New Royal Interest in Fell Ponies

Greenholme Fell PoniesThe most famous admirers of the Fell Pony have been in the news in recent weeks.  Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, at the age of 90, was photographed riding her favorite mare Carltonlima Emma in late October along the banks of the Thames. (1)  Her husband the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, age 95, was seen driving a four-in-hand of Fells at Windsor around the same time. (2)  As the age of all equestrians increases, having these high-profile examples of elder equestrians using Fell Ponies is tremendous for our breed.

When we steward a pure breed, we are members of our breed society.  As members of our breed society, we receive regular communications including about the financial affairs of the organization.  The Fell Pony Society annually sends its financial reports to its members.  Also usually on an annual basis, the Society expresses its appreciation to its Patron, Her Majesty, for a generous donation in support of the Society’s work.

Her Majesty is known for her generous support of charitable causes.  I have always assumed her support of the Fell Pony Society was due in large part to her personal experience with the breed.  Other than the Queen and Prince Philip, though, I have never seen another member of the Royal Family show any interest in our breed.  On the contrary, I’ve read that Kate Middleton, whose husband Prince William is second in line to the throne, is said to be allergic to horses.  I have worried that in contrast to today, a future monarch’s family might have absolutely no interest in our breed at all, with consequences not only financially for the Fell Pony Society but also from a promotional and visibility standpoint.

I was delighted, then, to learn that another member of the Royal Family has recently been photographed with a Fell Pony.  Lady Louise, age 13, was not just with a Fell Pony; she was driving a single Fell, taking after her grandfather. (3)  Lady Louise is 11th in line to the throne and has previously suffered a broken arm when she came off a pony.  I take great hope from the news of Lady Louise’s interest in driving a Fell, especially since she’d previously had a bad experience with a pony.  I look forward to any future news of Lady Louise and Fell Ponies.

  1. Miller, Shari. “Queen rides high,” at
  2. Wilkes, David. “You can’t rein me in!”, at
  3. Shakespeare, Sebastian. “Lady Louise follows in Grandpa’s hoof prints,” at

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2016

Posted in Fell Ponies

Thankful for Ponies 2016

Restar Mountain Shelley III and Willowtrail JosiePart I
This November I am thankful
Once again for my pony herd.
It’s amazing the wisdom they have to share
Without ever uttering a word.

Sometimes things get tumultuous here
From weather or work or whatever.
And while the ponies may get high for a bit,
They don’t let it go on forever.

They live outside like I don’t.
They adapt to sun and snow.
They recognize that things fluctuate
And are able to go with the flow.

They let me know when things aren’t right,
Often offering their own solutions.
While our approaches may be different,
I usually appreciate their contributions.

They don’t kick or buck or snort or neigh
Without having some very good reason.
They only use these extreme expressions
For a communication they need to season.

They’re willing to undertake conversation,
As long as it’s respectful and two-way.
Rarely do they ever interact with me
Where I don’t also have some say.

The answers they give are honest.
Their agenda is usually fair.
Their way encourages collaboration,
An approach I willingly share.

What superficially might seem to separate us –
Such as hooves and mane and tail –
Can blend with me into something marvelous,
Like when we’re together out on the trail.

Our partnership depends on solutions
That all of us ultimately find fair.
How we get to those solutions
In turn shows how much we care.

I ask a lot of my ponies,
And they ask a lot of me.
If there is a more perfect union,
I don’t know what it would be.

Part II
Willowtrail Fell Pony MaresThis year I’m especially thankful
For the younger Fell Pony girls in my herd.
Two newborns have given me daily joy,
As have older sisters first, second and third.

The young girls are headed to new owners
That have both been a pleasure to meet.
While those girls are still here, though,
I’m enjoyed leading and handling feet.

The older girls have had new experiences
With breeding and other health care
That has required extensive travel
Usually undertaken as a pair.

They have taken these new experiences
Much better than I ever hoped.
With concrete and barns and stalls and probes,
They have curiously and calmly coped.

In addition to my appreciation
For my girls’ resilience in the face of new,
I also have anticipation
For their offspring that are due.

I am thankful for my ponies
And all the richness that they bring.
One lifetime certainly won’t be enough
To experience everything.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2016

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

Death Valley 49’ers Wagon Train

As a pony enthusiast I love hearing about people putting ponies to use.  I was thrilled, then, when I learned that an adventure a Fell Pony colleague was about to embark on had a pony connection beyond our mutual involvement with Fells.

We have all probably heard at some point about the 49’ers, the people who flocked to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California in the mid-19th century in search of gold.  Some of the 49’ers approached the gold fields through Death Valley, a desert basin in the southeastern part of the state.  It got its name from the near-death experience of some of the 49’ers.

The pony connection to the 49’ers comes by way of a commemoration of the original Death Valley 49’ers.  A group of aging equestrians in the 1960s were finding that riding their horses was more challenging, so they were looking for a way to stay involved with equines that was easier.  They decided to do a wagon train through Death Valley, and Shetland Ponies were their chosen horsepower.  Today larger equines participate in the annual Death Valley 49’ers event, but my Fell Pony friend Pam Andrews stayed with the original theme and went with a friend who had 13hh pony mules Judy and Kate.

“Death Valley wagon train was an amazing experience! 11 days -100 miles – sleep out under the most stars you will ever see! So many spectacular views of the valley & mountains. Things I don’t think you will see anywhere else! Wonderful people & great teams of mules & horses. Started at the Wade Monument 32 miles north of Baker & ended at Furnace Creek.”

Pam Andrews photos from Death Valley 49ers Wagon TrainPam’s photos are breath-taking, both for the landscape and for the wagons and equines traversing the desert.  She kindly agreed to share the ones here.

Shortly after Pam embarked on her trip and I began reading about her adventure, I also stumbled across another, albeit non-pony, connection to the 49’ers.  I was surprised to learn that many successful miners were responsible for the development of the area where I grew up.  They brought their new wealth to the Portland, Oregon area to invest in new businesses, real estate, and industries that had a profound impact on the neighborhood where I spent my formative years.  The neighborhood is the subject of a book I am currently writing.  The world suddenly felt small with 49’ers connecting my Portland past and my pony present.

My Fell Pony friend Pam will soon have a pair of Fell Pony fillies that she hopes to drive.  Perhaps someday a Fell Pony pair will be seen on the Death Valley 49’ers Wagon Train!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2016

Book The Partnered PonyThere are similar stories about ponies being put to use in The Partnered Pony:  What’s Possible, Practical, and Powerful with Small Equines, available internationally by clicking on the title or cover.

Posted in Partnered Pony (TM), Work Ponies

Mountain Pony Sense

Willowtrail Spring MaidenMy Fell Pony mare Willowtrail Wild Rose and I were walking through the woods during pack-pony training.  It was a rare outing when we were without the eyes, ears, and nose of a canine to accompany us.  I rely on the dogs to give me early warning of anything animate.  On this day it was up to Rose to do that.

She came to a sudden stop with her head up and ears pricked.  I followed her line of sight and saw an enormous bull moose watching us.  It’s one thing to see a cow and calf with their somewhat understandable bodies.  This bull’s antlers were anything but ordinary looking, extending more than two feet to either side of his head and swept up dramatically.  When he swung his head, there was a lot more in motion than when a cow moose does something similar.  Rose calmly stood watching, and I encouraged the big guy to go elsewhere, which he seemed only too happy to do.  We continued our training walk uneventfully.

Another day I was working Rose in harness, moving manure to the compost pile.  As we passed a small hill and a tree, obscuring our vision to the left, a chipmunk came from that direction and ran right under Rose’s nose as she was walking, followed almost immediately by my young dog at full speed.  Rose didn’t alter her pace or her body in any way, just kept focusing on the task at hand.

I had a Fell Pony here once who was quite a contrast to the level-headedness that I’ve come to expect from my ponies.  That pony on two different occasions was sufficiently startled by the appearance of wildlife to alter the fence to which they were tied.  Taking that pony on a walk through the woods was out of the question.  Even a walk on the driveway required extreme caution since I never knew what might cause a spook or shy, a rear or a buck.  That poor pony was on edge the entire duration of its stay here.  I had to send it away for its own good.

I have one paddock that no longer has trees in it, so the shed there is an important refuge from summer sun or hail or other weather.  The shed has a stall-type door and requires a step up through the narrow opening onto a wooden floor.  When I put the spooky pony in that paddock, that pony never set foot in that shed despite intense sun on one occasion and hail on another.  I of course moved that pony to different accommodations in hopes it would choose to protect itself from adverse weather.  In contrast, a Fell Pony weanling, when in the treeless paddock, entered that shed willingly on sunny days.  So did her three-year-old sister on her first time in that paddock when she was curious why I had gone inside the shed.  (To replenish minerals was the answer).

Fell Ponies are one of Britain’s mountain and moorland breeds, and I’ve always assumed that mountain pony sense was a given in a Fell Pony.  I need ponies here to have that sense, for my own safety as their handler as well as theirs.  There are just too many things that can happen, whether passing a bull moose, being passed by a chipmunk, or getting hailed on suddenly during a thunderstorm.  The spooky pony taught me that mountain pony sense isn’t a given after all.  On the contrary, it’s something I at least must select for and preserve.

A friend told me once that the most important things about a pony can’t be seen in a photograph.  On this side of the pond, and especially where I live, I see many more Fell Ponies in photographs than in person.  Mountain pony sense, the ability to process calmly the unusual things that come with mountain living, is one of those things that can’t be seen in a photograph.  How I evaluate Fell Ponies has been forever changed now that I know mountain pony sense isn’t always present despite the mountain and moorland heritage of these ponies.  I’ve come to value it even more now that I know not all Fell Ponies have it.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2016

Book Fell Pony ObservationsFor more about what makes a Fell Pony special, consider the book Fell Ponies:  Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard and Breeding, available internationally by clicking on the title or the book cover.

Posted in Fell Ponies

Between Dawn and Sunrise

My husband’s ideal wake-up time is 4:30am, but since I’m not coherent then, we usually compromise on a somewhat later start.  During his hunting season, though, the days started more to his liking.  I’ve learned to have a routine I can follow until my brain turns on, so with those early starts I was able to be outside for first feeding between dawn and sunrise.

As it turned out, I came to enjoy starting to fill feed buckets while it was still dark.  By the time I started distributing the buckets, forms such as fences and ponies began to appear from the darkness.  I enjoyed watching how quickly darkness gave way to light, and how sunrise was delayed by the mass of Gould Mountain to the east so that I had more dawn before sunrise.

Snow and a full moon assist the rising sun in illuminating Willowtrail Fell Pony mares

Snow and a nearly full moon assist the rising sun in illuminating Willowtrail Fell Pony mares

Sometimes I had other sources of light than the rising sun to illuminate my chores.  The moon was just past full so very bright, and I had the weird experience of having a shadow on the wrong side of my body.  On a few days, we had fresh snow which is a great help in picking ponies out from their surroundings, especially black ones.

The passage of time was fascinating:  how suddenly I could see things where I couldn’t a minute before, how long the period between first light and sunrise turned out to be.  Some mornings I actually finished all my chores just in time to greet the first rays of sunlight shooting through the trees to the east.  It was a nice feeling to be going inside for my own breakfast then, knowing my pony friends all had theirs in front of them.

Other times of year the transition between dawn and sunrise is faster.  As a result I came to savor this inaugural period of mid-autumn days.  Yet another gift from sharing my life with ponies.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2016

What an HonorMore stories like this one can be found in What an Honor:  A Dozen Years with Fell Ponies, available internationally by clicking on the title or cover.

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

Four Generations

Guards Apollo with the Fraley family by Les FraleyI had never had four generations visit me before.  In fact, the only time I can remember being in the presence of four generations was when I was at a family reunion.  So when visitors interested in the ponies arrived and four generations climbed out of the automobile, I was four times blessed.

I always enjoy visitors who are interested in my ponies because it gives me an excuse to both talk about them and spend time with them.  I especially enjoy answering questions, and the best ones usually come from the youngest visitors.  In this family, though, the youngest generation, two boys younger than ten years old, were afraid of animals.  Our dogs love people, and their exuberance frightened the boys enough that we had to put them in the house, to the dogs’ great disappointment and the boys’ relief.

It was one member of the second generation, Grandma, that began peppering me with questions.  Her parents were the ones that initiated the visit.  I first met Les a year before when my ponies packed his freshly-killed elk out of the forest.  Then Les and Barbara visited to meet the ponies during the summer.  They had become intrigued after reading my books that they had found on the coffee table at a mutual friend’s cabin.  They then asked if they could bring their horse-crazy daughter to visit when she came to town.  Of course I said yes!

The picture here shows my Fell Pony stallion Guards Apollo with three of the four generations; the one great-grandson that was still present didn’t want to be that close to Apollo.  Given that my ponies see more moose than people (my husband and me excepted), I’m always impressed when my ponies are so good with visitors.  Immediately after this photo was taken, I saw the dogs flying down the driveway towards us; they had apparently figured out how to open a door at the house and couldn’t wait to join the party.  I hurriedly gave Apollo’s lead rope to horse-knowledgeable Grandma while I assisted my husband in corralling the dogs and heading them back to quarantine.

After that is when things got interesting.  Great-grandson asked how hay was made, and after answering that question, I encouraged more.  Within a few minutes he’d gotten up enough courage to put handfuls of hay under the fence where Apollo eagerly gobbled it up.  The questions started coming regularly, including about the horse trailer and how it moved and how the sawmill had milled lumber for the ponies’ sheds.  By the time we got to the jog cart, he thought he might be interested in riding in it behind a pony.

Unfortunately the weather was changing rapidly and snowflakes were in the wind, so the visit by the four generations had to come to an end.  I hadn’t ever had a visitor curious about the ponies but so afraid.  In hindsight I realized I should have introduced him to Mya the Wonder Pony who is small and very quiet and very used to little people.  I think in another half an hour, I could have had my fourth generation visitor not just feeding her treats and petting her but actually calmly sitting on her back!  Since Mya is getting up there in years though, I now need to think about how to use a bigger Fell Pony to break down fearfulness when Mya is no longer an option.  Visitors are such blessings because there’s always something to learn.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2016

What an HonorBook The Partnered PonyThe books that the oldest generation was intrigued by included What an Honor and The Partnered Pony, available internationally by clicking on the titles or covers.

Posted in Fell Ponies, Partnered Pony (TM)

I Suppose It Was Inevitable

Wilma and her new Fell Pony sidekick

Wilma and her new Fell Pony sidekick

When I first got involved with Fell Ponies, I did so because of their working pony heritage.  An informal survey of my North American peers at the time, though, indicated that the vast majority of them got involved with Fells because of their resemblance to the Friesian horse.  I suppose it was inevitable that at some point I would be given the opportunity to understand the common attraction of the breeds.

I have only seen a Friesian in person once, and it didn’t strike me as resembling a Fell, so when I had the opportunity to board a Friesian mare here at Willowtrail Farm for a night, I looked forward to the opportunity.  The owner told me that Wilma was a Baroque-style Friesian, and I understood this to mean heavier boned, not as tall, and perhaps cooler in temperament than those being bred presently.  Given my interest in traditional Fells, I expected I might appreciate a Friesian that was old style.  I wasn’t disappointed.

Wilma was 25 years old when she arrived here, and while many people say that Fells remind them of Friesians, I can proudly say the opposite.  Wilma the Friesian very much reminded me of my late Fell Pony mare Sleddale Rose Beauty.  The quiet confidence, the regal stance, the head mare attitude, as well as the good bone, the jet black color, and the greying with age, made me instantly like Wilma if only because I felt Beauty’s presence once again.

I prefer my ponies; Wilma seemed like a giant.  But I’m happy I got to meet her.  And I’m glad to better understand what brings many people to the Fell Pony.  It only took me sixteen years!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2016

Book Fell Pony ObservationsIf you want to learn more about Fell Ponies, you will find the book Fell Ponies:  Observations about the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding of interest.  It is available internationally by clicking on the title or the cover image.

Posted in Fell Ponies