Then and Now

DL Glenn Rig with Jim

Dan and Kate Glenn and Old Jim about to depart on their trip south in 1902.

In 1902, my great great grandparents took a horse-drawn journey from Ashland, Oregon to Long Beach California.  The trip was over 700 miles and took nearly five weeks.  Along the way, Dan and Kate Glenn easily found hay, feed, water, stables, and fellow travelers with their own horses and wagons.  When they encountered a car, it merited mention in their diaries because it was so out of the ordinary.

Fast forward to today when the opposite is the case.  Cars are common modes of transport, and equines on long distance journeys are seldom encountered.  Hay, feed, water for equines, and stabling would be much more challenging to find whereas, of course, filling stations for autos are ubiquitous.  People today are accustomed to cars and not at all accustomed to horses.

An article in Equus magazine highlighted this last fact.  It discussed a 2013 Connecticut Supreme Court case in which horses were classed as ‘mischievous or vicious” and capable of doing harm by biting.  The particulars involved a man visiting a retail establishment and taking his young son in his arms to the fence to see the horses pastured next door.  He petted one of the horses, and the horse reached out and nipped his son on the cheek, causing permanent injury. (1)

Karen Elizabeth Baril, the author of the article, made several important points:

  • “So many people in the world today do not understand horses or how to approach them safely.”
  • “As horse owners we tend to focus on the mistakes [the father] made that exposed his son to danger, but how easily could you have been the one in [the boarding facility’s] shoes [who was sued]?”
  • “At a bare minimum, I believe horse owners need to educate themselves on the liability laws in their own state, and then they need to take steps to ensure they’ve secured their fences and barns and posted appropriate warning signs. Training our horses to behave well around people is another given, along with taking reasonable precautions to keep everyone safe.  And, of course, we must be vigilant.”
  • “Another thing we can do is help people learn about horses.”

I was particularly struck by that last statement.  Because I spend a significant part of everyday around my ponies, it’s easy for me to take for granted what I know about them and to forget how few people encounter an equine on a daily basis.  Unlike in my great-great grandparents’ time when everyone was around them nearly daily, now it’s a small minority of the population that encounters an equine at all frequently.

I wrote an article for Rural Heritage magazine about my great-great grandparents’ journey from Oregon to southern California (click here for more information).  Readers of that magazine are likely around equines on a regular basis, so I didn’t do much there to ‘help people learn about horses.’  However, I was able to share that article with members of my family.  I am the only member of my family who is involved with equines, but since the article was about a common ancestor, my family members found the article interesting.  It was much more accessible to them than most of my writing, so it is one thing I have done that ‘helps people learn about horses.’  I’ll keep the importance of that goal more at the top of my mind since reading Baril’s article.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015

  1. Baril, Karen Elizabeth. “The case of the ‘vicious’ horse,” Equus #448, January 2015, p. 33.
Posted in Inspirations, Sustainable Equestrianism

Feeling Thankful About Colic

Newfarm ValenciaTwo articles in the January 2015 issue of Equus magazine have me feeling thankful about colic.  The first article summarized research about broodmares who had ‘twisted guts.’  The prognosis for survival decreased dramatically the longer before treatment began.  “Mares who had been colicking for two to four hours prior to arriving at the clinic were three times less likely to survive than were those admitted within two hours of the appearance of colic signs.  Further, horses colicking four or more hours were nearly 12 times less likely to survive than were those who arrived at the clinic within the first two hours.” (1)

Several years ago one of my mares showed signs of ‘twisted gut.’  We are normally two hours from our vet and we had been consulting with him for an hour before we decided to transport.  The trip took a half hour longer than usual because of blizzard conditions then we waited a half hour in the hospital parking lot for the doctor to arrive.  I’m very thankful Dr. Gotchey was able to beat the odds and save my mare’s life and that of the foal in-utero.

Coincidentally one of the veterinarians involved in the research on ‘twisted gut’ once examined another of my mares.  She showed signs of colic here but after the two hour trailer ride was pronounced healthy at the hospital.  (For more on her mild recurrent colic, click here.)

The second article in Equus described a fascinating study of the microbiota of broodmares prior to and after foaling, comparing those who colicked postpartum and those who didn’t.  “Looking at pre- and post-foaling microbiota populations among study mares who did not colic, the researchers found little change.  Among the 24 mares who developed colic during the study period, however, significant changes in the microbiota were found, even before clinical signs of gut pain were apparent.” (2)

I feel fortunate to have only had one case of post-partum colic.  It was about two hours after foaling when I was still keeping a close eye on mom and baby, so mom immediately got a big dose of my trusty probiotic Dyna-Pro (to order your own Dyna-Pro, click here.)  She recovered within an hour.  A healthy dose of Dyna-Pro has been a standard part of my mares’ post partum feed bucket ever since.

Dyna-Pro is actually a prebiotic rather than a probiotic.  It promotes a healthy environment for beneficial gut microbes rather than supplementing the microbe population directly (click here for more on the difference between prebiotics and probiotics.)

I have reversed numerous colic episodes with Dyna-Pro over the years, so I wasn’t surprised by the research finding that the gut microbial environment differed between healthy and colicky mares.  All of my ponies get Dyna-Pro regularly to help keep their guts friendly to healthy microbiota.  I also have a couple of other management practices that help minimize the incidence of colic.  For instance, my ponies never receive grain; I choose to feed energy via fat and protein instead (click here for more info).  I also believe that the free choice minerals they have access to are an anti-colic strategy because they help keep the gut pH in a healthy range that also  supports a healthy microbial population (click here for more on loose free choice minerals.)

Colic is justifiably a source of worry for equine stewards.  These two articles, however, make me thankful for my vet and my nutritional program.  Knowing that I have a good preventive program and a good vet to fall back on when I need one helps keep my worry to a minimum.

  1. Barakat, Christine and Mick McCluskey. “Colic Treatment Delays Can Be Deadly,” Equus #448, January 2015, p. 11.
  2. Barakat, Christine and Mick McCluskey. “A New Clue to Postparum Colic Risk,” Equus #448,  January 2015, p. 13.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015

My Name is MadieYou can read an in-utero foal’s view of ‘twisted gut’ in My Name is Madie, available internationally by clicking here.

Posted in Natural Health, Partnered Pony (TM) | Tagged ,

Lovin’ Lucky Joe

Keeping a stallion is a lot of work, and some make it easier than others.  I’ve heard of Fell Pony stallions that have bit their handlers in an aggressive act, and I’ve personally seen one threaten.  On the other hand, I also know that most of our stallions are pretty pleasant to be around.  Now that I’m up to stallion number four, I’ve seen a range of well-tempered stallions and have come to appreciate where they fall on the fun-to-have-around spectrum.  My newest, Restar Lucky Joe, definitely falls towards the top of that category.

Restar Lucky Joe

The pictures here show one of our feeding time rituals.  Lucky Joe meets me at the gate whenever he hears me coming, and he shows interest in getting a scratch.  It was easy to find Lucky Joe’s favorite places to be scratched because he gives great feedback.  As the photos show, he not only stands ready to be scratched but he expresses great pleasure in the experience by craning his neck to encourage me to continue more of the same.

I’ve been spending time with him nearly every day beyond our usual feeding time rituals.  We’ve been ponying several times a week.  Lucky Joe and his companion Torrin, whom I ride, seem to enjoy our outings.  One day we had warm enough weather that I was able to give Lucky Joe a bath.  I never would have believed I’d manage bathing in February, but we’ve had some incredibly nice weather.  I felt a little guilty because I knew friends on the East Coast were getting hammered by yet another snow storm at the same time.

Because Lucky Joe is still young, much of our time together is spent doing mundane things.  Even these, though, Lucky Joe makes enjoyable.  I never thought I’d say that about hoof trimming, but he was so good recently, standing quietly tied to a fence – for a stallion, for a two-year-old – that I was on a definite high when I got done with the job.  Of course Lucky Joe got lots of scratches in his favorite places!

The other day, after we had a few inches of new snow, finally, to improve the footing, Lucky Joe and I did a little dancing together – in this case me leading and him following, forward, backward, around a tree, trotting and stopping.  I’d forgotten that we did that quite often last summer, and he seemed to enjoy dancing again as much as I did.

I brought Lucky Joe here from Cumbria for many reasons that had nothing to do with him personally.  I like his mom Restar Lucky, for instance.  I admire his breeder Joe Langcake.  I was honored when June Langcake, shortly before she died, told Joe that Lucky Joe should come to me.  Now that he’s been here a year, though, I can honestly say I’m lovin’ Lucky Joe for who he is personally.  He’s really fun to have around.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015

A Humbling ExperienceWhat an HonorIf you enjoy stories like this one, you might also enjoy the books A Humbling Experience and What an Honor, available internationally by clicking here.

Posted in Fell Ponies

Ponies and Bucket Lists

Navarro Vineyards 1985

Navarro Vineyards 1985

On the February page of the Carriage Driving Calendar from Mischka Press is a Welsh Cob navigating an obstacle at the 2013 Vineyard Classic in Woodland, California with grapevines in the background.  It is a very happy image for me because it combines a pony with my fond memories of touring wineries in California in my younger years.  My husband told me that one of the things on his bucket list is to visit Navarro Vineyards, one of my favorites.

The concept of a bucket list was new to me just a few years ago.  According to Merriam-Webster’s on-line dictionary, the term originated in 2006 and derives from the expression ‘kick the bucket’ or to die.  A bucket list is “a list of things that one has not done before but wants to do before dying.” (1)  I’ve been flattered by a couple of people who have told me that visiting Willowtrail Farm is on their bucket list.

Bridge on carriage road, Acadia National Park 1995

Bridge on carriage road, Acadia National Park 1995

In the January/February 2015 issue of Driving Digest magazine, there is a bucket list story involving ponies.  Linda Yutzy had this on her bucket list:  “Drive my pair of Dartmoors in Acadia National Park.”  This, too, was a happy story for me because of fond memories of being in Acadia on the gorgeous carriage roads there.  My visit was before my pony days, when bicycling was my preferred recreational travel method.  The rock work of the bridges was stunning and inspired many a photograph.

Linda Yutzy’s story was inspiring as well.  She lives in Texas, so taking her ponies to Acadia involved a 2200-mile four-day journey.  Plus she undertook the journey after having a leg amputated.  The event that spurred her journey was the American Driving Society 40th Anniversary Members Meeting, and Linda and her husband and ponies were the ones who traveled the furthest (with equines) for the event.  At Acadia, they drove 100 kilometers during their stay, which is very similar to the distance I rode on my bicycle; those carriage roads are so motivating!  There’s a great picture in Linda’s article of her ponies seeing a sailboat for the first time.  Linda wrote, “The ponies took it all in stride although the wild turkeys gave Flirt something to think about.” (2)

The image on the February 2015 page of Mischka’s Draft Horse Calendar is also a happy one for me.  It shows three teams plowing at the 2013 Durrant Plowing Weekend, Poplar Grove, Illinois, including Jim Buzzard with his hitch of six Haflingers.  Jim is often in touch about things I write in Rural Heritage magazine and generously shares photographs and stories about his hitch.  We obviously share a love of working smaller equines.

Restar Mountain Shelley IIII don’t have a proper bucket list because I am lucky to be living exactly the life I want where I want right now.  I will admit though to having one thing that probably qualifies as a bucket list item:  to walk the fells of Cumbria with my husband with a Fell Pony carrying my pack and traveling over pack pony bridges.  When my husband and I were on the fells in 2005, we felt so at home there that experiencing that again is worth dreaming about.  Perhaps someday I’ll be able to fulfill that dream, but in the meantime I’m fortunate to have a yard full of Fell Ponies who are willing to carry my pack (and more often me!) in our gorgeous setting here in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

  2. Yutzy, Linda and Keith. “Bucket List:  Drive Acadia,” Driving Digest, Issue 193, January/February 2015, p. 29.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015

The Partnered PonyIf you enjoy articles like this one, you might also be interested in back issues of The Partnered Pony™ Inquirer, available by clicking here.

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

Dominance is Not Leadership

Willowtrail Moujntain Honey Leads the Herd

Willowtrail Moujntain Honey Leads the Herd

Willowtrail Mountain Honey is the youngest pony in a herd of five mares.  She doesn’t hang out with her mother, which is a little surprising to me because her older sister and mother were fast friends.  And she doesn’t hang out with the dominant mare.  This choice, in contrast, doesn’t surprise me at all.

In her book Power of the Herd, Linda Kohanov states, “Studies of both wild and domesticated herds show that even though aggressive alpha-style leaders win the right to eat and drink first, these horses mostly succeed in alienating others…. [If] you sit down and really watch the rest of the herd, you’ll notice most horses following more settled individuals around.”(1)  I appreciated this articulation that alpha-style dominance behavior is not necessarily a leadership trait, a leader being an individual that others choose to follow around.

At about the same time that I read Kohanov’s distinction between dominance and leadership, I also read an article entitled, “Busting the Lead Mare Myth” in Equus magazine.  “The idea that a single high-ranking alpha mare initiates the movement of the entire herd may be nothing more than a pervasive myth,” according to a study in Germany.  (2)

In the study, the ‘lead mare’ was defined as the highest ranking one, and movement of the herd was the behavior that was considered the definition of the lead mare’s role.  While I consider the finding of the researchers interesting, based on my own observations of herd dynamics, I question the definitions on which the research was based.

For instance, the researcher studied herds with “well-established hierarchies,” and identified each horse’s ‘rank’ within the herd.  The idea of a strict hierarchy and well-defined rank just doesn’t match what I’ve observed.  My essay “Contextual Dominance” (click here) describes the dynamics in my herd, which are anything but a well defined hierarchy.  (I suspect that my hours of watching my herd and its dynamic far exceed what I consider a meager 15 hours put in by the researchers.)  Instead of hierarchy I have found Carolyn Resnick’s description of herd structure more accurate because she distinguishes between dominant horses and leaders, as Kohanov similarly suggests (you might find my essay “Herd Leaders and Dominant Horses” of interest; click here)

The mare in my herd that Honey doesn’t hang out with is aggressive and gets to eat and drink first.  Kohanov calls this alpha-style, and Resnick would label her dominant.  Instead, Honey follows a more settled individual that Resnick would call a leader.  Kohanov follows her description above with one from Mark Rashid who insists that, “most horses seek out a leader ‘that they know won’t cause them unnecessary stress or aggravation,’ someone with ‘quiet confidence, dependability, consistency, and a willingness not to use force.’” (3)  Rashid’s words aptly describe the mare Honey prefers to hang with.

The photograph here illustrates the point made by the Equus article.  It shows Honey leading the other mares towards me when I arrived at pasture.  In no way would Honey be considered a lead mare at the moment, but she surely initiated movement of the herd that day, busting the lead mare myth just as the research described in the article did.

The Equus article, in debunking the role of the lead mare, also attempts to debunk the idea of humans taking on the lead mare role as is sometimes advocated in natural horsemanship circles.  I keep coming back to definitions.  I agree that we as humans shouldn’t adopt the alpha-style type of leadership.  But what Resnick calls a leader and Rashid describes as “someone with ‘quiet confidence, dependability, consistency, and a willingness not to use force” does, on the other hand seem a reasonable role to aspire to.  Honey certainly seems to agree!

  1. Kohanov, Linda. The Power of the Herd:  A Nonpredatory Approach to Social Intelligence, Leadership, and Innovation.  New World Library, Novato California, 2013, p. 76
  2. Barakat, Christine and Mick McCluskey, “Busting the Lead Mare Myth,” Equus #444, September 2014, p. 8
  3. Same as #1

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015

The Partnered PonyIf you enjoy articles like this one, you might also be interested in back issues of The Partnered Pony™ Inquirer, available by clicking here.

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

Pony Sense for Business

Horse logging in Teller City for the US Forest ServiceDid you create a New Year’s Resolution regarding your equine-related business?  It occurs to me that our pony friends have some relevant advice:

  • Be multi-talented. Many of our pony breeds have been developed to be versatile.  In some cases, for instance, the same pony was expected, depending on the day, to be ridden, driven, used as a pack animal, and used in harness for draft work.  Most of the successful equine businesses I observe are also multi-talented.  One combines breeding, selling horse real estate, and marketing nutritional products; another gives workshops, sells videos, and teaches individual lessons.  Expect to put lots of your talents to use.
  • Know your carrying capacity. Because ponies are smaller than horses, pony enthusiasts are often asked what a pony can carry.  In my experience, ponies enjoy work; we just have to scale the work accordingly, making sure they can handle the weight we ask them to carry.  If we are going to be multi-talented in our business, we also need to make sure we can handle the work load.  Take on what we can handle but not more or we may suffer from being over-weighted.
  • Be smart. Many of our ponies tend to be on the think-first, run-second part of the equine spectrum.  In business this translates to making sure both our heads and our hearts (and not just our hearts) are involved in business decisions.  Many of us have an equine-related business because of our love and passion for these animals.  Being in business requires us to use our whole selves.
  • Put on weight when the getting is good and save for the lean times. While pony owners are all too familiar with the ability of our equine friends to gain weight during the summer and then hopefully lose it in winter, veterinarians say that this natural cycle is inherent to all equines.  In business, it translates to understanding if we have uneven cash flow, identifying when that is, and making sure we know how to save that cash for times when we need it to sustain our business.
  • Be strong for your size. Draft pony enthusiasts believe that pound for pound, ponies can outwork larger equines.  Being strong for your size means being cautious in business decisions, being careful to not burden our businesses with commitments we can’t handle.  It’s related to being smart, too:  make sure significant effort, such as a long trek across a paddock, is really worth it just for a carrot.  Don’t do it if the payoff doesn’t seem good enough.  I’ve sure had ponies that make this decision!
  • Sometimes things won’t be pretty. I have a pony named Beauty, and one of her favorite things to do is roll in the mud.  Afterwards, she doesn’t come close to resembling her name.  In business, sometimes things won’t be pretty; sometimes we roll in the mud, intentionally or otherwise.  We have to learn to let the mud dry, shake it off and move on.

There are also some nuggets that come from equines in general:

  • Live in the Present. Our equine friends are masters of paying attention to what’s going on right now.  In the context of business, this means paying as we go, avoiding debt as much as possible.  Consider taking on commitments to the future only when they are not longer than gestation (eleven months).  Keep your financials up-to-date so you always know where you’re at.
  • Be honest. Like it or not, our equines are always giving us honest feedback about everything in their world.  Applying honesty in our business will ensure that relationships with clients, employees, and even ourselves are the best that they can be.
  • Just like there are all kinds of horses, there are all kinds of horse businesses. Yours will be a reflection of who you are and therefore won’t ever look like anyone else’s because there’s only one you!
  • Recognize when our head is up and our tail is elevated. If we’re a little on edge about finances or something else, don’t ignore the feeling.  Do something about it!
  • In natural settings, equines will graze for as much as sixteen hours a day and do other things for the remainder.  Even if we love our work, we do need to take time off to nourish ourselves.  It’s not about slacking; it’s just the way life is.  Accept it!

What have your ponies taught you about business?

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015

Posted in Inspirations, Partnered Pony (TM), Sustainable Equestrianism, Work Ponies | Tagged ,

“They Can’t Get Enough of Us!”

Restar Mountain Shelley IIIThe phone rang at 8am, and the caller apologized for calling so early.  I said it was no problem because he wanted to talk about one of my favorite subjects:  working ponies.  He had seen an article I had written on the subject for Rural Heritage magazine.  He has a small farm and wants to put small equines to work on it.

We talked about many of the dimensions of working equines, especially the smaller variety, and I pointed him toward some resources.  Then I mentioned a great quote I’d read about a key characteristic of ponies:  “easy keeping doesn’t mean the keeping is easy.” (1)  He had asked whether the potential for founder was as common in larger ponies as it is in smaller ones.  I shared how I have found it necessary to manage to avoid that problem.   While the management burden may be heavier for working ponies, there is definitely an upside.  I have found ponies to be so interested in working with me and having a job that the effort of caring for them is easily worth it.

I was talking with a pony friend later that same day, and we too got on the topic of the effort required to manage ponies.  Like me she feels the ponies give so much in return that it is easily worthwhile.  She exclaimed, “They can’t get enough of us!”  I haven’t been around horses for decades, so I don’t know if they’re the same, but I definitely feel the same way about my ponies; they want more attention not less.

When I was talking to the aspiring small farmer, I had mentioned that having breeding stock like I do is a challenge because most of them don’t consider breeding work to be enough to keep them occupied.  I’m constantly getting asked, “What are we going to do today?!”  It isn’t very often (and usually when there’s a choice about green grass) that my ponies would rather do their own thing rather than do something with me.

I got an email the other day from another pony friend, telling me a story about taking a carrot to her pony partner of many years.  For the first time in memory, her pony chose not to come to her.  It was ten below zero, and her pony had found a sunny spot out of the wind.  So sometimes they can get enough of us, but they usually have a good reason!  My friend concluded her story by saying, “Love this pony!”

My first Fell Pony, Sleddale Rose Beauty, was bred by the late Mr. Henry Harrison.  In 2005, Mr. Harrison gave the following endorsement of the Fell Pony: “Besides its hardiness, thrift, strength, and being surefooted, it is the personality of the fell pony that means so much, a kind natured pony, ever eager to please and provide good company.” (2)  As each year passes, I recognize ever more the truth in Mr. Harrison’s statement.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015

  1. Lesté-Lasserre, Christa, “Feeding Ponies” at
  2. Harrison, Henry.   Fell Pony Society Calendar, 2005, January page.

A Humbling ExperienceWhat an HonorIf you enjoy stories like this one, you might also enjoy the books A Humbling Experience and What an Honor, available internationally by clicking here.

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