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)