

Restar Mountain Shelley IIII find the first day of weaning very stressful.  I work hard all year to minimize emotional stress for my ponies.  Training approaches, management strategies, and nutritional program are all designed with equine emotional (as well as physical) health in mind.  When it comes to weaning, though, there’s no getting around the fact that the process is stressful for mare and foal alike.  The vocalizations are what impact me most because I can hear the distress in their voices.  Fortunately I know that gradually after that first day, everyone gets used to the process and stress declines.

This year’s first day of weaning had some entertaining events to take my mind off the stress.  The first came when I moved two mares to an electric-fence-lined paddock with just a single wire.  The paddock has housed ponies for years, but it only works of course for those ponies who know that that single wire is indeed a barrier.  As I approached the paddock, it occurred to me that neither of these mares were trained to electric fence.  Sure enough, when I let them loose, one at a time, they went under the wire towards the green tendrils on the other side then bolted away when the fence shocked them.  I retrieved them, tied them to an interior wood fence, then put the electric fence back together.  I let them loose again, and while I was there, they eyed the fence respectfully and ate the hay I had put out for them.  Later in the day I found one of those mares again on the wrong side of the fence, but after I returned her that second time, she stayed put.  Those mares at least are now trained to that electric fence.

Another paddock and another pony posed a different challenge.  I put a mare and foal in with the rest of the herd then extracted the mare, intending that weaning would begin for that foal.  When I checked on him an hour later, he was on the wrong side of a wooden fence.  I don’t know whether he went under or through the fence, but when I put him back in that paddock again, he was out within five minutes.  I decided not to try to solve that problem at this point.  Instead I saw a silver lining.  I’ve been enjoying riding his mom with him at foot, and I’ll get to continue that until I figure out a different way to wean him.

The evening that I had all this weaning entertainment, an email appeared that offered advice to make weaning easier.  (1)  I eagerly read it, only to discover that I was already implementing their suggestions:

  • “[Wean] no earlier than four months of age, to allow the foal ample time to grow and develop a strong immune system before leaving mom’s side.”
  • “[Turn] weanlings out with a well-behaved gelding or nonrelated mare both for companionship and for teaching them how to behave.” I prefer instead to have the companion pony already be an established part of the foal’s herd, such as an older sibling or non-breeding mare.  Then when the foal’s dam is removed, the foal still has a familiar herd structure.  The one downside of this strategy is if the companion pony is bonded to the mare being removed.  They then may protest the departure of the mare as much as the foal does.  This situation increased my anxiety on the first day of weaning because the distress calls were coming from most of the ponies in the herd, not just the foals!
  • “[Gradual] weaning …. is less stressful for the foal than abrupt weaning…” Their definition of gradual weaning is a little different than mine.  They assume abrupt weaning to mean that all mares are removed from all foals at the same time with the foals all being together with no other companion ponies.  Gradual weaning is when a single mare is removed at a time.  For me, gradual weaning is time-based.  I have a mare who doesn’t do well with cold-turkey weaning, so I take her away during the day, which is about 8 hours, for two or three days then I take her away instead at night, which is about 16 hours, for two or three days, before taking her away permanently.
  • Introduce any dietary changes a month before weaning.

Some research indicates that foals’ immune systems become depressed during weaning, likely from the stress of the process.  Doing what we can, then, to minimize stress certainly will benefit our foals and may even help our own stress about the process, too!


© 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

An Experiment in Touching Foals

Willowtrail Mountain RangerHave you ever seen two ponies mutually grooming each other?  It doesn’t happen often in my herd, but there are a few ponies who have shown me this practice.  I find it particularly touching to watch.  While I can’t definitively know what emotions are involved, it certainly appears that the ponies are expressing an appreciation for their grooming partner.

I still remember the day when I learned that ponies like to be scratched and that in fact many of them have favorite places that they like to be scratched.  This was a revelation to me in part because in our dry climate petting can produce static electricity, and the last thing I want is for my pony to associate my petting to electrical shock!  Scratching is much less likely to have an unintended consequence.  Finding a pony’s favorite places and scratching them to reward good behavior is something I now do regularly.

Early in my pony breeding career I was told by a colleague about a pony they had purchased from someone else.  They found the pony to be overly friendly and somewhat hard to manage, and they attributed the undesirable behaviors to how the pony had been handled when a foal.  Ever since then I’ve been mindful about how I handle my foals, recognizing that behaviors that I may be able to handle might not be acceptable to others.

As is usually the case, my foals this year want to explore things with their mouths.  When I am around them and if I allow it, they mouth my clothing or nibble it or nip it.  I know this isn’t uncommon behavior, and they certainly aren’t doing it aggressively; it’s a form of interaction they use with each other.  Of course I want to discourage that sort of interaction with people, and I’ve written in the past about how using blocking maneuvers in early foal training is effective (click here for more information.)  But as I’ve pondered the behavior in this year’s foal crop, I’ve wondered if there’s something I’m doing that’s encouraging mouth-expressiveness towards me.

In my herd, mutual grooming is most often between a particular mare and her offspring, which is what got me thinking about how I interact with my foals.  That mutual grooming involves them using their teeth to scratch favorite places.  Is it possible that by me scratching my foals’ favorite places when I’m working with them that I’m encouraging them to reciprocate as in the mutual grooming behavior?  I decided to conduct an experiment.

The humidity is higher here in the summer and has been higher recently, so static electricity while petting is less likely.  So, when I’m working with my foals right now, I’ve begun petting them rather than scratching them to see if they are less inclined to want to nibble.  I don’t have enough data yet to draw definitive conclusions, but so far it appears that this change has indeed reduced the nibbling behavior.  They’re more inclined to stand quietly instead.

It took many years before I witnessed the mutual grooming behavior in my pony herd.  I’m so thankful I’ve seen it now because it may be explaining that my foals are trying to mutually groom me when I scratch them in their favorite places.  Redirecting their behavior by blocking it is effective, but using psychology to redirect it by not encouraging it in the first place may be an even better approach!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2014

Posted in Natural Horsemanship