Madie Comes Home

It’s almost like a fairy tale.  The favorite daughter goes off into the big world, leaving her family behind in tears.  A book is written to honor the many ways she touched their lives in the short time she lived with them.  She lives life away for a number of years then returns to her humble origins changed.  The habits and manners developed away don’t work so well back home.  And how the family treated a young girl doesn’t meet the expectations of the young woman now before them.  All must adjust to life together again to make sure another happy ending can be written.

Willowtrail Spring MaidenWillowtrail Spring Maiden returned to Willowtrail Farm a few weeks ago.  She left here at barely five months old and is now nearly four years old.  Madie (rhymes with lady) left gaping holes in our hearts when she departed for her new home as a weanling, and when I was given the opportunity to bring her back, I didn’t take much convincing.  That same lovely personality is still there inside what I consider a drop-dead-gorgeous Fell Pony body.  We’re still getting reacquainted of course.

Willowtrail Spring MaidenOur first opportunity for getting reacquainted came in the middle of the night in Fort Collins where we met the transport truck.  Despite the odd hour and odd location, Madie stepped right into our horse trailer.  That was a good first impression!  Then it was clear that she was quite stiff from her long trip across country, so I immediately unloaded her, and we walked down the road towards the highway together to try to work out some kinks before the more-than-two-hour trip home.  I was left with a good second impression, too.  She wasn’t bothered by the traffic before us or the unfamiliar surroundings.  At that point I wasn’t too surprised when she loaded into the horse trailer again without question.  Is it possible she remembered me and she was therefore comfortable with all the strangeness?  I don’t really know.

We arrived home at 4:30 in the morning, and of course the herd started calling when the horse trailer rolled up and a pony alighted.  We put Madie into the same paddock she’d left from four years ago, and she quickly settled into our routines.  Does she remember this place?  Again, I don’t know, but she seems content to be here.

My husband and I both got a laugh out of his first handling of Madie.  Just like her mother when she first came to Willowtrail Farm, Madie stepped on Don’s foot the first time out.  Nonetheless, he’s happy to have her back, too.

In my experience as an equine steward, there’s nothing like hoof-trimming to test a relationship.  Madie’s hooves needed attention as soon as she arrived, and I was again pleased that we got through that chore without too much discussion.  Every day she greets me vocally when I appear outdoors, so I look forward to continuing to get reacquainted with my lady Madie.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015

My Name is MadieIf you’d like to read the book about Madie, it’s available internationally by clicking here.

Posted in Fell Ponies

More on Fell Pony Temperament

Willowtrail Wild Rose by April WhickerI often get questions about Fell Pony temperament.  The easiest ones to answer are when they are about a particular pony I know well.  Often, though, they are about the Fell Pony breed generally.  I of course always start with the caveat that there is more variation within breeds than between breeds.  Then I try to share what I have learned so far (there are 6 chapters in the Temperament section of my book Fell Ponies:  Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here).

I also try to draw on what long-time Fell Pony enthusiasts say.  So I was delighted to run across a short description by Roy Ottink of the Dutch Wildhoeve stud, quoting the late Chris Thompson of the Drybarrows Fell Pony stud in Cumbria:

“At Drybarrows you were presented with diamonds in the rough straight from the fell and wild as the hills, however once over in Holland they changed rapidly into reliable ponies who you could do anything with.  As long as (and I quote Chris Thompson) you ‘don’t put your will against the ponies – they will always win.’” (1)

Sometimes I get questions that ask me to compare the Fell to other breeds.  Usually the requested comparison is to other similar-sized breeds such as the Fjord or Haflinger which are popular in this country.  Since I own a Fjord horse, it’s easy for me to make some comparisons there.  Usually I have to defer on comparisons to the Haflinger.  Now, though, I have some words to share with inquirers from one of the most well known Fell Pony enthusiasts.  In Fell Diamonds, HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, shared the following:

“Since I had decided to give up polo on reaching the age of 50, I decided that carriage driving might be my next ‘sport’.  We also had Haflingers and Highland ponies at Balmoral, so I decided that I would try a team of each in turn.  I found the Haflingers too precocious and self-willed, while the Highlanders, although willing to please, were not exactly enthusiastic about the demands of the competition.  The Fells proved to be willing to learn, forgiving and prepared to have a go.  This was back in 1970, and I have been driving teams of Fells ever since.  

“Having taught myself to drive with the Fells, I borrowed 4 Cleveland Bay/Oldenburg crosses from the Royal Mews and drove them at national and international events for the next 13 years. At the same time, I entered a Fell Pony team for events in Scotland and northern England, and then at National Events all over the country until I gave up competing altogether in 2006. However, I kept the ponies and I still enjoy driving them as a team or a tandem. Considering that Fells are generally not as flashy, nor appear to be as nimble as Welsh ponies, their speed of reaction in the obstacles was impressive and they did remarkably well, even in the Dressage tests!  Needless to say, not every individual was a success, but some of them were really brilliant.” (2)

As Prince Philip points out, Fell Ponies vary, as do individuals of every breed.  To know, though, that they can become ‘reliable ponies’ even when they’ve started ‘as wild as the hills’ is a great testament to this breed.

  1. Miller, Francis.“Drybarrows Fell Ponies”, The Fell Pony Society Magazine, Spring 2015, Volume 30, p. 78
  2. The Fell Pony Society. Fell Diamonds: celebrating 90 years of the Fell Pony Society, 1922-2012.  Daw Bank, Greenholme, Cumbria:  Jackdaw E-books, 2013, p. 5

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015

Book Fell Pony ObservationsIf you enjoy articles like this one, you’ll also enjoy the book Fell Ponies:  Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here.

Posted in Fell Ponies

Help with an Important Chore

Willowtrail Farm Fell PoniesThe weather was warm but due to go below freezing again.  The ponies had drunk the water low enough that it was time for that all-important chore of scrubbing the stock tank.  Heating the water all winter inevitably makes for algal growth, and it was definitely time.  I’d been able to turn the heater off due to warm weather so the ponies had lowered the water level to a point where it was easy enough to scoop out.  I just hate to waste water, after living through several droughty summers.  When the heater is running, the tank has to be kept half-full at a minimum, meaning 125 gallons or more go to waste when I clean it.  This time I only scooped out about fifty gallons.

And of course I had lots of help.  On one side is the stallion pen, then the gap where the stock tank is and then the other side where all the mares are.  I had help from both sides.  Perhaps it was because there was a mare in heat that stallion Guards Apollo nibbled on me occasionally.  On the other side, mare Willowtrail Wild Rose nibbled on my hat then pulled it off when I didn’t acknowledge her presence.  Three other mares stuck their noses in my face over the course of my chore to see what I was doing.  Rose, though was most persistent, playing in the increasingly filthy water, stretching her head in my direction when I would look at her, and playing with the scrub brush when I left it within range.

It is possible, of course, to keep the ponies from helping.  I could have fed them, for instance, before I started the job, and they would have been absent for the duration.  I much prefer having help, though.  There aren’t enough hours in the day to spend with my ponies!

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015

What an HonorA Humbling ExperienceIf you enjoy stories like this one, you might also be interested in the books A Humbling Experience and What an Honor, available internationally by clicking here.

Posted in Fell Ponies, Inspirations

The Memories Came Flooding Back

Willowtrail Farm Fell PoniesThe memories came flooding back.  The worry about a life on the line, the anxiety about whether the vet’s approach would work, the frustration that all had not gone as it usually did, the appreciation for the vet’s consultation, the gratitude for my husband’s travel first one direction and then another filling prescriptions.

The memories were triggered by an article in Equus about a maiden mare rejecting her foal.  When the first intervention didn’t work, they moved onto the second, just like we did.  What was news in the article was a third intervention which fortunately we hadn’t needed.

Foal rejection wasn’t something I was prepared for.  I’d had seven foals uneventfully up to that point.  In this case it was the first born of a daughter of a stellar broodmare, so I had absolutely no inkling that rejection was a possibility.  Now I know that good mothering instincts aren’t necessarily passed on.  We were fortunate by comparison to the owner in the article.  Their foal was unconscious when it arrived at the vet hospital.  We never had to transport, and our foal fought right along with us.  The descriptions of the vet techs milking the mare and then feeding the foal colostrum (which I now keep at the ready in my freezer) all made our experience seem like yesterday instead of many years ago.

The first intervention when faced with foal rejection is of course to restrain the mare to give the foal a chance to approach and suckle without threat of injury.  Ideally a fencing panel or chute would keep the mare in one place while having an opening to let the foal nurse.  The second intervention is to sedate the mare so that she hopefully learns that the act of the foal nursing relieves the discomfort of the swollen udder.   I was thankful that this intervention worked for us.

The third intervention that was described was the result of some creative thinking by the vets involved in the Equus story.  “As the veterinary team brainstormed, someone mentioned alprazolam.  A psychoactive drug, [it is] sold under several brand names, including Xanax.  Often prescribed for people with panic and anxiety disorders, the drug is also used in cats and dogs to treat separation anxiety and related disorders….  Finally, nine days after the pair arrived at the clinic, [the mare] allowed her foal to nurse without showing any signs of aggression.”(1)  What an ordeal that must have been!  Ours felt horrendous, and it was only 36 hours long before we didn’t need to intervene (pharmaceutically or otherwise) any more.

My husband’s first prescription run was for the sedative.  Like the foal in the Equus story though, our foal developed a fever, so his second run was for antibiotics for the foal.  I developed a very close relationship with that foal over the first few days of its life, first teaching it to nurse then convincing it to let me give it its medicine.  I was both frustrated and thrilled with its strength in resisting my attempts to administer medicine!  The dire predicament of the foal in the Equus story makes me thankful once again for the strong foundation my nutritional program gives my foals (click here for more information).  I doubt we could have saved that rejected foal without that foundation given our distance from a veterinary hospital.

Foal rejection is not something I wish on any breeder.  It is incredibly stressful and frustrating.  It’s fortunate that mare owners now have a third intervention at their disposal if they need it.

  1. Barakat, Christine. “Mother’s Little Helper,” Equus, #451, April 2015, p. 30-33.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015

Sometimes the homeopathic spray Release™, when sprayed on a mare’s udder immediately after foaling, can relieve tension and assist the nursing process.  Release™ is available from Dynamite Specialty Products (click here).


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

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