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

Mountain Ponies

Shelley and Josie with the Colorado State Forest in the background

Shelley and Josie with the Colorado State Forest in the background

One day my husband said to me, “I think we should focus on breeding mountain ponies.”  My mind immediately went to the fact that Fell Ponies are one of Britain’s mountain and moorland pony breeds, but I had the sense that wasn’t what my husband was talking about.  So I asked him what a mountain pony was.

He began by talking about his first years working on the Colorado State Forest in the 1970s when Bill Reilly was riding cows on the grazing permit there.  The State Forest lies on the east side of a spine of the Rocky Mountains, rising several thousand feet above the basin of North Park.  Streams cascade down the mountain front in numerous places, and rocks are ever present, as you would expect given the name of the mountain range.

Bill Reilly’s mounts were always on the small side for horses, and they had to be able to go up and down the steep ground of the Forest.  They had to have strong shoulders for braking power going downhill, and they had to have hindquarters with power to push themselves and their rider and his pack up the mountain or across a stream.  They had relatively short backs putting their front and back legs closer together compared to many horses, and they had to be agile so they could both push cows but also avoid being kicked by them.  Finally, of course, they had to be pleasant to ride since Bill was in the saddle all day every day in the summer.

There is, of course, not much difference between a traditional Fell Pony and what my husband’s mind’s eye says is a mountain pony.  For him, the true test, though, as it should be, is how a particular pony performs in the mountains.  He points out that there’s a difference between riding on trails and riding cross-country.  I was reminded of cruising timber riding my first Fell stallion Midnight, work which was decidedly off trail.  He negotiated downed trees and low branches and crackling brush and steep hillsides with ease.

My husband began his logging career working with a mule named Pete and even before that he had much broader experience in the equine world than I have.  He often has practical insights that astound me when I’ve forgotten how much he’s seen that I haven’t.  I’m learning to encourage his sharing whenever I can.  Now with his leadership role in our county’s search and rescue, he’s thinking how handy it would be to have an equine partner for that work.  I know there are Fells who have done that work in other places.  I look forward to working with him and my ponies to see how my Fells meet his standard for mountain ponies.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2016

What an HonorBook The Partnered PonyStories similar to this one can be found in the books What an Honor and The Partnered Pony, available internationally by clicking on the titles or cover images.

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

Two Firsts

Willowtrail Wild RoseI had been riding the woods loop regularly with my Fell Pony mare Willowtrail Wild Rose, but we still managed two first experiences on one ride.  The woods loop is a half mile trail ride beginning and ending at the house and traveling through our lodgepole pine forest in its various conditions.  Some of the forest is regenerating since being harvested after the mountain pine beetle epidemic, and some is still standing mostly green where the beetles didn’t find the trees to their liking.  The picture here shows Rose on the edge of the harvested area.

Cow moose at Willowtrail FarmIt was in the green and standing portion of the forest where Rose and I, and my six-month old Australian Shepherd Tika, encountered our first new experience.  A cow moose with her calf were browsing just off the trail.  I’ve encountered moose on rides with other ponies but never with Rose, though I know she’s seen them often enough.  Rose stopped, her head went up, and her ears went as far forward as she could prick them.  Moose can be unpredictable, especially cows with calves and especially with a dog present.  We stood and watched the moose pair for a few minutes, and when they didn’t seem inclined to yield their position, I elected to dismount.  I wasn’t sure how Rose would react if the cow decided to charge the dog.  I walked Rose and Tika off the trail in the opposite direction and around the moose location.  Rose relaxed upon this suggestion, and when we regained the trail and I remounted, she continued to be a relaxed partner.  Next time I’ll try staying mounted and talking Rose through the encounter.  I’m sure there will be a next time since those two moose are hanging around, likely because it’s hunting season and our place is a bit of a refuge.  The second pictures was taken at the house.

I did stay mounted for our second new experience.  When we got to the gate to Rose’s home paddock, I opened the gate from Rose’s back.  The paddock opening has two ten foot gates latched together with a chain.  Even when I’m on the ground, it’s a bit of a chore to free the chain from the slots on each gate and free one gate for opening.  Plus I always loop the chain in a way that discourages agile pony lips from freeing it from its locking position.  It took several tries and re-positioning Rose, but I eventually got the gate open and we rode through.  When I swung it shut behind us, though, we had company, so I dismounted to secure the gate shut to avoid having to round up Rose’s friends.  There’s opportunity for improvement here, too!

After these firsts, I’m looking forward to doing the woods loop with Rose again.  I’ll stay mounted if we see a moose, and I’ll see if I can get Rose to relax while riding away and around.  And I’ll see if I can do my part on gate management a little more efficiently!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2016

What an HonorBook The Partnered PonyThe books What an Honor and The Partnered Pony have more stories like this one.  They are available internationally by clicking on the titles or cover pictures.

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

Fall is for Pony Lovers

Willowtrail Wild RoseFall has been my favorite season for as long as I can remember.  Perhaps that’s because my birthday falls within the season, but I suspect it has more to do with other things that I love about autumn.  And since ponies entered my life, I’ve developed an even greater appreciation for the season.

In the mountains, fall arrives before the autumnal equinox.  When I lived at 7,500 feet above sea level, I usually detected the arrival of fall around August 19.  Here at 9,000 feet, it arrives about a week earlier.  There is a subtle shift in temperature and wind that heralds the arrival of the season.  And leaves begin to turn about then, too.  By the time the equinox rolls around, many of the leaves are already past their prime.

The fall colors here may not be what people in other regions get, but I sure appreciate them.  This year especially the aspens have been glorious.  Aspens are typically yellow, but this year we’ve had more reds, some of which have bordered on mahogany.  The ground-level plants have also been more spectacular than usual, including the wild roses and whortleberry.  The photograph here shows wild roses with aspen leaves on the ground beneath them.

Fall is the best season here for ponies for many reasons.  The cooler temperatures are of course welcome, and colder air knocks down the insects.  The pastures are dying back, so even the easiest of keepers can be out doing what they love best all day every day.   From a pony partner’s perspective, I appreciate that green grass isn’t there to distract my mount from our travels.  My ponies always look their most fit and healthy in autumn, as they should in the natural cycle of things.

Fall is never long enough.  The colors disappear before I am quite done appreciating them, and freezing temperatures arrive that necessitate not only a change in clothing but also changes in feeding and watering routines.  We are always at our busiest in our business in the fall, trying to finish projects that need completing before snow and freezing temperatures, so it can be a challenge to take a few minutes to appreciate the season.  Most years, though, this one included, I take pictures of the same trees with their most recent colorful adornments.  And this year I took the camera out on a trail ride to capture some of the foliage.  Within a day of the photos, the foliage had diminished already, making me thankful that I had resisted the pressure of the season and taken some time with my pony friends to enjoy what makes it special.

With gratitude to my friend Judith Bean for inspiration.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2016

What an HonorBook The Partnered PonyThere are more stories about fall and ponies in the books What an Honor and A Partnered Pony, available internationally by clicking on the covers or titles.

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

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)