Thank you!

Thank you for your interest in Willowtrail Farm Musings.

I’ve now divided this blog into two and moved each of them to my websites.

My Fell Pony blog can now be found at or by clicking here.




My Partnered Pony blog can now be found at or by clicking here.




My books about Fell and other ponies can be found by clicking here or on the book cover image.



My book Harness Lessons with Doc Hammill and Friends can be found by clicking here or on the book cover.




Thank you again for your interest!

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

Bad Handoff!

I was apparently in a hurry that day and neglected to follow the instructions for feeding treats to ponies that I always give visitors.  “Put the treat in the palm of your hand and make your hand as flat as possible.”  No, I had the treat between finger and thumb, and when I fed it to the pony I’ve owned and loved the longest, she grabbed my thumb as she bit into her treat.

In the weeks ever since, as the dark mark on my thumbnail became more and more prominent, I’ve taken to calling my mistake a bad handoff.  It’s American football season now, so the term has a little more relevance than it did those many weeks ago when I sustained my injury.  And while my own football career ended many decades ago (I have crooked fingers as evidence of poorly caught balls), calling my mistake a bad handoff makes me chuckle.  Now whenever I am unsuccessful getting a treat into a pony’s mouth, I call the mistake a bad handoff because it so easily brings a smile to my face.

Another funny thing about this injury has been the pain.  It hurt some at first, but at that point the nail looked perfectly normal.  Then when the nail turned its most impressive color, it didn’t hurt at all.  Now as the discolored nail has nearly grown out and lost its color, it’s hurting slightly again.  With time I know it will completely heal, so I’m not worried about it.

Other than the reminder about doing handoffs of treats properly, this minor injury has also made me aware that ponies’ behavior changes with age.  The pony that gave me my black thumbnail would never have bit me like that a few years ago.  I’ve noticed that when my ponies pass the quarter century mark (I’ve had two now), the way that they take treats changes.  I used to get away with bad handoffs with these ponies, but just as their care changes as they age, so does how they receive a treat.  Beware bad handoffs!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

More stories like this one can be found in The Partnered Pony:  What’s Possible, Practical, and Powerful with Small Equines, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

Posted in Natural Horsemanship, Partnered Pony (TM)

They See Differently

I love it when I learn something new when reading about equines, then my ponies do something to make the learning real.  I was walking Torrin and Joe through the log yard, moving them from one paddock to another.  My husband had reorganized the yard since the boys had last walked through it, so they were looking around as we walked.  Suddenly Torrin shied toward me but then resumed walking normally.

I had just been reading the chapter on eyesight in Wendy Williams’ The Horse:  The Epic History of Our Noble Companion.  One of the illustrations showed the same scene in two ways:  first how humans view it and then how equines are likely to view it with their different perception of color.  Williams then explained, “When [horses] look at a red object, they see color – but not the distinct red that we perceive.  Most likely, researchers believe, our ‘red’ is a yellowish-greenish hue to them.  If we look at a red ball lying on green grass, the ball will stand out because of its color.  If a horse looks at the same ball, the ball will not stand out.  That’s one reason why you may notice the ball at a distance, but your horse may only notice that ball when he is much nearer.  And when he does notice it, it may startle him.” (1)

I had this story in mind when Torrin shied.  In the direction of his gaze was the orange cement mixer which had not been in that location when Torrin last walked through the log yard.  With its bright red-orange color and large bulbous shape, it was very obvious to me as we approached.  Now that I understand that Torrin’s perception of color and therefore objects is different than mine, though, I suspect that Torrin didn’t see the cement mixer as we approached until when he did, it surprised him.

Williams’ book is full of observations about how horses and humans are similar yet different, as in eyesight and perception.  She suggests that a better understanding of horses on behalf of humans makes us better partners for them.  I know I’ll never look at a red object in their presence the same way again!

  1. Williams, Wendy. The Horse:  The Epic History of Our Noble Companion. New York:  Scientific American/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015, p. 205

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

More stories like this one can be found in the book The Partnered Pony:  What’s Possible, Practical and Powerful with Small Equines, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

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

Opposite Outcomes of Packing

The success of our pony packing job this summer took on greater meaning after hearing a story from an outfitter friend.  We had taken two ponies into a roadless area more than an hour from home and asked them to make multiple trips up and down a steep rocky trail with gravel in their panniers.  I had gradually prepared the ponies both from a fitness and new-experience standpoint, and they performed impeccably.  One of them even let me know that they needed their tack adjusted without getting extreme in their communication.

Our outfitter friend told us about a group of out-of-state hunters who had brought horses into our county for archery season.  Their first night here they had stayed at the outfitter’s headquarters, but they had declined the offer to put their horses in a small paddock because they were afraid they wouldn’t be able to catch them.  The next day the outfitter had taken a pack train into a back country location to set up camp for a client, and the out-of-state hunters ended up at the same trail head.  They were still getting their horses ready after the outfitter had taken his train in and out again.  After the outfitter returned to the trailhead they watched the hunters finish preparations and head out.  The packs on the hunters’ horses were well over the horses’ heads, much higher than the outfitter deemed appropriate.  Not one hundred yards from the trailhead the packs on two of the horses had slipped off and under them, and the horses were very agitated.  Our outfitter friend chose to leave at that point, ‘before anybody gets hurt, meaning us,’ they said, fearing that the hunters’ upset horses might spook into the outfitters’ pack train.

The outfitter told us this story after I had asked why they thought there had been two equine-related search-and-rescue calls at either end of Labor Day weekend.  My husband had been on both of them, and one of them involved the hunting party that the outfitter had told us about.  On his way out under the full moon, my husband found two straps that had apparently come off the packs of the hunters’ horses.  The hunter who had been the subject of the search-and-rescue call fortunately wasn’t too badly injured after his horse threw him.  The accident victim on the other call unfortunately was severely injured and had to be flown out by helicopter.

The outfitter’s answer to my question about the frequency of equine-related emergency calls was partly answered by his story about the hunters.  People with little or no ‘horse sense’ – as distinguished from experience with horses – were taking their equines into situations that they shouldn’t have.  In some cases people with no horse experience may have been going out with leased horses.  Our outfitter friend said they’d been asked if they would lease horses to hunters who didn’t want to walk anymore, and when the hunters were asked if they’d ever been around horses, replied no.  And the outfitter’s reply in return was also no.  Not all lessors of horses answer the same question that way.

After hearing these stories from our outfitter friend, I understood better my husband’s gratitude for how I’d prepared the ponies for our gravel-packing outing.  I feel sorry for the equines if they were blamed for the mishaps of the long weekend, for it was likely more the fault of their human partners that things didn’t go well.  The four weeks that I dedicated to preparing my ponies may have felt burdensome at the time, but now it seems like a good investment indeed.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

Stories like this one are contained in the book The Partnered Pony:  What’s Possible, Practical, and Powerful with Small Equines, available internationally by clicking here or on the book cover.

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


The protests and counter-protests in Charlottesville and their aftermath came as I was reading about the end of the Second World War and the fall of Nazi Germany.  Elizabeth Letts’s book The Perfect Horse tells the story of the seizure by the Nazis of some of the finest purebred equines in Europe at that time and the subsequent rescue of those equines at the end of the war.  The U.S. Army worked with dedicated horsemen from Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Austria who some still considered enemies.  Together they devised a strategy for the survival of Lipizzaner and Polish Arabian breeding stock.  The equines were faced with any number of bleak possible futures, including destruction by the advancing Russian army, slaughter to feed starving soldiers or civilians, or being distributed to desperate farmers and shop keepers in need of horsepower.

The U.S. Army didn’t have to give the horses an escape route, nor did the soldiers involved have to risk their lives to provide it.  And the horses’ keepers didn’t have to risk treason to find a future for their charges.  When asked why, Colonel Hank Reed, a former mounted cavalryman but then a motorized army officer, responded, ‘We were so tired of death and destruction.  We wanted to do something beautiful.”  (1)

Violence and hate are not inevitable.  Violence and hatred and vitriol are choices.  Other choices are always available to us.  In her book, Letts concluded, “…as Hank Reed’s men instinctively knew, it was only through individual acts of compassion that the world was able to climb out of the trough it had dug for itself and attempt to find its way into a more peaceful future.” (2)

Today, as we have fewer and fewer people around us who directly experienced the horrors of World War II,  books like Letts’s are even more important to remind us of choices people before us have had the courage to make in very difficult and highly charged circumstances.  In some places today, we may have less far to go to get a bit closer to that peaceful future that motivated Colonel Reed and his men.  We just need to have the courage to make one choice at a time like they did.

  1. Letts, Elizabeth. The Perfect Horse:  The Daring US Mission to Rescue the Priceless Stallions Kidnapped by the Nazis.  New York:  Ballantine Books, 2016, p. 294.
  2. Same as #1.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

More stories about how equines motivate us can be found in the book The Partnered Pony:  What’s Possible, Practical, and Powerful with Small Equines, available internationally by clicking here or on the book image.

Posted in Inspirations, Partnered Pony (TM)

Don’t Despair on Day One

The view through the lens on day 3!

It happened again.  The foal was friendly and sociable right after birth, coming to us to say hello when we were near, bringing smiles to our foal-watch-fatigued faces.  Then at 24 hours old, the foal wanted nothing to do with us, hiding behind Mom whenever we approached, avoiding all possible contact.  This change in behavior is very discouraging after all the work that goes into bringing a new pony into the world (not to overlook the work done by the mare of course!)

Fortunately, we’ve been through this sequence of events many times before.  Sometimes after 48 hours, more often after 72, and very rarely even later, the foal becomes curious and sociable again, learning to enjoy our presence for all the scratches in favorite places we offer as we begin our early foal training routine.  The downside of the situation resolving, though, is that pictures become harder to take, as the foal starts to fill the lens whenever the camera comes out!

It’s our experience that the period of the foal’s disinterest in us is when their eyesight is maturing.  Perhaps they are over-stimulated from all the new sights in their field of view.  We think it’s our strong relationship with our mares that makes the foals accept us right after birth, mimicking mom, and then the same later.  So we’ve learned not to get discouraged at day one but just to wait things out.  Patience pays off, for the joy of a new pony relationship always comes with time.  What a blessing new life is!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

If you enjoy stories like this, you’ll find more in the books A Humbling Experience and What an Honor, available by clicking on the book covers.

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

A Funny Thing Happened While Doing Yoga

It was just before sunrise, and I’d fed the mare in the foaling shed and the ponies in the mare paddock.  I changed my clothes and set up my yoga mat.  It faces a window looking out on a forest where I often graze mares and foals, with a large spruce tree obscuring most of the view.  A few minutes into my yoga routine, I saw movement through the spruce tree.  I was able to pick out a summer-black baby switching its tail insistently against the morning’s insects.  I smiled, enjoying the sight.

I took another deep breath and settled back into my yoga routine.  Then I realized something wasn’t quite right.  I don’t have any summer black babies right now.  I had just fed my only foal, and it is a jet black, and it is in the mare paddock.  It was clear that the heat exhaustion I’d been suffering had impacted my ability to think clearly.

Then I began to smile again, this time with amusement.  I hadn’t been hallucinating; there had been a summer black baby walking through the woods.  It’s just that it wasn’t a pony, though it has similar hock action.  The baby I’d seen switching its tail just like my jet black foal was a very young moose!  The day before I’d seen two cow moose outside the mare paddock, and I wondered where their babies were.  This time I’d seen the baby without the mama.

I’m under doctor’s orders to do yoga daily.  Even our chiropractor endorses the idea.  He told us a story about an 85 year old client who looked thirty years younger.  When he asked how she looked so young, she said daily yoga and weekly chiropractic then did a hand stand against the wall!   I’m pretty sure being distracted by a moose doesn’t abide by yoga practice rules, but surely the smile that lit my face counts for almost as much as proper yoga!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

If you like stories like this, you’ll find many more in the books What an Honor and The Partnered Pony, available internationally by clicking on the book covers.

Posted in Fell Ponies, Partnered Pony (TM)

Comedy Routine – Pony Style

My comedians at the gate with the electric fencer in view.

I laughed more heartily than usual when I recounted this chain of events to my husband.  It began one evening at last feeding when I found Lucky Joe outside his electric fence paddock happily munching green grass.  Actually the first clue that something was amiss was a distressed call from Lucky Joe’s paddock mate Torrin.  I’ve become accustomed to that tone:  someone’s getting to eat and I’m not!

I had been charging the fence battery and neglected to return it to its useful occupation before green grass was too much of a draw.  Lucky Joe apparently had tested the fence and found it safe to touch and then pushed through.  I returned the battery to the fence and set it on high power to make a point if either he or Torrin tried another escape.

The next morning I was out at dawn to check on my mare in the foaling shed, and all was peaceful.  Not so forty five minutes later, though, when I heard the dogs barking wildly.  Lucky Joe and Torrin were trotting around between the paddocks getting not only dogs but other ponies all riled up.  Apparently my aged fence battery had not been up to the high charge assignment.

When I returned the geldings to their paddock, I tied them to a wood fence while I began my detective work.  It appeared that the battery had done its job on the main part of the fence, but the mesh ribbon that serves as the gate had not been up to its job.  It was stretched and laying on the ground.  Black hair covered it in one place where Lucky Joe had apparently bent over it repeatedly until it gave way.  The battery was completely dead.  I left the boys tied while I repaired the gate, then, figuring they’d had at least some breakfast, I left them tied while I got morning feeding for the rest of the herd underway.

I knew I was headed to town for a new battery as soon as chores were done, and I knew I needed to occupy my two escape artists while their fence was disabled.  When I brought them their vitamin buckets, I spread their hay but left them tied.  I figured this would save time later so that I could let them loose to eat right before I headed to town and hopefully get back before green grass encouraged fence testing again.

Nice idea, but I once again heard that anguished cry when I approached the boys’ paddock on my way to town.  Bless his heart, Torrin has rarely been a fence tester, though of course all too willing to follow where Fell Pony fence testers might lead him.  No, Torrin’s facility has to do with his lead rope or more particularly the snap on his lead rope.  When I arrived on my way to town to release the boys to their hay, I heard distress this time in Lucky Joe’s voice before I ever saw him.  And no wonder.  He’d been watching Torrin eat all the breakfast hay.  Torrin had once again rolled the panic snap open by working it against a fence post, untying himself to enable the breakfast I had planned for him earlier than I wanted.

I think it was the tone of Lucky Joe’s whinny, and Torrin’s the night before, and their distress so close together in time caused by each other that made my laughter so hearty. They were missing out on the fun their friend was having without realizing the distress they were causing when on the other end.  Seems perfectly logical I think!  I’m happy to report that, to the boys’ dismay, the new battery has been doing its job well once put on its assignment.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017

More stories like this one appear in my books What an Honor and The Partnered Pony, available internationally by clicking on the titles or book covers.

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

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

There are lots of stories like this one in my books, including What an Honor and The Partnered Pony, available internationally by clicking on the covers or titles.


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

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