Hope for Lowercase Fell Ponies

It is commonly thought in the Fell Pony world that once Fell Ponies leave the fells, they can never return.  Often they grow too large, and they don’t have the wisdom or the hardiness to survive on the rough open terrain that has shaped the breed.

This situation is a challenge for the breed because the number of hill-bred ponies is in decline because the number of hill breeders is dropping.   And even if fell ground becomes available to put ponies on, there may not be breeders willing to do the work of keeping the ponies on the fell because it is very hard work with little financial reward.  As the late Chris Thompson once said, “You’ve got to be interested in them to carry the Fell ponies on; it’s got to be in the blood.” (1)

I got a sliver of hope in the face of this difficult situation when talking to someone who has fell ground on which they run their equine herd.  While it isn’t currently a herd of Fell Ponies, they have however witnessed what many Fell Pony stewards have: that putting an animal on the fell that wasn’t born there causes that animal significant physical stress.  Yet the good news is that while the first year is rough, after that, they seem to adapt and begin to thrive there.  My friend obviously chooses their equines with this management scheme in mind; not every equine could adapt to fell living.  Nonetheless, it’s encouraging to know that an equine born away from the fell can become a lowercase fell pony.

Every bit of fell ground is different of course.  One of the most challenging fell environments is Birkbeck Common where the Greenholme herd runs.  While it is a good place to cure a pony of sweet itch, which Bill Potter has done a  number of times for frustrated owners, Bill says it can take as long as three years for a pony that leaves there and then returns to reacclimatize. (2)

If somehow we can reverse the trend of losing hill breeders, then Fell Ponies will still be able to call the terrain that bears their name home.  And if necessary, perhaps Fell Ponies reared away from their native ground can be returned there, carefully, becoming fell ponies in both the upper case and lower case sense of the term.

  1. Millard, Sue. “The Drybarrows Ponies – Legacy of Chris Thompson,” People & Ponies page of Fell Pony Society website, http://www.fellponysociety.org.uk
  2. Personal communication with Bill Potter, 2009.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

Other things that I’ve learned about Fell Ponies can be found in my book Fell Ponies:  Observations about the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

Posted in Fell Ponies

Single Issue Voter

I have watched a Fell Pony extract itself from of a Cumbrian bog, comfortably sat a traditional trot bareback, benefited from a speedy walk, and put hock and knee action to use in rough terrain. Fell Pony traditional movement is for me something quite real and to be cherished and preserved.  I never thought, though, that it would make me a single issue voter.

I grew up in a political family where campaign strategy was a regular part of each election year.  Single issue voters were sources of frustration because they were uninterested in comprehensive platforms and nuanced policy positions, and they often defied efforts at compromise.  Now though, I’m on the other side and can see why they chose to stand steadfast.

I received my ballot in the mail for the election of the Fell Pony Society (FPS) council.  While I always participate in the annual council elections when given the chance, this year was unusual.  After going down the list voting the names of people I knew and respected for their service to our breed, it came down to filling the last of four spots by choosing between two candidates.  One made showing and dressage an emphasis in their candidate statement, and the other mentioned the need to preserve traditional movement.

In a conversation with another breeder that I thought was unrelated, I had asked how they liked what a particular stallion had done with their mares.  I was somewhat surprised at the answer.  The breeder appreciated the less-active movement of the foal crop “because it’s better for showing and dressage.” I’d heard before that showing and dressage have different preferences for how an equine moves than is standard for our ponies, but this was the first time I’d really had evidence for the allegation.

The candidate that emphasized the need to preserve traditional movement in our breed also expressed concern that preferences in the dressage and showing worlds and the use of our ponies in those realms was adversely impacting traditional movement in the breed.  Suddenly I found the choice for the final slot on the ballot easy.

I have ridden Fell Ponies through deep snow.  I have needed them to jump downed timber at a walk.  I have appreciated their comfortable and speedy gaits on pony express runs to our distant mailbox.  Rarely a day goes by that I don’t find reason to appreciate traditional Fell Pony movement.  I’m usually not a single issue voter, but the traditional movement of Fell Ponies gave me reason to become one.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

There are many stories like this one about the Fell Pony breed in the book Fell Ponies:  Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

Posted in Fell Ponies

Not Bored Yet!

Sleddale Rose BeautyA comment from a caller brought a smile to my face. We had been talking about Fell Ponies of course and in particular about the bloodlines of one they were considering purchasing.  They had previously owned traditional Morgan Horses.  I have seen just a few traditional Morgans, and they are amazingly different from modern Morgans, so I knew my caller was familiar with how type can change.

My caller had been reading my book about the breed and found it interesting enough that their spouse was asking if anything else was going to get done before reading the book was complete.  I think that’s a compliment?!  My caller expressed appreciation for all the information about the breed that I’ve written down to share with others.  They concluded by saying, “You’re not bored yet!”

They are right of course, and I understand why the comment was worded in that way.  In my relatively short (seventeen year) history with the breed, I’ve seen a number of people dive in with both feet and be enthusiastic only to leave the breed behind a few years later, on to some other breed or activity.  While this is probably a natural progression for a person, I worry about the ponies, since I know Fells get to know their people if given a choice.  I especially worry when several ponies are exported from England in the enthusiasm of the moment, only to be set aside when they’re no longer of interest, sometimes lost to the gene pool entirely.

No, I’m not bored yet.  I’m still trying to breed something close to and eventually better than my first Fell Pony mare.  There are fewer and fewer ponies like her in the breed, so the search for breeding stock to recreate her keeps me from being bored.  I suspect rather than boredom I’ll either be frustrated because it’s too hard to do what I’m trying to do on this side of the pond, or I’ll find contentment from making progress with each succeeding generation that I breed.  Regardless, I’m fairly certain one lifetime won’t be long enough.  No, I’m not bored yet.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

Book Fell Pony ObservationsMuch of what I’ve learned about the Fell Pony breed can be found in my book Fell Ponies:  Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here or on the cover image.

Posted in Fell Ponies

Ponies, Promenades and Parades

I’m working on a chapter for a book I’m writing; the chapter is on Portland, Oregon’s bygone White House Road.  The chapter has required extensive research about the Riverside Driving Association which for many years advocated for and maintained the White House Road for pleasure driving and “showing the mettle of fast trotters.”

Take note of the pony front and center!  From The West Shore, 1890.  Courtesy University of Oregon Historic Newspapers collection

Take note of the pony front and center! From The West Shore, 1890. Courtesy University of Oregon Historic Newspapers collection

In the course of my research, I found a number of lithographs from The West Shore, an early Portland magazine.  As a pony enthusiast, my favorite is one showing a pony front and center pulling a cart amidst bigger horses and vehicles, promenading down the White House Road in 1890.

In 1904 the driving association was feeling victorious about getting the road widened to make it safe for simultaneous speeding and pleasure driving.  “The fight that the Riverside Driving Association has made to have the road widened has not been merely for the benefit of the club members, but it was made for the benefit of the city and every lover of a driving horse, whether it be owned privately or hired from a livery.” (1)  Of course, the widening benefited more than just the lover of the driving horse.

Not long after, the club argued before city council about automobile speed limits.  “The members of the Riverside Driving Association are hot on the trail of the automobiilsts who on account of their reckless driving on the White House road have made that driveway too dangerous to drive horses on at night.” (2)

As we will have guessed, the driving association’s battle was fruitless.  Automobilists took over the road, and the association’s members turned their energies to race meets on tracks and participation in Portland’s Rose Festival Parade.

I grew up in Portland, the City of Roses, and was always aware of the Rose Parade.  I had never pondered what the parade was like, though, before internal combustion engines powered the floats.  Again as a pony enthusiast I was thrilled to find the photograph here of a pony and cart decorated with flowers for the parade.  Ponies and carts also merited their own class in an associated driving show.

Pony cart float at the 1911 Rose Festival Parade in Portland, Oregon.  Courtesy University of Oregon Historic Oregon Newspapers collection

Pony cart float at the 1911 Rose Festival Parade in Portland, Oregon. Courtesy University of Oregon Historic Oregon Newspapers collection

One of the joys of doing research for my book is discovering things that I hadn’t previously known or seen.  And when those newly discovered things have to do with ponies, the joy is even greater!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

  1. “To Hold Harness Races,” The Morning Oregonian, 4/20/1904, p. 8.
  2. “Speed of Autos to be checked,” The Morning Oregonian, 5/28/1904, p. 9

Both citations courtesy the University of Oregon Historic Newspapers collection.

Book The Partnered PonyThere are many stories about ponies and what they can do in the book The Partnered Pony:  What’s Possible, Practical, and Powerful with Small Equines, available internationally by clicking here or on the picture.

Posted in Partnered Pony (TM)

Honey’s Strange Symptoms

Honey and her tooth capBecause it happens so rarely, when one of my ponies isn’t well, it’s reason for distress on my part.  One day I noticed Honey, my three year old Fell Pony filly, wasn’t cleaning up her hay.  She eagerly took treats and cleaned up her feed bucket, but she wasn’t finishing her hay meals.  At the time, I had her isolated from the herd because I’d just wormed her and needed to keep her manure away from the dogs.  At first I thought she was upset about being separated from her sisters.  And of course I wondered if she was having an adverse reaction to the wormer.  When things didn’t change in 48 hours and we were headed our typical two hours to see a vet with another pony anyway, we loaded Honey on the trailer too.

The vet didn’t come to any immediate conclusions upon initial examination, but after bloodwork came back indicating a low grade infection, antibiotics were prescribed and further examination was undertaken.  Upon examination of Honey’s mouth, the source of the problem was discovered:  a cap on a molar was loose but hadn’t yet been shed, causing both irritation in her mouth and a place for infection to set in.  When the piece of the tooth was removed, I was astonished at its size:  over an inch across.  I’ve had baby teeth from three-year-old ponies come off in my hands at times over the years, usually not much bigger than a large pea.  But I’d never seen a molar cap before and never knew that shedding them could be problematic.  No wonder Honey’s symptoms were so strange!

Maybe it was just the time of year for tooth problems and infections in the head.  My husband had a tooth pulled around the same time, and I had had a sinus infection.  Then I talked to my nephew who mentioned having some dental work done, saying it runs in the family.  I am unusual in my family for having a really good mouth, and when I told my nephew that, it made him jealous.  Since none of Honey’s siblings have ever had this sort of problem, I figured Honey must be the anomaly in her family like I am in mine.  The vet, though, had a different explanation.  “She’s just doing the pony thing,” he said.  When I looked quizzically at him, he said, “Fitting the same number of teeth into a smaller head.”  Apparently he often sees three year old ponies needing help shedding their baby teeth.  I hadn’t ever thought of it that way.

Honey’s prescription for antibiotics gave us an opportunity to interact intimately for several days.  She wasn’t too thrilled with the regime until I figured out how to add honey to the mix.  Somehow it seems appropriate that that was helped Honey take her medicine.

While Honey’s strange symptoms had been reason for distress on my part, they also had their reward, beyond Honey getting the help she needed.  I learned to be watchful of three-year-olds shedding teeth, and I learned Honey likes honey!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

What an HonorIf you enjoy reading stories about the Fell Ponies at Willowtrail Farm, you’ll also enjoy the book What an Honor, available internationally by clicking here or on the picture.

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

The Fences Were Feeling Short

Willowtrail Fell PoniesMy sister asked, during our recent heavy snow period, what happens if the snow covers the fences of the ponies’ paddocks.  The first answer is:  I don’t know because it’s never happened before.  The second answer, which I bored her with, covered the various information that the ponies have given me over the years about what they think about snow that approaches the tops of their fences.

My favorite story is of my first stallion Midnight Valley Timothy.  It was spring time and there was a mare in heat, and he decided he could clear the fence because it was short.  On his side of course the snow was packed hard so he could launch.  After he did, though, he got so mired in the deep snow on the other side that he never tested a fence in winter again!  I suspect all of the ponies at some point have ventured into undisturbed snow so they know not only what it looks like but that the footing is non-existent.  In some ways undisturbed deep snow is a form of fencing.  The pictures here show my ponies and short fences:  at top, the present; middle 2007; and bottom 2005.

When I tried to ride Rose the other day on a path that was only partially packed, she refused.  I had seen her on that path earlier in the day, so I knew she could walk it.  She seemed to know, though, that while she can navigate it solo, my added weight meant that together we would flounder.

Fences are not only physical but also visual and mental barriers.  While most of my fences are wood and are therefore physical and visual barriers, electric fences are more mental than physical or visual once a pony learns that there is a shock associated with touching them.  In some places in my one electric fence paddock the wire was below the snow level and no longer a visual barrier.  The ponies though showed no inclination to test it.  It was of course covered by undisturbed deep snow that has its own consequences.

One pen that is along the driveway gets plowed snow piled up around it on three sides.  I often put stallions in that pen because I know that even if my fences get short, the snowbanks, which right now are ten feet high, are an additional visual and physical barrier.

One problem with fencing getting shorter has occurred not with boundary fencing but with the fence around my haystack inside one paddock.  One pony figured out that they could lean across the top of a pipe fence and reach the end of a hay bale.  The action had multiple rewards.  Not only did they get a mouthful of hay, but the pipe fence bent a little more each time so they got closer and closer each time they reached for hay, giving them more and more opportunity for mouthfuls.  I had to put a stop to this pattern, of course.  I dug a piece of plywood out of two feet of snow and used it as a wall between the fence and the bale.  I’ll be more careful next year when storing hay and erecting fence around it to make sure there’s plenty of clearance.  Now, though, the ponies are watching for a slightly different opportunity.  When I fill a tub of hay for the next feeding, they check to see if I’ve put it close enough to the fence that they can reach over and get appetizers.  Normally, with a five foot fence, I don’t have to take precautions to stop this activity, but this year is of course different.

We have had a week’s respite from continuous snow accumulation, and the snow has settled some.  The electric fence has appeared from under the snow, and it’s a little more challenging to go over the fences instead of through them.  The weather is still unusual, though in a different way.  It’s been slightly cloudier and cooler than normal, so snow has stayed in the trees and on the roofs of sheds when normally it would slough off both. Normally I count on shining sun and settling for snow management around my haystacks.  I usually shovel the snow to the south side for the sun to do its magic, but this year my six-foot haystacks seem nearly buried and I’m throwing snow away from them rather than just pushing it off the sides.

The answer to my sister’s question – what happens if the snow gets so deep it covers the fences – is still ‘I don’t know.’  From what the ponies have told me, though, barring a stallion thinking he can get to a mare in heat, I don’t think the ponies will try their luck at freedom.  And honestly I hope we don’t get enough snow that they show me the answer to the question.  We’ll have plenty long before we get that much!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

What an HonorThere are lots of stories about sharing life with Fell Ponies in the book What an Honor:  A Dozen Years with Fell Ponies, available internationally by clicking here.

Posted in Fell Ponies, Partnered Pony (TM)

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)