Creative Expression

Guards Apollo and his creative expressionsI have had four stallions here and many more colts and geldings.  Only one has expressed himself in this way.  It’s of course because we have snow-covered ground several months of the year that I’m able to witness it.

My senior stallion Guards Apollo will often urinate straight down as all my other males do, but occasionally he will scribe a circle or several in the snow.  Sometimes they’re smaller, like the ones in these pictures, and sometimes they’re larger.  He’s done it for years, too; the two pictures here were taken seven years apart.  I’ve never seen any of the other males do anything like this.

It’s always a surprise to see the circles in the snow because they’re so different than the other evidence of urination left by the ponies, usually melted small-diameter holes in the snow from the males and melted narrow slots in the snow from the females, with varying degrees of spatter.

I’ve come to think of Apollo’s circles as his form of creative expression.  I believe that every person has a unique creative expression that is their gift to the world, whether something physical like a painting or something like a kindness shown to others.  It seems reasonable that every pony has their own unique form of creative expression, too, though I’ve never thought about it much.

The theme on my favorite calendar this year is “Cultivating Creativity.”  The introduction states, “[When] we become absorbed in our ‘art’ we forget about concerns or problems and experience a more positive attitude.”  Apollo seems to have a positive attitude all the time, sometimes bordering on comic.  Perhaps his regular exercise of creative expression contributes to his positive attitude.

As I contemplate creativity this year via my calendar, and as winter progresses, giving Apollo plenty of palette, I will keep watch for his expressions, enjoying the surprise of their discovery.  They are reminders that he is not to be taken for granted, and by extension, the creative expression of others, people and ponies alike, can be equally pleasant surprises and shouldn’t be taken for granted either.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

What an HonorThere are many stories about the gifts my ponies give me in the book What an Honor:  A Dozen Years with Fell Ponies, available internationally by clicking here.

Posted in Fell Ponies, Inspirations, Partnered Pony (TM)

Happier at 32 (Freezing)?

Willowtrail Wild RoseAfter feeding the ponies, I was shaking my head, asking myself, are they happier at thirty two degrees (Fahrenheit) now?  After a few days of well below zero Fahrenheit, we were back to just freezing temperatures.  Normally the ponies would be happy with that change, but I’m not so sure this year.

When we were frigid, the skies were clear, and when the sun was up, the ponies sunbathed vigorously, melting all the ice from their coats.  Normally when we have thirty two degrees, as we did a few days later, the ponies are also sunbathing.  This year, though, temperatures around freezing have meant wet heavy snow instead of clear skies.  The picture here shows a pony with no snow accumulating on their coat despite snow falling.  It just hits them and melts.  Typically this time of year when it snows, the ponies have an inch or more accumulated on their backs.  Their insulation is that good.

We’ve had thirty inches of wet heavy snow in the past week.  Normally this is the type of snow we have in the spring time.  My husband said the news confirmed our observation:  it’s the highest-moisture content snow this time of year in nearly a hundred years.  In the springtime, wet heavy snow is a real cause for concern because the ponies are shedding their coats and they get soaked and chilled easily.  This time of year they are heavily cloaked so they aren’t getting soaked and chilled.  That is the blessing in this strange winter we’re having this year.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

What an HonorMore stories like this can be found in the book What an Honor:  A Dozen Years with Fell Ponies, available internationally by clicking here.

Posted in Fell Ponies, Inspirations, Partnered Pony (TM)

A Foot of Snow Then Twenty-One Below

Willowtrail Fell Pony MaresI was glad that the walking was easier because it was so much colder.  A foot of fresh snow the previous morning had made early feeding a slog.  The temperature then was just three below (-19 Celsius).  Now it was twenty one below (-29C), but the road had been plowed and the ponies had packed the trails around their paddocks.  I was able to feed a little more efficiently.

Bless my tough ponies.  They were pleased to be fed early but weren’t demanding about it.  They certainly were justified if that had been their choice since the temperatures were so cold.  Two days before we’d been right at freezing.  This winter seems to be about drastic swings between warm and lots of snow and clear and frigid.  I’m really noticing it because it’s always been the days in between when I get outside and work with the ponies.  They haven’t seen much of me this winter except at feeding time (usually four times a day) and when I’ve been shoveling hay stacks.

My husband came in after the last storm and said we’d had 29 inches of fresh snow in two weeks.  My measurement was a little different.  In places where I shovel off my hay stacks, the shoveled snow is nearly level with the top of the stack, which is just above six feet.  I don’t where I’ll put more snow when it comes.

When I first went out, the ponies’ coats were tinged with frost as were their whiskers and eye lashes.  By the time I went out again with the camera, the sun was full up, and while the temperatures were still frigid, the ponies’ coats had begun to thaw.  The photo here shows one pony with half still frosted where it was in shadow and half thawed where it had been in the sun.

Even on these cold days, my girls meet me at the fence when they see me wanting to do something.  I’ve been working on sidepasses along the fence, and one mare tried her best to side pass through a foot of fresh snow.  Bless her heart!  These ponies definitely enrich my life.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

What an HonorThe book What An Honor:  A Dozen Years with Fell Ponies has lots of stories like this one.  It’s available internationally by clicking here.

Posted in Fell Ponies, Inspirations, Partnered Pony (TM)

Mare Fertility and Male Companionship

Lunesdale Silver Belle and Guards ApolloMares are considered one of the most challenging domestic animals in the fertility department.  Management strategies that can lead to successful pregnancies then are of interest to equine breeders.  A November 2015 study in the Czech Republic suggests that male companionship after a mare is impregnated either naturally or artificially can increase the chances of the mare settling.  (1)

The study found that 100% of mares settled when bred naturally on farm.  In comparison, only 46% of mares bred off farm and brought home to a paddock adjacent to males settled successfully.  When mares were bred off-site but returned home to a paddock shared with males, the settling rate increased to 78%.  In the study, the males that shared the paddock with the mares were geldings.  AI rates of settling were consistent with natural cover:  mares separated from geldings were eight times more likely to lose their pregnancy.

The researchers cited a mare’s strategies to avoid infanticide as the reason behind the findings.  Called the Bruce effect, females including mares will allow multiple matings with males in their environment to confuse the males about who the actual sire is so that the stallion won’t resort to infanticide to preserve his line.  By housing mares with males, the mares are allowed to use their anti-infanticide strategy, including flirting with geldings, rather than abort their pregnancy.

I admit to being skeptical upon reading the research findings.  I’ve had two Fell Pony mares who have refused to settle when run with a stallion.  In one case the mare conceived and then aborted several months later when housed with the stallion.  Other Fell Pony mares have refused to allow a stallion to cover them when they have a foal at foot, so there seems to be plenty of Fell Pony evidence to suggest that not all Fell Pony mares prefer male companionship.  On the other hand, though, anecdotal evidence suggests that I have a higher fertility rate here with a stallion on-site than one colleague who has no males on their farm.  I’ll continue to ponder this study as I work to maximize my mares’ fertility.

  1. Barakat, Christine, and Mick McCluskey. “A Surprisingly Simple Way to Improve Fertility,” Equus #465, June 2016, p. 18

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

Book Fell Pony ObservationsThe book Fell Ponies:  Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding is full of stories like this one about stewarding Fell Ponies.  The book is available internationally by clicking here.

Posted in Fell Ponies, Partnered Pony (TM)

Alpine Pony Tracks II

Willowtrail Spring Maiden on trackIt was yet another day of temperatures near zero and we were returning from being gone most of the day.  And once again no one – meaning the ponies- yelled at me for being gone for so long when I appeared outside to feed.  I really don’t mind them yelling at me – freedom of speech is valued here (she says with a smile on her face) – but I was surprised that once again no one voiced an opinion of frustration about the weather or the feed schedule.

We had a really long, nice fall with warmer-than-usual temperatures and less precipitation than usual, including of the crystalline variety.  When winter arrived, though, it did so with authority.  Nearly every day we’ve either had falling snow, requiring haystacks to be shoveled, or extreme cold, requiring an extra feeding for the ponies.

Willowtrail Spring Maiden on trackA year ago, I began a modified track system for feeding the ponies.  (Click here to read about it.)  Feeding them ‘on track’ requires them to move more, as we spread hay along the edges of their paddocks instead of just dumping it in a few spots in the middle.  Deep snow this time of year encourages them to walk the perimeter of the paddock which gets tramped down where we feed to get from place to place rather than crossing the middle of the paddock through deep snow.  The photos here show the track through the snow in one paddock.

It is not uncommon when we’re walking with the tub of hay for one pony or more to follow us as much as a half way around the track before they stop to eat.  My husband pointed out that the hay fines at the bottom are often of interest, which end up in the last pile to be spread, and the ponies know this and when they’re not as hungry, they’re willing to be patient and walk to where the hay fines will end up.

It is natural for equines to spend sixteen hours a day grazing which means moving from place to place for a good part of each day.  The track system attempts to mimic this natural pattern of movement in a domestic setting.  Others have found that their equines are healthier and happier when on-track.  Even with our more intense winter this year, the ponies do seem happier than they have in past years, including not yelling at me when I return after a long day.  My alpine pony track system seems here to stay!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2016

Book The Partnered PonyMore stories like this one can be found in The Partnered Pony:  What’s Possible, Practical, and Powerful with Small Equines, available internationally by clicking here.

Posted in Fell Ponies, Partnered Pony (TM)

Fells Help Break the Pony Stereotype

Restar Mountain Shelley III courtesy Abby FredericksenIn America, ponies are often considered to be children’s mounts.  After kids grow beyond a certain point, they typically ‘graduate’ to a horse.  Fell Ponies, however, are helping to break that pony stereotype.

Increasingly women who are no longer interested in mounting (or falling off) a taller horse are attracted to Fell Ponies.  In addition to their smaller size, a Fell’s weight-carrying ability, sure-footedness, and calm intelligent temperament are making them appealing as mounts for more than young people.

A story from lifelong Fell enthusiast Judith Bean brought a smile to my face.  For many years Judith has been teaching young people to ride with her Fell Pony mare Raisburn Lettie II.  Inevitably the youngsters ‘graduate’ to horses as is so common.

Recently some of Judith’s students returned to the barn where Lettie lives and reconnected with Judith.  They shared with Judith a renewed appreciation for Lettie after spending time riding bigger horses.  They told Judith they didn’t feel as safe on their horse, and they also felt the horse wasn’t quite ‘with them’ like Lettie had always been.  They also missed Lettie’s broad comfortable back that was closer to the ground.  Perhaps those young people will return one day to a pony.

A client new to Fell Ponies contacted me, and I encouraged them to visit a pony, or better yet an entire herd of Fells, before deciding how they wanted to add a Fell Pony to their life. They journeyed to a nearby breeder with a good-sized herd, and their comment to me upon returning home will stay with me for a long time.  “I will now never be without a Fell Pony in my life.”  They found the ponies calm, curious, and friendly beyond anything they’d previously experienced.

An owner of one of my ponies recently shared something similar, saying how dear their pony was to them and that their pony had so much personality.  “I see why you raise them,” they said.  A Fell Pony colleague hinted at the same idea when they shared that they wouldn’t trade one hundred horses for one of their Fells.  “Very hard to imagine anyone who is lucky enough to spend time with a Fell not falling in love with them.”  I know I would have a serious quandary if forced to pick out a single one of my Fells to part with.  They each are so interesting to have around for their own reasons.

As a pony enthusiast, I am thrilled with stories that appreciate ponies.  And as a Fell Pony breeder, I’m of course thrilled that people are appreciating what makes this breed so special.  It’s a special thrill, though, to have people reconsidering the stereotype that ponies are just for children. I love that Fell Ponies are making people think twice about what ponies are good for.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2016

Posted in Fell Ponies, Partnered Pony (TM)

Wassailing the Ponies 2016

My husband asked Christmas morning if we had apples for the ponies.  A bout of flu meant the shopping list lacked this item, but we fortunately had enough on hand to share with our friends and thank them for being part of our lives.

Wassailing basket from Willowtrail Mountain Ranger's owner

This year we used a basket that was a gift from Willowtrail Mountain Ranger’s owner. When it came to us, it was full of apples from the valley where Ranger now lives. One pony doesn’t like apples, so they get carrots instead.

Wassailing Honey

Wassailing Willowtrail Mountain Honey

Wassailing Lucky Joe

Wassailing Restar Lucky Joe

Wassailing Madie

Wassailing Willowtrail Spring Maiden

Wassailing Matty

Wassailing Bowthorne Matty

Wassailing Mya

Wassailing Mya the Wonder Pony. She prefers carrots.

Wassailing Rose

Wassailing Willowtrail Wild Rose

Wassailing Shelley

Wassailing Restar Mountain Shelley III

Wassailing Torrin

Wassailing OH Torrin

Wassailing Guards Apollo

Wassailing Guards Apollo

Posted in Fell Ponies, Partnered Pony (TM)