My Timing Could Have Been Better

Honey after the storm cloud passed us

Honey at the end of our adventure, after the storm cloud had passed us

I arrived at pasture aware that there was a large black cloud to the southwest.  I hoped it would travel away from me, following the usual storm track, so I could complete the task at hand:  bringing Bowthorne Matty and her five-month-old filly Willowtrail Mountain Emma home to commence Emma’s weaning.

As usual, Emma’s sisters Honey and Madie were the first to appear.  I tied them to fence posts and gave them their vitamin buckets.  Then I started walking towards the willows along the river to the place I expected Matty and Emma to cross.  That’s when my luck ran out.  A huge blast of wind hit me and I was challenged to stay standing.  Honey and Madie seemed to be tolerating the wind, so I continued heading toward the river to find Matty and Emma.  Matty decided to cross the river upstream of where I was, so I ran back the way I’d come to intercept her.  I was nearly blinded by my hat flipping down over my face when I turned into the wind.  Then my puppy started biting at my heels, sensing the excitement, and nearly knocked me down.

Just as I got Matty haltered and through the gate to the strip pasture to her vitamin bucket, with Emma close behind, a black plastic bag that had been flying on the wind caught on the wire fence along the highway and began flapping wildly.  That was past what the girls who were tied could handle, and Honey went vertical briefly, managing to free herself from the fence post.  She was now dragging her lead rope, utterly confused.  Ignoring Honey’s dilemma for the moment, I got Matty loaded onto the trailer, and Emma, bless her heart, decided she would load despite the trailer door moving erratically in the wind.

After Matty and Emma were secure in the trailer, I made my way back to Honey and Madie who were still jumping about because of the madly flapping plastic bag.  I removed Honey’s halter and lead since she was already loose.  Next, I retrieved the bag from the fence and stuffed it in my pocket.  I could immediately feel the girls relax, though they were still higher than usual because the wind was still blowing incredibly hard, and rain drops were occasionally pelting us.  I untied Madie and led her into the strip pasture and was very thankful that Honey followed us.  I closed the pasture gate, released Madie, and told the girls I’d return in half an hour.

Spirits were high at home when we arrived because the storm cloud was just passing that location.  Emma and Matty were perfectly cooperative, though, as we unloaded and I got them reunited with friends they hadn’t seen in a few weeks.

When I returned to pasture to get Honey and Madie, the black cloud was sitting over the high peaks in the distance, and the girls were their normal mellow selves.  The sun was shining, and the wind was calm belying the excitement of a half hour earlier.  Loading Honey and Madie went as calmly as it normally does, and the trip home was uneventful.  What a difference better timing made!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2016

What an HonorBook The Partnered PonyIf you enjoyed this story, you’ll enjoy many others in the books What an Honor and The Partnered Pony, available internationally by clicking on the titles or covers.

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

All Quiet After Sunrise

Guards Apollo after sunriseMy sleep has been interrupted five nights out of the last six by my husband’s role on the volunteer fire department and search and rescue.  This morning, my body finally demanded that I sleep in.  The sun was well up when I emerged from the house, and I expected to be chastised by my ponies for the late hour.  I was surprised that all was quiet, but then I remembered that’s been their pattern.

For most of the summer, I’ve been feeding just before sunrise, and I’ve become accustomed to hearing ‘it’s about time’ as soon as I emerge from the house.  That’s especially been the case on the odd summer morning when the temperature has dipped into the thirties (Fahrenheit).  At 4:30 this morning when I walked my husband’s dog prior to him leaving with my husband to rescue an injured hunter, I heard the expected call first from Moonlit Stargazer Lily then from other ponies in the herd.  I replied that I’d be out again in a few hours.

I’ve noticed before that the ponies are more insistent when they hear me come outside just before sunrise as compared to just after.  It doesn’t make sense from the standpoint of hours since last feeding.  It would be logical that they would grow more insistent the later I appear, that they would communicate more urgency after sunrise than before.  But that hasn’t been the case this summer, and I think I know why.  When I appear right after sunrise, they are standing still and quietly sunbathing, so their dissatisfaction before sunrise isn’t so much about time since the last meal as it is about the cool air that surrounds them.  Being fed provides them with a way to warm up just as sunbathing does.

It’s only the first week of hunting season, and with improved communication technology, people are increasingly asking for assistance in the back country (or perhaps increasingly penetrating the back country because they know they can ask for assistance?)  I admire my husband for the volunteer work he does and gladly support him by keeping things going at home and in the office while he’s gone.  It appears though that there may be a new normal in frequency of calls, so I may need to adjust my coping skills for short nights.  Perhaps I can learn from my ponies by recognizing that the time after sunrise isn’t such a bad time to be still and quiet for awhile!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2016

Book The Partnered PonyWhat an HonorIf you enjoy stories like this one, then you’ll also enjoy the books The Partnered Pony:  What’s Possible, Practical, and Powerful with Small Equines and What an Honor:  A Dozen Years with Fell Ponies, available internationally by clicking the titles or covers.

Posted in Fell Ponies, Partnered Pony (TM)

Our Equines After We’re Gone

Guards Apollo by Linda JacksonI heard on the radio that 40% of Americans don’t have a will or other end-of-life legal instrument.  As the reporter mentioned, it’s hardly surprising since it’s not easy to think about the end of our life.  Yet when we have equines, and especially from my perspective when we have Fell Ponies who are so aware of their human keepers, having an end-of-our-life plan for our equines seems important.  In the North American Fell Pony community, we don’t have to look very far to find owners who passed suddenly and unexpectedly and their herds had to be dispersed.

I heard recently of an equine owner who had the resources to set aside more than six figures for the care of their equines after the owner passed.  Of course most of us don’t have those sorts of resources, so an article on end-of-life planning for horse owners caught my eye. (1)  It pointed out things that certainly apply to me such as not having family members who are into equines so won’t have a clue about rehoming them in the event I pass if one of them is the executor of my estate.  The article also pointed out that the value of tack and equipment likewise could be misunderstood.  I immediately thought of my Norwegian harness that not even many equestrians would understand the value of.

I know some pony owners have thought about an end-of-their-life plan for their hooved friends because they’ve contacted me asking if they could put me in their wills.  I said yes, but I’m no spring chicken myself.  I can’t help but wonder if there’s a role here for rescues.  I’ve heard of two that want to focus on Fell Ponies.  Is it possible they could provide a re-homing service in exchange for a regular donation to fund their work?  The demographics of equine ownership – majority older – suggests there are lots of people who might be interested in a reasonably priced plan for some end-of-life peace of mind.

  1. Larson, Erica. “Estate Planning Tips for Horse Owners,” thehorse.com, article #37825 at http://www.thehorse.com/articles/37825/estate-planning-tips-for-horse-owners?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=welfare-industry&utm_campaign=07-14-2016

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2016

Book The Partnered PonyWhat an HonorFor more thoughtful articles about equine ownership, you’ll be interested in the books The Partnered Pony:  What’s Possible, Practical and Powerful with Small Equines and What an Honor:  A Dozen Years with Fell Ponies, both available internationally on amazon.com and by clicking on the titles.

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

The Temptation of a Three-Year-Old

A three-year-old Fell Pony looking deceptively mature

A three-year-old Fell Pony looking deceptively mature

More than once I have seen three-year-old Fell Ponies for sale that have been ‘lightly started.’  Usually the advertisement includes a picture of the pony being ridden at a canter.  While I don’t think cantering a three year old under saddle is appropriate, I do now have a better appreciation for the human motivation.

I have three three-year-olds here.  One was born here and one has been here since before its first birthday.  The third was raised in a more temperate climate and arrived just six weeks ago.  The two that have been here the longest in no way look physically mature.  The newest arrival, on the other hand, is tall and well fleshed and looks, to my eye, older than she is.  My eye, of course, has been calibrated by the many three year olds that have been raised here (more than a dozen.)

Three year olds, in my experience, are mentally mature enough for more extensive training than they were the previous year.  The contrast between two and three year olds, for someone who’s been waiting for their pony to mature, is striking.  My three year olds, though, have never looked physically ready for mounting, so I’ve always engaged them in more stimulating groundwork instead.

I’m reminded of something the late Thomas Capstick of the Murthwaite stud once said: that he didn’t breed his fillies until they were four because winters on the fell were just too hard on them to both grow up and carry a foal.  Most breeders start a filly’s reproductive life at three, and some even breed two year olds.  While I have gotten away with breeding three-year-olds in my challenging climate, I also keep a close and watchful eye on them to make sure they have the support they need to continue to mature while also carrying a new life.  This year for the first time I’m not breeding a three year old that I normally would because she doesn’t seem physically mature enough.

The newly arrived three year old is an interesting contrast.  Her height and flesh make her look more mature than she is, and I suspect many Fell Pony three-year-olds raised away from the fells look similar.  With her size and her three-year-old’s increased interest in doing things with people, I can see the temptation to start her under saddle.  I know, though, that a three year old isn’t a mature-enough pony in any way that really matters for saddle work, so I won’t give into the temptation.

I personally believe that it’s best for the pony as well as all the pony’s subsequent owners for us humans to not be tempted by a three year old.  Waiting for more physical maturity before carrying weight ensures the pony a longer and healthier working life.  I understand the temptation to put a three year old under saddle, especially given the investment often required to purchase a Fell Pony.  I wholeheartedly, however, urge patience.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2016

What an HonorBook The Partnered PonyYou’ll find more stories like this one in the books What an Honor:  A Dozen Years with Fell Ponies and The Partnered Pony:  What’s Possible, Practical, and Powerful with Small Equines.  Both are available internationally on Amazon.  You can also click on the pictures or titles to purchase them directly from the publisher.

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

The Compromise of Equine Transport Vehicles

Restar Mountain Shelley IIIIt was one of those slap-the-forehead moments.  Why hadn’t I thought of that before?!  An email crossed my desk suggesting that most equine transport vehicles are designed for the convenience of us humans rather than the comfort of the equines being transported. (1)  I immediately knew the truth in the statement.  After reading a little further, I laughed.  My late mare Sleddale Rose Beauty had taught me another lesson!

Two physiological characteristics of equines in motion are hindered by most equine transport vehicles.  We may not think of equines being in motion when they’re being transported, but they are, most especially during acceleration, deceleration, cornering and the change from stop to backing.  The first physiological trait that I realized was impaired by most vehicles is that equines use their heads and necks to balance out movement in the rest of their body.  When an equine’s head is tied up during transport, or if they are unable to raise or lower their head or move it side to side because of the design of the vehicle, then they are unable to compensate for movement in the rest of their body as they normally would, likely resulting in stress or tension somewhere in their bodies.

In addition to the physiological stress of having their heads tied or otherwise constrained by vehicle design, there is also the risk of contracting shipping fever.  Not being able to lower their heads to cough normally can cause dust and other airborne contagions to accumulate, facilitating potentially deadly respiratory illness.

The second physiological characteristic impaired by most transport vehicles and practices is that equines carry more than half their weight on their forequarters.  Yet when loaded in a vehicle facing the direction of travel, their weight is often thrown to the hindquarters, especially by deceleration.  My mare Beauty was very difficult to transport unless she was facing opposite the direction of travel.  In fact, all my ponies when given the choice will choose to stand facing the rear.  Having their weight thrown repeatedly onto a part of the body not functionally intended to carry it will also produce stress and tension.  I have a new appreciation for how willingly my ponies travel in my trailer despite the compromises to their physiology the travel imparts.

A related article had to do with transporting broodmares. I’ve always been concerned about the impact the stress of travel might have on a freshly settled mare.  A Colorado State University study found that while most mares do fine being transported during pregnancy, which has certainly been my experience, those with low progesterone levels have a greater chance of aborting.  The researchers also speculated that “vulnerability to stress may be greatest at about 25 to 45 days after conception, when the embryo is attaching itself to the placenta.” (2)

It was noted in one of the articles that youngstock have different biomechanics in motion than adult equines.  And obviously, foals during transport have the additional need of being able to nurse.  I have found, as was also described in the article, that foals have no problem nursing facing the direction of travel but then choose to ride facing rearward like their dams.

I try not to take trailering for granted and therefore endeavor to make trips as comfortable as possible.  In my three-horse slant load trailer, for instance, if I’m going more than a few miles, I remove the lead rope from the halter to enable up and down movement of the head and neck.  If I’m only transporting a single pony, I leave the stalls open and let them ride loose.  Always, I find them facing rearwards when I check on them.

After slapping my forehead at the obvious truth of the compromise of equine transport vehicles, I was even more grateful for how willingly my ponies travel.  And I was grateful once again for my late mare Beauty and yet another lesson she taught me.

  1. See for instance, Creiger, Sharon E. “Reducing Equine Hauling Stress:  A Review,” Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 2:8 N/D 1982.
  2. Thomas, Heather Smith. “Transporting Broodmares,” California Thoroughbred Breeders Association, February 2001, at http://archive.ctba.com/01magazine/feb01/news3.htm

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2016

Book The Partnered PonyOne section of the book The Partnered Pony is dedicated to practical aspects of partnering with ponies including trailering.  The Partnered Pony:  What’s Possible, Practical, and Powerful with Small Equines is available internationally on Amazon.com and by clicking here.

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

South Pole Ponies

Crean & Bones Public Domain WikimediaWhen I first read that there had been ponies on the continent of Antarctica, I thought there must have been some editorial mistake.  Why would anyone want to take equines to a land of perpetual snow and ice?  I live in a place where snow and ice and cold are facts of life six months a year.  In addition, I’ve visited more extreme alpine environments where glaciers and crevasses dominate.  These firsthand experiences informed my incredulity when I heard about the South Pole Ponies.  Despite being a pony enthusiast, I still think there are limits to what ponies are capable of.

After that first introduction to the South Pole Ponies, I had to learn more. (1)  It turns out that not once but twice ponies were taken to Antarctica in the very early twentieth century as beasts of burden on expeditions towards the South Pole.  Of course, that ponies were chosen over other equines made perfect sense to me; the choice reflected an understanding of the versatile working heritage that most pony breeds have.  I was interested to learn that the South Pole Ponies were asked primarily to pull sledges rather than pack; the thinking may have been that they would be less likely to ‘posthole’ into the snow with the weight behind them rather than on their backs. I make similar accommodations here.

I was astonished to learn that untrained ponies were purchased, of Manchurian and similar origins, and that most of the explorers had little to no equine experience.  Perhaps that lack of equine savvy explains why some of the ponies that were purchased and transported south were unhealthy or aged and from the outset were unfit for the task ahead.  Given these issues, that the ponies were able to accomplish as much as they did seems even more remarkable.

One of the reasons equines were chosen was so they could eventually be slaughtered to provide meat for the humans and canines of the exploration parties.  The few ponies who made it far enough on the expeditions did indeed serve that purpose.  Others were lost from illness, exposure and accident.

I found it curious that grey ponies were chosen.  It was the belief of the first expedition organizer that that color was best suited to the extreme climate of Antarctica.  In my experience here, dark colored ponies always have the warmest coats to the touch because they soak up any available sunlight more readily.  Perhaps now that I have a gray pony here, I’ll better understand the expedition leader’s reasoning.  An interesting challenge also related to the ponies’ coats was that the ponies were taken from the northern to the southern hemisphere, and their shed cycle was timed for the opposite season.  Hindsight says they should have been taken south a year or more in advance.

The South Pole Ponies have been in the news recently thanks to one man’s tireless work to commemorate their contribution to the South Pole expeditions.  Navigational waypoints have been named for five of the ponies after a two year campaign by retired US Air Force colonel Ronald Smith.  Six sled dogs were also recognized.  (2)

Recent visitors to the Terra Nova hut of the second South Pole expedition that used ponies found the hut in nearly identical condition to one hundred years before, with bales of fodder stacked outside and pony hairs still caught on rough wood in the stables. (3)  Decay takes longer in cold environments, something else with which I’m familiar.  Composting manure, for instance, is a longer process here than other places I’ve lived.

It was well into my second decade as a pony enthusiast when I first heard about ponies being on the Antarctic continent.  I still think it’s remarkable that anyone would consider ponies to be an appropriate draft animal at the most southern reaches of our planet.   Perhaps it’s because the expeditions were ill-fated and that the ponies didn’t survive that their story is less appealing so took longer to come to my attention.  Still, the ponies obviously revealed their unique strength of heart to their human companions.   It’s undoubtedly this that kept them from being forgotten and ultimately led to them being perpetually honored and remembered through the newly named navigational waypoints.

  1. I highly recommend Theodore K. Mason’s book The South Pole Ponies:  The Forgotten Heroes of Antarctic Exploration.
  2. Archer, Colleen Rutherford with Laurie Bonner. “Ponies of the Southern Sky,” Equus #460, January 2016, p. 54
  3. Furse, Cynthia, PhD. Letter to the Editor, Equus #462, March 2016, p. 11.

© Jenifer Morrissey , 2016

Book The Partnered PonyWhat ponies are capable of is celebrated in the book The Partnered Pony:  What’s Possible, Practical and Powerful with Small Equines, available internationally on Amazon and by clicking here.

Posted in Partnered Pony (TM), Work Ponies

Color Questions

Moonlit Stargazer LilyThe first Fell Pony herd I ever saw was unusual from a color standpoint.  There were six black ponies and two grays.  What made it unusual was not the dominance of black ponies, which is typical of the breed, but that grays made up 25% of the herd.  Typically grays are much more rare, though they’ve been more numerous in recent years.

When I began with Fell Ponies, my herd was all black and then I added a brown with black points.  When her brown-with-black-points daughter was born, my herd became unusual just like that first herd I saw because I then had more (non-black) color than the breed-wide norm.  My herd has now become even more colorful, with the arrival of Moonlit Stargazer Lily, a three-year-old gray filly.  I’m very excited by all the color questions I now get to ask and, with Lily’s help, hopefully answer.

This morning my husband suggested, rightly, that I need to take pictures of Lily regularly.  The first color question is how fast she will lighten to the color of her dam who is white.  And how will the white emerge?  Right now Lily has white patches on her face that are much lighter than the rest of her body.  It’s already hard to distinguish her star that contributed to her name!

A second color related question was asked by an acquaintance when they first saw a picture of Lily.  Do all gray Fell Ponies eventually turn white?  All the ones I know have lightened with age, but I’ve never researched in the broader Fell Pony population whether this is universally true.  I also don’t know whether there is an equine gray color, genetically, that stays gray – another question to answer!

Another color question was inspired by pictures I saw of Lily several months ago when I was first given the opportunity to bring her here.  She appeared almost lavender in color, especially in her mane and tail.  I think this coloring was because her black hairs were faded.  I have seen other gray Fells her age with a similar lavender appearance.  Now only Lily’s tail shows that coloring, and at her tail’s root it’s looking gray rather than lavender, as you can see in the picture here.  My color question here is whether the lavender color does indeed manifest because of a faded  black background color and if so whether copper supplementation returns the pony to a gray color from lavender just as it makes faded black ponies become blacker.

Another color question is related to our climate here.  I’ve always been biased against gray ponies because I’ve believed that they will be hard to keep clean during our spring mud season, afternoon summer thunder showers, and dusty dry lots in summer.  My black ponies also get muddy and dusty but it doesn’t seem noticeable.  Will a gray pony (especially in the white phase) be any more noticeably muddy and dusty than the blacks?  Another climate question is whether Lily will be able to stay as warm in the winter as the dark-colored ponies whose coats absorb warmth readily from the weak winter sun.

I brought Lily here to breed to my stallion Guards Apollo.  The last color question currently on my mind is related to future foals.  I’ve already made one mistake with foal color when my brown-with-black-points mare had her first.  I thought the foal was brown when it was actually faded black.  Grays may be more tricky since they’re born black and then turn.  The mare Lunesdale Silver Belle whom I owned for a few years fooled her breeder, despite her breeder having decades of experience.  Ellie was named assuming she was a gray, hence the silver in her name, but she never turned and stayed black.  So the color question here is whether I’ll be able to accurately tell Lily’s foal colors. I’m not optimistic!

I love questions that I can learn answers to (the unanswerable ones I find more frustrating.)   I’m looking forward to learning the answers to the color questions I already have and I look forward to any others that may present themselves!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2016

Book Fell Pony ObservationsThere are more stories about the colors of the Fell Pony in the book Fell Ponies:  Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard and Breeding, available on Amazon and by clicking here.

Posted in Fell Ponies