Breed Type and the Work at Hand

Lily packing on Custer Mountain

In its Nov/Dec 2010 issue, Rural Heritage magazine published “Draft Breeds in a Non-Draft World.”  In the article I discussed how breed type of various draft breeds including the Haflinger and the Fell is being impacted by a change in the work the animals are being asked to do.  The traditional work of the Fell, for instance, of packing, shepherding, driving, and draft work on hill farms, all by the same animal, places different requirements on conformation than does the leisure activities that are more common for the breed today. I noted that the Suffolk Punch is the one breed that seems to be immune to this problem.  I’ve been told it has taken incredible due diligence on the part of the breed society to have this distinction.

I’ve received nearly a dozen phone calls in response to my Rural Heritage article from people all across the country who are interested in putting equines of various breeds to work in traditional ways.  I apparently hit a chord with many people who see the same impacts occurring in their favorite draft breed.  The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy has been exploring various impacts on breed type in its newsletter and published a Fell Pony-specific version of my article in their most recent issue.

On Friday I received a phone call from a friend in England who wanted to read me a paragraph from the most recent Native Pony magazine.  In her opening column “News and Views,” Associate Editor Valerie Russell wrote that my Feather Notes article “Breed Type and the Work at Hand” is “a masterly description and explanation of the changes which affect, not just the Fells, but ALL our native breeds to a greater or lesser extent.”

Saturday night I received the ultimate endorsement, though, of my observation about the impact of the change in work on the breed type of the Fell Pony.  I got a phone call from a woman who has been interested in Fell Ponies for over five years and has looked at dozens of pictures from the many breeders in this country.  She’d only seen a few breeding animals that were the traditional type she remembered from growing up in southern Scotland forty-five years ago.  She didn’t see the breeders, however, continuing the type, so she hadn’t been inspired to purchase a pony.  This week she saw pictures of my herd for the first time, and she said her search had finally ended.

One of the observations I make in my article is that if breeders don’t have direct experience putting these animals to work in traditional ways, it is hard to understand the requirements that that work puts on conformation and to then be able to breed for it.  This particular woman has experience in traditional work, hence her endorsement of my breeding program.  It remains to be seen if she does purchase a pony, of course!

Fell Pony ObservationsIf this topic is of interest, you can find the full version of my article about Fell Pony breed type in the book Fell Ponies:  Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available by clicking here.




About workponies

Breeder of Fell Ponies, teamster of work ponies, and author of Feather Notes, Fell Pony News, and A Humbling Experience: My First Few Years with Fell Ponies. Distributor of Dynamite Specialty Products for the health of our planet and the beings I share it with.
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