An Overlap of Three

I love it when different interests that I have overlap.  When it happens, I feel like marking the occasion in some way.  That’s why there’s a chapter in my most recent book What an Honor entitled, “Where Food and Fells Meet.”  I’ve just had not two but three interests overlap, and I knew the instant it happened I’d be writing about it, too!

Number 1 was a family business trip that took me to my birthplace of Portland, Oregon.  Number 2 was a stagecoach.  I’ve been researching stage lines and stagecoaches for several months in preparation for an article (I hope) in Rural Heritage magazine.  I’ve been surprised how interesting I’ve found the topic.  I shouldn’t be, though, because in itself it combines two interests:  landscapes and working equines.  The book that sparked my interest, Knights of the Whip, overlapped stagecoaches with Number 1 above because it was about a landscape that had lots of meaning for me and my family.

Concord Coach by Tom Simpson

Concord Coach #306. Upper right the front boot where Wells Fargo strong boxes were stored. Lower left the rear boot. Lower right the thoroughbrace. Photos by Tom Simpson

It doesn’t take much study of stagecoaches to learn about the Concord Coach of Abbot-Downing Company.  “Abbot-Downing was perhaps best known for its custom-built stagecoaches, especially the ‘Concord Coach,’ first developed in 1827.  The body of the Concord Coach was designed as an aerodynamic flat-topped oval.  The company’s artisans skillfully combined oak, ash, and other woods to make it both light and durable.  By placing the baggage compartments under the driver’s feet and at the back of the coach, they kept it from being top-heavy, and thus minimized the side draft, or side-to-side motion, that increased the work of the horses.” (1)  In their day, Concord Coaches were so well thought of that they were exported to places as far away as Australia and Japan.

Because of my interest in working equines, I was especially interested in the suspension since some authors have asserted it makes the vehicle easier to pull.  “Instead of using iron springs (or, like some coaches, no springs at all) the Concord Coach was suspended on two leather devices called thoroughbraces.  Each thoroughbrace consisted of six or more long straps of leather stacked vertically and bound together.  These were attached to the front and the back of the coach frame and ran under the coach body on each side, suspending the coach body in a leather sling.  The coach body had no direct attachment to the frame or the wheels, and the thoroughbraces let it move freely, providing a much less jolting ride for passengers.” (2)  A similar suspension system was used in the reconstruction of the Wetwang Chariot, about which I’ve written for Driving Digest magazine and The Partnered Pony™ Inquirer.

It’s one thing to read about thoroughbraces but something else entirely to visualize how they work, at least for me.  I needed to see to understand, so I began researching where I could go look at a stagecoach.  I learned the nearest ones are three and four hours away, in locations I rarely visit.  I put my stagecoach research on a shelf while I pursued other lines of inquiry.

Shortly after I arrived in Portland, my brother was taking me by car from one place to another, and we passed the Wells Fargo building downtown.  Wells Fargo is of course the most common modern face of the stagecoach, and I mentioned my desire to see one.  My brother immediately responded that there was one on display in the lobby of the building we’d just passed, so we went around the block and found parking.  I spent the next fifteen minutes, because that’s all the time there was on the parking meter, feasting my eyes on a genuine Concord Coach.  (I had become separated from my camera, so I’m grateful to my brother for snapping numerous photographs.)

The museum manager lit up when I expressed educated interest in the coach, and it didn’t take long for the third overlap to manifest.  It turned out that this particular Concord Coach, #306, had never been used by Wells Fargo.  Built in 1854, it had instead been used on a mail route in Canada prior to 1890 and purchased much later and restored by Wells Fargo for this exhibit.  When it was still in Canada, it had been at a mini stampede in Calgary, and in 1951 Princess Elizabeth had ridden in it.  Now Queen Elizabeth II, Her Majesty is of course patron of the Fell Pony Society.  I was wearing a Fell Pony Society jacket and pointed out the logo and the connection to the museum manager.  Wells Fargo has a blog post about this event with photos; click here to read it.  To see a video of Princess Elizabeth alighting from the coach, click here and go to 4:13.

The fifteen minutes flew by as I looked at all the features of the Concord that I’d been learning about.  For a brief few seconds, the museum manager pushed on the suspension, engaging the thoroughbraces.  I realize now that I didn’t study the movement of the coach on its cradle as I’d hoped to.  I still don’t feel I have a full appreciation of how the design helped the horses.  Another visit to a Concord is necessary!  I’ve just learned of the location of yet another here in Colorado (also four hours away).  I look forward to my next opportunity, and it’s nice to know that I can overlap family business, stagecoach research, and Fell Ponies in Portland when I next travel there!

  1.  Greene, Ann Norton. Horses at Work:  Harnessing Power in Industrial America.  Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 2008, p. 61.
  2. Same as #1.

I am grateful to my colleagues Eddie McDonough in England, Rob Johnson in Australia, and Bernie Samson in the United States for encouraging my stagecoach research.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015

What an HonorThe Partnered PonyThe book What an Honor is available internationally by clicking here.  The Partnered Pony(TM) Inquirer issue on the Wetwang Chariot is available by clicking here.

Posted in Fell Ponies, Work Ponies | Tagged , , , ,

Perspicacious is One Approach

Willowtrail Farm Fell PoniesIt’s not very often, in the publications that I read, that I stumble when I read a word.  But I admit that I stumbled when I came upon ‘perspicacious.’  It was in a sentence about the history of the Thoroughbred.  “But perspicacious breeding and the preservation of diverse mare bloodlines are only part of the story of the origin of the Thoroughbred.”  (1)  I find breeding a fascinating subject, and since the context of that sentence didn’t give me any clues, I had to find out what ‘perspicacious’ meant!

“Having keen mental perception” and “discerning” were the meanings that seemed to apply.  So what would perspicacious breeding look like?  I immediately thought of a breeder I know who has very few ponies but the ones they do have are universally admired by visitors.  The ponies have been chosen with great care as are the matings the breeder conducts.  In contrast, I know people who breed large numbers of ponies from whom a few show champions have resulted, more by luck than discernment it seems.   I consider the former to have a perspicacious approach to breeding.

What might perspicacious breeding of Fell Ponies in particular look like?  What comes to mind for me are the two themes that emerged from the minutes of the Fell Pony Breeders Association that I recently read.  Those themes were loss of traditional movement and loss of fell breeding rights.  Perspicacious breeding of Fell Ponies, then, in my view involves a breeding strategy that seeks to preserve proper movement and the traits required by fell living.  Much easier said than done!  A great opportunity is available this summer to explore these two topics at the Wellbrow Stud Open Day on August 30 in Lancashire (you can find out more by clicking here).

As breeding season approaches, and with the unwanted horse/horse overpopulation problem still an issue, it behooves all of us breeders to make sure we are approaching breeding thoughtfully.    Can we be called perspicacious?  That may be something best judged by others, but at least we can try!

  1. Bennett, Deb, PhD.  “A Brief History of the Thoroughbred,” Equus #448, January 2015, p. 55.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015

Book Fell Pony ObservationsIf stories about breeding also fascinate you, you might also find of interest the book Fell Ponies:  Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here.

Posted in Fell Ponies, Partnered Pony (TM), Rare Breeds, Sustainable Equestrianism | Tagged

That Good Blue Horn

Willowtrail Wild Rose after trimmingThe forecast was for snow all day and then temperatures were supposed to plummet.  Willowtrail Wild Rose was due to have her hooves trimmed, and the job required precise timing.  Not too wet (no precipitation that would soak my tools), not too cold (it’s hard to hold the nippers with gloves on), just right!

I always approach trimming Rose with some trepidation.  Not only does she have the good feet of a Fell Pony:  “good size, round, and well-formed, open at heels with the characteristic blue horn…” (1)  She also inherited her mother’s Sleddale hooves that in my experience with Fell Ponies are larger, therefore further around and do seem harder to me.  I can still remember the first time I tried to trim Beauty’s feet on a summer afternoon.  It was immediately clear that farriers are worth their price.

As I watched the weather through the window, I was thrilled to see the snow let up mid-afternoon.  The sun came out, and the temperatures warmed.  Perfect!  Warm snow would soften Rose’s hooves, and it’s always preferable to handle metal tools when it’s not frigid.

Rose was a nearly perfect pony, and the job progressed well, if not easily.  That good blue horn was still tough to nip even with some softening from the moist snow.  Fortunately, I take pleasure from seeing the end result of a trimming job and especially so when I have a pony with some age that is therefore well accustomed to the job and cooperative.  When it was all done, even Rose seemed pleased with our time together.  And when the temperatures did indeed drop below zero by evening, I was even happier with my good timing that enabled that job to not only get done but to get done enjoyably.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015

A Humbling ExperienceWhat an HonorIf you enjoy stories like this one, you might also enjoy the books A Humbling Experience and What an Honor, available internationally by clicking here.

Posted in Fell Ponies, Natural Horsemanship

Then and Now

DL Glenn Rig with Jim

Dan and Kate Glenn and Old Jim about to depart on their trip south in 1902.

In 1902, my great great grandparents took a horse-drawn journey from Ashland, Oregon to Long Beach California.  The trip was over 700 miles and took nearly five weeks.  Along the way, Dan and Kate Glenn easily found hay, feed, water, stables, and fellow travelers with their own horses and wagons.  When they encountered a car, it merited mention in their diaries because it was so out of the ordinary.

Fast forward to today when the opposite is the case.  Cars are common modes of transport, and equines on long distance journeys are seldom encountered.  Hay, feed, water for equines, and stabling would be much more challenging to find whereas, of course, filling stations for autos are ubiquitous.  People today are accustomed to cars and not at all accustomed to horses.

An article in Equus magazine highlighted this last fact.  It discussed a 2013 Connecticut Supreme Court case in which horses were classed as ‘mischievous or vicious” and capable of doing harm by biting.  The particulars involved a man visiting a retail establishment and taking his young son in his arms to the fence to see the horses pastured next door.  He petted one of the horses, and the horse reached out and nipped his son on the cheek, causing permanent injury. (1)

Karen Elizabeth Baril, the author of the article, made several important points:

  • “So many people in the world today do not understand horses or how to approach them safely.”
  • “As horse owners we tend to focus on the mistakes [the father] made that exposed his son to danger, but how easily could you have been the one in [the boarding facility’s] shoes [who was sued]?”
  • “At a bare minimum, I believe horse owners need to educate themselves on the liability laws in their own state, and then they need to take steps to ensure they’ve secured their fences and barns and posted appropriate warning signs. Training our horses to behave well around people is another given, along with taking reasonable precautions to keep everyone safe.  And, of course, we must be vigilant.”
  • “Another thing we can do is help people learn about horses.”

I was particularly struck by that last statement.  Because I spend a significant part of everyday around my ponies, it’s easy for me to take for granted what I know about them and to forget how few people encounter an equine on a daily basis.  Unlike in my great-great grandparents’ time when everyone was around them nearly daily, now it’s a small minority of the population that encounters an equine at all frequently.

I wrote an article for Rural Heritage magazine about my great-great grandparents’ journey from Oregon to southern California (click here for more information).  Readers of that magazine are likely around equines on a regular basis, so I didn’t do much there to ‘help people learn about horses.’  However, I was able to share that article with members of my family.  I am the only member of my family who is involved with equines, but since the article was about a common ancestor, my family members found the article interesting.  It was much more accessible to them than most of my writing, so it is one thing I have done that ‘helps people learn about horses.’  I’ll keep the importance of that goal more at the top of my mind since reading Baril’s article.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015

  1. Baril, Karen Elizabeth. “The case of the ‘vicious’ horse,” Equus #448, January 2015, p. 33.
Posted in Inspirations, Sustainable Equestrianism

Feeling Thankful About Colic

Newfarm ValenciaTwo articles in the January 2015 issue of Equus magazine have me feeling thankful about colic.  The first article summarized research about broodmares who had ‘twisted guts.’  The prognosis for survival decreased dramatically the longer before treatment began.  “Mares who had been colicking for two to four hours prior to arriving at the clinic were three times less likely to survive than were those admitted within two hours of the appearance of colic signs.  Further, horses colicking four or more hours were nearly 12 times less likely to survive than were those who arrived at the clinic within the first two hours.” (1)

Several years ago one of my mares showed signs of ‘twisted gut.’  We are normally two hours from our vet and we had been consulting with him for an hour before we decided to transport.  The trip took a half hour longer than usual because of blizzard conditions then we waited a half hour in the hospital parking lot for the doctor to arrive.  I’m very thankful Dr. Gotchey was able to beat the odds and save my mare’s life and that of the foal in-utero.

Coincidentally one of the veterinarians involved in the research on ‘twisted gut’ once examined another of my mares.  She showed signs of colic here but after the two hour trailer ride was pronounced healthy at the hospital.  (For more on her mild recurrent colic, click here.)

The second article in Equus described a fascinating study of the microbiota of broodmares prior to and after foaling, comparing those who colicked postpartum and those who didn’t.  “Looking at pre- and post-foaling microbiota populations among study mares who did not colic, the researchers found little change.  Among the 24 mares who developed colic during the study period, however, significant changes in the microbiota were found, even before clinical signs of gut pain were apparent.” (2)

I feel fortunate to have only had one case of post-partum colic.  It was about two hours after foaling when I was still keeping a close eye on mom and baby, so mom immediately got a big dose of my trusty probiotic Dyna-Pro (to order your own Dyna-Pro, click here.)  She recovered within an hour.  A healthy dose of Dyna-Pro has been a standard part of my mares’ post partum feed bucket ever since.

Dyna-Pro is actually a prebiotic rather than a probiotic.  It promotes a healthy environment for beneficial gut microbes rather than supplementing the microbe population directly (click here for more on the difference between prebiotics and probiotics.)

I have reversed numerous colic episodes with Dyna-Pro over the years, so I wasn’t surprised by the research finding that the gut microbial environment differed between healthy and colicky mares.  All of my ponies get Dyna-Pro regularly to help keep their guts friendly to healthy microbiota.  I also have a couple of other management practices that help minimize the incidence of colic.  For instance, my ponies never receive grain; I choose to feed energy via fat and protein instead (click here for more info).  I also believe that the free choice minerals they have access to are an anti-colic strategy because they help keep the gut pH in a healthy range that also  supports a healthy microbial population (click here for more on loose free choice minerals.)

Colic is justifiably a source of worry for equine stewards.  These two articles, however, make me thankful for my vet and my nutritional program.  Knowing that I have a good preventive program and a good vet to fall back on when I need one helps keep my worry to a minimum.

  1. Barakat, Christine and Mick McCluskey. “Colic Treatment Delays Can Be Deadly,” Equus #448, January 2015, p. 11.
  2. Barakat, Christine and Mick McCluskey. “A New Clue to Postparum Colic Risk,” Equus #448,  January 2015, p. 13.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015

My Name is MadieYou can read an in-utero foal’s view of ‘twisted gut’ in My Name is Madie, available internationally by clicking here.

Posted in Natural Health, Partnered Pony (TM) | Tagged ,

Lovin’ Lucky Joe

Keeping a stallion is a lot of work, and some make it easier than others.  I’ve heard of Fell Pony stallions that have bit their handlers in an aggressive act, and I’ve personally seen one threaten.  On the other hand, I also know that most of our stallions are pretty pleasant to be around.  Now that I’m up to stallion number four, I’ve seen a range of well-tempered stallions and have come to appreciate where they fall on the fun-to-have-around spectrum.  My newest, Restar Lucky Joe, definitely falls towards the top of that category.

Restar Lucky Joe

The pictures here show one of our feeding time rituals.  Lucky Joe meets me at the gate whenever he hears me coming, and he shows interest in getting a scratch.  It was easy to find Lucky Joe’s favorite places to be scratched because he gives great feedback.  As the photos show, he not only stands ready to be scratched but he expresses great pleasure in the experience by craning his neck to encourage me to continue more of the same.

I’ve been spending time with him nearly every day beyond our usual feeding time rituals.  We’ve been ponying several times a week.  Lucky Joe and his companion Torrin, whom I ride, seem to enjoy our outings.  One day we had warm enough weather that I was able to give Lucky Joe a bath.  I never would have believed I’d manage bathing in February, but we’ve had some incredibly nice weather.  I felt a little guilty because I knew friends on the East Coast were getting hammered by yet another snow storm at the same time.

Because Lucky Joe is still young, much of our time together is spent doing mundane things.  Even these, though, Lucky Joe makes enjoyable.  I never thought I’d say that about hoof trimming, but he was so good recently, standing quietly tied to a fence – for a stallion, for a two-year-old – that I was on a definite high when I got done with the job.  Of course Lucky Joe got lots of scratches in his favorite places!

The other day, after we had a few inches of new snow, finally, to improve the footing, Lucky Joe and I did a little dancing together – in this case me leading and him following, forward, backward, around a tree, trotting and stopping.  I’d forgotten that we did that quite often last summer, and he seemed to enjoy dancing again as much as I did.

I brought Lucky Joe here from Cumbria for many reasons that had nothing to do with him personally.  I like his mom Restar Lucky, for instance.  I admire his breeder Joe Langcake.  I was honored when June Langcake, shortly before she died, told Joe that Lucky Joe should come to me.  Now that he’s been here a year, though, I can honestly say I’m lovin’ Lucky Joe for who he is personally.  He’s really fun to have around.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015

A Humbling ExperienceWhat an HonorIf you enjoy stories like this one, you might also enjoy the books A Humbling Experience and What an Honor, available internationally by clicking here.

Posted in Fell Ponies

Ponies and Bucket Lists

Navarro Vineyards 1985

Navarro Vineyards 1985

On the February page of the Carriage Driving Calendar from Mischka Press is a Welsh Cob navigating an obstacle at the 2013 Vineyard Classic in Woodland, California with grapevines in the background.  It is a very happy image for me because it combines a pony with my fond memories of touring wineries in California in my younger years.  My husband told me that one of the things on his bucket list is to visit Navarro Vineyards, one of my favorites.

The concept of a bucket list was new to me just a few years ago.  According to Merriam-Webster’s on-line dictionary, the term originated in 2006 and derives from the expression ‘kick the bucket’ or to die.  A bucket list is “a list of things that one has not done before but wants to do before dying.” (1)  I’ve been flattered by a couple of people who have told me that visiting Willowtrail Farm is on their bucket list.

Bridge on carriage road, Acadia National Park 1995

Bridge on carriage road, Acadia National Park 1995

In the January/February 2015 issue of Driving Digest magazine, there is a bucket list story involving ponies.  Linda Yutzy had this on her bucket list:  “Drive my pair of Dartmoors in Acadia National Park.”  This, too, was a happy story for me because of fond memories of being in Acadia on the gorgeous carriage roads there.  My visit was before my pony days, when bicycling was my preferred recreational travel method.  The rock work of the bridges was stunning and inspired many a photograph.

Linda Yutzy’s story was inspiring as well.  She lives in Texas, so taking her ponies to Acadia involved a 2200-mile four-day journey.  Plus she undertook the journey after having a leg amputated.  The event that spurred her journey was the American Driving Society 40th Anniversary Members Meeting, and Linda and her husband and ponies were the ones who traveled the furthest (with equines) for the event.  At Acadia, they drove 100 kilometers during their stay, which is very similar to the distance I rode on my bicycle; those carriage roads are so motivating!  There’s a great picture in Linda’s article of her ponies seeing a sailboat for the first time.  Linda wrote, “The ponies took it all in stride although the wild turkeys gave Flirt something to think about.” (2)

The image on the February 2015 page of Mischka’s Draft Horse Calendar is also a happy one for me.  It shows three teams plowing at the 2013 Durrant Plowing Weekend, Poplar Grove, Illinois, including Jim Buzzard with his hitch of six Haflingers.  Jim is often in touch about things I write in Rural Heritage magazine and generously shares photographs and stories about his hitch.  We obviously share a love of working smaller equines.

Restar Mountain Shelley IIII don’t have a proper bucket list because I am lucky to be living exactly the life I want where I want right now.  I will admit though to having one thing that probably qualifies as a bucket list item:  to walk the fells of Cumbria with my husband with a Fell Pony carrying my pack and traveling over pack pony bridges.  When my husband and I were on the fells in 2005, we felt so at home there that experiencing that again is worth dreaming about.  Perhaps someday I’ll be able to fulfill that dream, but in the meantime I’m fortunate to have a yard full of Fell Ponies who are willing to carry my pack (and more often me!) in our gorgeous setting here in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

  2. Yutzy, Linda and Keith. “Bucket List:  Drive Acadia,” Driving Digest, Issue 193, January/February 2015, p. 29.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015

The Partnered PonyIf you enjoy articles like this one, you might also be interested in back issues of The Partnered Pony™ Inquirer, available by clicking here.

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