Pony Antics at Nine Below

Matty at the fence in a conventional position at another time of the day

Matty at the fence in a conventional position at another time of the day

The first thing I did upon rising was check the temperature.  My window had been heavily frosted when I peeked out from my bed, and the thermometer confirmed what I’d guessed:  nine degrees below zero (Fahrenheit).  My agenda was set.  Before anything else, I was heading out to feed the ponies.

I had fed the first two ponies and was under the hay tarp in the next paddock when I heard the dogs barking loudly.  After extracting myself from the tarp, I saw Restar Lucky Joe running wildly around the paddock, which explained the dogs’ vocalizations.  Then I saw the explanation for Lucky Joe’s antics.  His paddock mate Torrin had let himself into the haystack yard and was taking bites out of the hay bales, getting his breakfast before Joe did, making Joe jealous.

After Lucky Joe and Torrin were fed, I headed towards the last paddock where all the mares were awaiting my arrival, Bowthorne Matty, the lead mare, met me at the fence.  She wasn’t, however, facing me in greeting.  Rather, she was standing sideways to the fence.  I couldn’t resist the invitation, so I climbed aboard.  Matty expressed her approval by tossing her head, and I expressed my appreciation by giving her a treat.  Normally I would then ask her to take me to the haystack, but I guessed that spirits might be a little high for a ride, so I dismounted.

As I’d suspected, while I walked on my own two feet to the haystack, two of the mares were putting on quite a display, bucking and running about.  That one of them was my senior mare, 24 year old Mya the Wonder Pony, made me especially happy.  Of course as soon as there was hay available, they all got down to the serious business of breakfast.

I went back inside to warm up and await the rising of the sun.  My day had started a little more vigorously than I’d wished, but the pony antics I witnessed left a smile on my face the rest of the day.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015

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


The Partnered PonyYou’ll also enjoy the book The Partnered Pony which includes part of this story as well as many more about the joys of life with ponies.  The Partnered Pony is available by clicking here.

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

Thankful for Ponies 2015

At Thanksgiving it feels important to pause,
Amidst the hurry of the day-to-day,
To appreciate the joy of living life
And to feel blessed, come what may.

For there is in the world, especially these days,
So much opportunity for anger and sorrow.
Yet also there are things that counterbalance all that,
And give hope through a chance at tomorrow.

Willowtrail Farm Fell PoniesA life with ponies is a special thing
That so few are lucky to share.
I am thankful to have had yet another year
With my collection of stallion, gelding and mare.

It has been a year of change here
In my cherished pony herd.
A favorite daughter returned to the farm
Making in the sister tally a third.

I am missing my old matriarch
Though her legacy is living on –
Through her daughter and another mare
That keep her leadership style going strong.

Another mare that I shared life with
For more than a handful of years
Went off to new adventures
Receiving from new owners welcome cheers.

I didn’t have any foals this year.
I definitely missed their youthful joy
And the opportunity to share with others
The choice of a Fell Pony girl or boy.

My two work ponies did a job this year
That they’d never done before.
And a Fell Pony began doing chores for me.
I look forward to working her more.

My herd is the smallest it’s been in years,
Though people remain amazed
When I say it still numbers nine ponies.
They don’t understand being pony-crazed!

The new head mare is offering things
With enthusiasm she’s never shown before.
At the moment I’m having great good fun
And looking forward to what more’s in store.

Another is letting me, while mounted,
Open and shut gates when out on a ride.
Saving the dismount and mounting chore,
My appreciation is undenied.

My senior stallion is a joy to have around,
Being content with his role in life.
Of course he’s always looking for a chance
To greet a potential or current wife.

My young colt is like his brothers I’ve met,
Always eager and ready to please,
Amazing me with how quickly he learns
From new things that he sees.

A trip to the Fell Pony homeland
Was another blessing this pony year.
Cumbrian ponies, friends, and landscape
Never fail to give me cheer.

Willowtrail Farm Fell PoniesOn any day, I don’t have to look far,
Either in the world of ponies or elsewhere,
To see people who have it worse than I do,
Making any troubles I have easier to bear.

At this Thanksgiving holiday,
I am grateful for reflective time.
This life with ponies is unique and a blessing
That is a treasure worth every dime.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015

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

R.I.P. Orton Hall Danny

Orton Hall Danny at KHP 2003 by Kitty CourierThe first Fell Pony stallion I ever met was Orton Hall Danny.  If I had known when I met him that I would someday need to keep not one but two Fell Pony stallions, I would probably have turned my back and walked away from the breed.  At that meeting, Danny seemed larger than life and somewhat wild and fierce, reinforcing my belief that stallions were a handful that I had no business being involved with.  Danny’s display at the time was no doubt due to the ferocious windstorm that was gusting outside the metal barn in which he was housed.  Fortunately for me I didn’t know what I didn’t know then, and fortunately for Danny, his life was soon to improve dramatically.

It has always been my opinion that the best thing that ever happened to Orton Hall Danny was being purchased by Patricia Burge.  Not only was Pat a lifelong horsewoman, but she also approaches equines and all animals with a profound sense of compassion.  That compassion led her to an ability to partner with Danny and help him to be the great equine ambassador that he became.  When Pat called to tell me that Dan, as she called him, had passed away, I knew that a huge hole had been rent in her heart.

I never knew Danny very well personally, so mostly I experienced him through stories and photographs that Pat shared.  It’s clear from the photographs that Pat and Dan were extremely happy in each other’s presence.  Many of the photographs show Dan costumed as a unicorn.  When Dan became Danequiel, wearing his horn, the two of them were truly in their element, performing for audiences.  From Pat’s stories, it’s clear that, in return, audiences were captivated by these partners’ display.  While for me the partnership was about extraordinary horsemanship, for many it was about something more magical.

In some accounts, a unicorn is considered “an extremely wild woodland creature” that can only be tamed by someone who is good and pure and honest. (1)  Additionally, as a symbol of Scotland, the unicorn is seen as “a proud and haughty beast which would rather die than be captured….” (2)  In other accounts, unicorns are considered gateway animals to other worlds, helping us “imagine wonderful other ways of being.” (3)  To be able to tame a unicorn, to have a unicorn choose you to interact with, is to be recognized as being innately good and pure and honest, a form of recognition that is elusive in the real world.  Often, according to Pat, Dan would interact with audience members in ways that left them profoundly moved, making unicorn magic a reality.

Orton Hall Danny by Wendy FranciscoMy first interaction with Danny squarely put him in the camp of “extremely wild woodland creature” and “haughty and would rather die than be captured.”  In real life from where I sit, Dan was tamed by a good and honest horsewoman, again making unicorn mythology a reality.  I know Pat felt Dan was a blessing in her life.  I’ll always believe, though, that the bigger blessing was Dan having Pat in his life, for without her, Danequiel would never have existed, and this uniquely gifted pony would have been unknown in the world.  Thank you, Pat, and rest in peace Orton Hall Danny.

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unicorn
  2. Same as #1.
  3. http://www.npr.org/2011/02/09/133600424/why-do-girls-love-horses-unicorns-and-dolphins

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015

This story will join many others in the forthcoming book The Partnered Pony, available for the 2015 holidays at willowtrailfarm.com .

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

Get More Grounded

An inspiring ponyWhen things get challenging at work, my tendency is to put in more hours.  That strategy worked okay when I had one job and paid time-off to do things for fun.  And it worked okay when I was younger and working all night didn’t leave me compromised for the rest of the week.  And it worked okay before I discovered something I’m so passionate about that there are never enough hours in the day regardless of how many I work.  Now, I’ve discovered, putting in more hours is not a great strategy.

An accident in the kitchen from trying to multi-task to get more done has left me injured and realizing my old habits are not serving me.  I began to ponder what needed to change.  How beautiful that a pony should provide the answer.

I’ve been working for the past few months getting a pony going in harness. Because I work alone and our environment here has lots of uncontrollable stimulation, I am constantly gauging how the pony reacts to things, whether things I introduce or unplanned disturbances like a moose walking out of the woods or sled dogs suddenly howling in the distance or a piece of machinery driving by.  While every pony has their unique way of reacting to something of concern, how they use their feet is of particular interest to me.  Some ponies are inclined to get busy feet and, in the extreme, to try to leave the situation.  Others don’t necessarily move their feet but will stop, usually suddenly, and stare.  For the type of work I do in harness, the second sort of pony is a better partner from a safety standpoint than the first.

The particular pony that I am working now I have known since birth, so I’ve had lots of opportunities to gauge how she reacts to things that concern her.  She has always been more of the second type, stopping and staring, rather than getting busy feet.  The other day, though, she showed me an interesting alternative that I’ve experienced with other Fell Ponies.  She didn’t just stop; she stopped and pushed all four feet into the ground, seeming to sink her body into her hooves briefly.  I haven’t ever experienced a pony running off from being planted firmly in place; instead they seem to use the posture to more fully consider the situation.

When I saw my pony react this way, (and I still don’t know what she saw that concerned her), I was standing on the other end of the lines.  For some reason, my ponderings about how to create habits that better serve me immediately came to mind.  My pony had provided an interesting perspective.  The answer isn’t to get busy feet, to move more quickly or do more things.  And the answer isn’t to just stop and stare and take no action, to cease doing things, either.  The answer is to get more grounded, to more firmly plant myself in place so I can think more clearly and make better decisions.

Just as every pony reacts uniquely to things of concern, every person will have their own approach to getting more grounded.  I am very fortunate to be at a point in my life where I know exactly what planting myself more firmly in place looks like.  I am thankful to my pony for helping me understand that it is an answer I was looking for.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015

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

US Purebred Equine Trends

2004 Jackson County Ranch RodeoA very timely email crossed my desk as I was preparing to analyze the North American portion of the 2014 Fell Pony Society Stud Book.  Apparently I am not alone in enjoying looking at numbers and trends.  Debbie Fuentes, registrar of the Arabian Horse Association and an employee of AHA for twenty years, annually collects and curates data from thirteen American breed registries.  Similar to my annual analysis, Fuentes looks at trends over the past decade regarding registration numbers, transfers of ownership and membership. (1)

In addition to Arabians, Fuentes gathers data about Quarter Horses, Paints, Appaloosas, Standardbreds, Tennessee Walking Horses, Miniature Horses, Morgans, Pintos, Ponies of the Americas, Saddlebreds, Thoroughbreds, and Paso Finos.   According to a 2005 study by the American Plant and Animal Health Inspection Service, just more than half the equines in the U.S. are registered with some breed association.  (2)

Fuentes made the following observations after her collection of 2014 data:

  • there are a large number of twenty-year-old horses right now because 1995 had a peak in registrations
  • the Great Recession caused registration numbers to fall to half of their pre-recession highs
  • 2014 saw a slight increase in registrations overall, with some registries posting gains, such as the Quarter Horse up 12%, and some posting declines, such as the Tennessee Walkers, declining 33%.
  • Memberships dropped for all associations
  • “Level is the new normal,” with Fuentes adding, “I would be very pleased to see more (registries) remain flat, rather than experiencing another drastic decline.” (3)

If you are interested in reading my observations of trends based on the 2014 Fell Pony Society Stud Book, make sure you are on the mailing list for Fell Pony News from Willowtrail Farm (click here to sign up.)

  1. Anderson, Michelle N. “The Ups and Downs of U.S. Horse Registrations,” article #36601at thehorse.com
  2. Same as #1
  3. Same as #1

Book Fell Pony ObservationsMy observations on Fell Ponies are collected in the book Fell Ponies:  Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here.

Posted in Fell Ponies, Partnered Pony (TM), Sustainable Equestrianism

A Working Pony Goal Accomplished

Willowtrail Farm working poniesI was in the kitchen after breakfast when my husband entered the basement door and called up the stairs, “Your assistance is requested.”  Puzzled by the tone of his voice and the strange choice of words, I hurried downstairs.  There, when I found beside my husband two men wearing orange vests, I exclaimed, “You got an elk!”

The successful hunter said he was eighty five years old, and our mutual friend suggested perhaps we could help get the meat out of the woods.  Always eager for an excuse to work my ponies, I of course said yes!

I hurriedly did chores, and we re-arranged our day and were down the road with two ponies in the horse trailer with all the necessary tack within forty-five minutes.  We drove to a gate across a logging road and parked.  It was a glorious fall day, and I soon regretted that the only orange hat I have is a stocking cap.  While one hunter went ahead to begin dressing the carcass, I put pack saddles on my two old hands.  Because I’d never packed out a kill before, I chose ponies for whom very little would be new.  Traveling to a strange place, walking through the woods, standing tied with full tack, and packing strange loads were all on these ponies’ resumés.  In fact the last time I’d used one of the pack saddles was on a similar mission in 2008, only that time we were packing in fence materials instead of packing out meat.

When we arrived at the kill, I had both ponies smell the fresh blood.  Neither seemed bothered – a good sign – so I hand grazed the ponies for an hour waiting for the loads to be ready.  The decision was made to have the ponies pack out the quarters, so when the hindquarters were bagged, I worked with Torrin, desensitizing him to the feel, smell, and warm weight of the load.  We found that the plastic bags bothered him, so we put the quarters in their plastic bags inside cloth game bags, and he did fine.  Hanging the hindquarters on either side of the pack saddle was definitely the easiest balancing of loads I’ve ever done.  They were naturally close to the same weight.  I used to carry a scale to weigh panniers to make sure the load was balanced.  No need this time.  Because the elk was a yearling, the forequarters fit nicely into Mya’s panniers.  I was pleased she didn’t express discomfort about the plastic bags as she has in the past.

The mile-and-a-half walk out went uneventfully, and all four humans counted the outing a success.  My husband remarked that the ponies even seemed to enjoy going along, which was definitely true.  Packing out a carcass for a hunter is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, so it was a dream come true to have the opportunity.  Being able to do it for the first time on a beautiful day with an easy walk made it even better. And the hunters brought me a piece of hide to hang on the paddock fences to desensitize the other ponies to the smell.  I’ll be recruiting from their ranks if there’s a next time!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015

A Humbling ExperienceWhat an HonorStories like this one can also be found in the books A Humbling Experience and What an Honor, available internationally by clicking here.


Posted in Partnered Pony (TM), Work Ponies

The Herd Is All Home

Willowtrail Farm Fell Pony maresIt’s that time of year when the last of the ponies return from summer pasture, and the herd is all home.  When we hitched the horse trailer, all the ponies already here got excited, thinking that perhaps they were going to get to go to pasture.  And then when we returned, the ponies here called out, and the ponies on-board answered.  For the next half hour, lots of vocalizations and running about characterized our usually calm and quiet atmosphere.

The last weekend before the last ponies came home, I stopped at the mailbox, and the mail carrier was there.  “I saw you stop at the pasture,” she said, “and all the ponies came running when they saw you.  That was so neat to see.”  It was good to be reminded how special that is; it’s easy to take for granted.

The mares that were the last to come home were ready.  They know they get more attention here than they do when they’re at pasture.  It was clear the last week or so when we visited that they wanted more of our time than we gave them.  At home they will be haltered daily, and they will learn new things, just because that’s the way things are here.  One of the ponies is relatively new to me, so she has the most to learn about what’s expected of her.  Even on the trip home she seemed to remember some of what’s already been shown is expected.  It was nice to see she had good recall.

We had a very full week where lots of people seemed to want and appreciate our company.  While that is nice, I have to admit that giving my ponies my company brings me greater pleasure.  While having the herd all home is more work, it also means more time with my best friends.  Life with ponies is indeed a blessing.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015

A Humbling ExperienceWhat an HonorIf you enjoyed this story, you’ll also enjoy the books A Humbling Experience and What an Honor, available internationally by clicking here.

Posted in Natural Horsemanship, Partnered Pony (TM)