A Pony-Filled Day

Sunday was supposed to be a rest day.  When it became clear that rest wasn’t going to happen, though, I filled the day with ponies instead.  I’m always surprised how much my day improves when I get to spend a little extra time with my ponies.  On this day, I handled all eleven of them, and each one brought me joy in the process.

The handling of all my ponies included putting a halter on them.  It was the first time that little Lady, at two weeks old, had accepted one.  We’d been working on it for many days so that when she was finally ready, it was a good experience for all concerned.  She is a real pleasure on any day because she makes a point to come say hello whenever she sees me.

Two ponies had their first training outing for a paid job they’ll be doing next month.  Now I know where their minds are so that I can work with them regularly towards the job’s goal.  I love it when an opportunity to include the ponies in my off-farm work life presents itself, in part because the required preparation means I have to spend more time with them!

My new stud colt Asi showed me his Fell Pony level-headedness.  It was his first time back in a horse trailer since he arrived six weeks ago.  He took the short trip to summer pasture.  He loaded right up at both ends of the trip, and once immersed in the lush green grass, he didn’t move more than forty feet from the gate.  Since this was a solo run, I stayed nearby on this first trip, and he seemed to appreciate my presence.

I’m once again riding a mare with a foal at foot, and it is such a pleasure.  I have been putting Rose and Lady out to graze once or twice a day here at home.  When I go to fetch them back in, I hop on Rose and she carries me in, fortunately very patient that my young dog wants to nip at my heels while I’m mounted.  I like that Lady gets to see her mom working.

It seems a little unfair to say that one pony gave me a highlight more than the others, but it’s true.  I was preparing to take three ponies to summer pasture, and when I led two of them out of the paddock to the horse trailer, I didn’t securely fasten the gate behind us.  As I was loading the first two into the trailer, I heard the gate rattle and then hoof beats.  When I looked up, the third pony, Madie, had let herself out and was coming towards the trailer at a deliberate walk.  When I had her trailer stall ready, I suggested she load herself, which she did without hesitation.  Only when she was standing calmly in her place in the trailer did I put her halter and lead rope on.  She got a hug, too, for being so voluntarily cooperative!

Barring any serious changes in my health, I expect I’m about half way through my pony career.  If the second half is as rich as the first, I have a lot to look forward to!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Research on Welfare of Working Equines

A client has accepted our bid for a project that includes some work for the ponies.  I am of course thrilled because I always love taking the ponies to work with me off the farm.  I also smile with some irony because we are usually working where there are no people, so we don’t qualify for points in any performance awards scheme!

I’m thankful to work in isolation, actually, because I don’t have to endure the scrutiny that, for instance, the carriage horses and their teamster/drivers in New York City are subjected to.  The controversy there about whether horses should be ‘forced’ to work in ‘inhumane’ conditions is never far from my mind because I could be considered to be ‘forcing’ my ponies to also work in ‘inhumane’ conditions, which is of course something I would never do.

My perspective is obviously quite different from the people who have caused the New York carriage horse industry such problems.  I actually think my ponies prefer working than standing around.  I judge this by their willingness and sometimes even enthusiasm to do what I ask. In addition I’ve worked with them enough to know the difference between willingness, refusal, lack of understanding, and fear.  I often wonder whether the people who are against carriage horses working in New York City understand that equines are capable of giving these different responses and that teamster/drivers are capable of understanding this information.

Research on New York City carriage horses conducted by Western University of Health Sciences in 2015 lends support to my belief that my ponies prefer work.  The researchers took physiological measurements of horses at work and outside the city on furlough.  The measurements allowed the researchers to assess the level of stress in the horses at work compared to at rest.  They concluded, “these working NYC carriage horses did not have physiologic responses indicative of a negative welfare status.” (1)

I know that people will continue to be concerned about the humaneness of putting equines to work.  It was certainly this concern that in part led to the acceptance of the automobile a century ago.  And people should be concerned, as long as they’re fair, since it keeps teamster/drivers honest.  My responsibility is the same as any teamsters’:  to watch for what my ponies are telling me about the work we are doing and make adjustments so that they continue to prefer working to anything else.  It’s been a privilege so far to work with them and know that this is indeed possible.

  1. “Reassuring Study of Carriage Horses,” Equus #475, April 2017, p. 25.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

More about the privilege of working ponies can be found in my book The Partnered Pony:  What’s Possible, Practical, and Powerful with Small Equines, available internationally by clicking here or on the cover image.

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

Fell Pony Blog Is Moving!

If you’re interested in Fell Ponies and follow this blog, I want to let you know that changes are afoot.  I’m dividing this blog into two, one on Fell Ponies and the other on Partnered Ponies.

The Fell Pony blog is moving and is now homed on my website:  fellponiescolorado.com (click here).  Partnered Pony topics will continue to be posted here until further notice.

Thank you for your interest and support!

 

Posted in Fell Ponies

April Thirty and Zero Degrees

Shelley and her frozen feathers on April 30

The house popped loudly at 4am and woke me up.  The house only makes that noise when it’s extremely cold.  While it’s common to hear the sound in January, I’m not used to hearing it in April.  Sure enough, when I got up and looked at the thermometer it was zero degrees Fahrenheit on the last day of the month.  I dressed quickly and headed out to feed.  The ponies were of course happy to see me.

It’s tough to have temperatures this cold this late in the season.  The ponies are shedding, so they don’t have the same protection they do in the middle of winter.  The previous morning it had been twenty degrees warmer, though still well below freezing.  More of the ponies were shivering then than now.  The ground had been soft and wet the night before, so the mud had collected on the ponies’ feathers and then frozen.  When they walked my direction, the tinkling sound of ice balls greeted me.  I’m convinced that that coldness along their coronary bands makes them get cold easier than just straight cold temperatures.  Because I know that, as soon as I heard the house pop, I began making plans to go out to feed.

I’ve called this winter that is, in theory at least, now ending our whiplash winter.  We’ve had nice weather then challenging, cold weather then warm, heavy snow then none at all.  Last week we had warm temperatures that had dried the mud and allowed me to wear my hiking boots to do chores.  At zero degrees I was back in snow boots, and I donned mud boots by the afternoon.  I wonder how long the whiplash weather will last.  Regardless, I will be ready to adjust my feeding schedule to whatever the ponies need.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

There are more stories like this one in the book What an Honor, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

Posted in Fell Ponies, Partnered Pony (TM)

Elimination Habits

I love getting questions from people about Fell Ponies because in answering them I inevitably learn something new.  So I was thrilled to find a question in my inbox.  And I must admit it was a different sort of question than any I’ve gotten before.  Nonetheless, I responded to the Fell Pony owner saying their pony was lucky to have them because they were paying such good attention to their pony.

The question was whether Fell Ponies are known to be adverse to pooping on trail rides.  I’ve taken more trail rides on Fell Ponies than I can count, and I can honestly say I’ve never noticed this ‘problem.’  I have, however, noticed that many Fells have very discernible elimination habits, likely based on physiological as well as psychological factors.  I asked my inquirer to consider the following questions:  Are trail rides new to this pony?  Perhaps they are uncomfortable with this new activity and will change their defecation pattern when they are more comfortable?  Is there a change in the feeding regimen on trail ride days versus other days that might explain the ‘problem?’  Does the pony have set elimination habits on other days?

Many of my Fell Ponies come to greet me at feeding time, but some walk away.  Initially I was bothered when those ponies walked away from me, thinking they weren’t interested in interacting with me.  Soon, though, I realized they knew I was there to feed them, and they were going off to relieve themselves before eating.

It’s not just Fell Ponies, of course, that have elimination habits.  I have a pony who is like clockwork when he gets in the horse trailer.  Not exactly what I would choose since it means I have to clean the trailer every time I haul him, even for a short distance!

I understand my inquirer’s concern about their pony’s elimination habit, since on a trail ride of any significant length, a pony really should eliminate at least once.  I’m sure the two of them will eventually get ‘the problem’ sorted out, since the owner is so clearly interested in their pony’s welfare.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

I’ve put the asnwers to many questions I’ve received about Fell Ponies in my books, including What an Honor, available internationally by clicking on the book image or by clicking here.

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

Celebrating a Training Success

Many years ago, one of my first natural horsemanship instructors told me that while, yes, when we train our own ponies, we are responsible for their shortcomings, but on the other hand we can also take credit for their successes.  At the moment I’m celebrating a success.

I’ve been told that some farriers consider it difficult to trim the hooves of Fell Ponies because they aren’t cooperative.  I am not a very big person and not terribly strong, so when it comes to trimming hooves, I need all the cooperation I can get from the pony that I’m working on.  That’s why I’m celebrating a success.

I’ve just come in from trimming Willowtrail Mountain Honey’s hooves.  She is rising four years old and has never had anyone trim her hooves but me.  She’s also not received any training from anyone but me.  And she was fabulous for her hoof trimming.  Happy owner, happy breeder, happy me!

I am inclined to be critical of what I do with my ponies, but at the moment, I’ll do as my natural horsemanship instructor suggested and take some credit.  It is possible for a Fell Pony to be good while having her feet trimmed!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

Stories like this one about the Fell Ponies at Willowtrail Farm can be found in the book What an Honor, available internationally by clicking here or on the cover photo.

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

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