Some Fell Ponies are easier keepers than others, and four-year-old Willowtrail Wild Rose ranks up there with the thriftiest that I’ve ever encountered. Rose came out of our long, tough winter with more flesh than any of the other ponies, so going into the summer grazing season I knew I’d have to keep an eye on her weight. Actually, rather than using my eye, I’ve been keeping my fingers on her rib cage, gauging her weight that way. Yesterday I decided I had to take action. It was time to bring her back home to a dry lot for a few days because her ribs were too hard to find.
To bring Rose home, I had to bring her back across the river. She was one of the herd that I ‘led’ across a few weeks ago by psychology rather than with tack. Bringing her home meant I got to see if she would follow me back across the river in the conventional manner, using a halter and lead rope. She didn’t even hesitate following me into and across the river, though she did want to pause in the middle to get a drink.
We had to cross an ungrazed pasture to get to the horse trailer. Her eyes nearly popped out of her head as we walked through grass that was up to my chin in places. It is still amazingly green for this time of year. Normally it would have started dying back by now, but there is a lot of richness left for September.
A couple of years into my Fell Pony adventure, I did some research that I called my “Pony Type Project.” It was especially targeted at understanding whether certain blood lines were more likely to produce easy keepers than others. Barbara Muller of the Narnia Fell Pony Stud in Germany graciously shared her observations about hardiness. One of the things I remember was her description of the ‘digestion type,’ ponies of a particular conformation that seemed to have more efficient digestion than others, resulting in them being easier keepers. Her mare Heltondale Princess was the epitome of that type for Barbara, and the pictures she shared with me well illustrated her point. Barbara’s nickname for Princess was ‘the Flying Sausage.’ In the photographs, Princess looks almost as wide as her legs are long, and the depth of her body matches the length of her legs.
I would class Rose as a ‘digestion type,’ and she has company in the dry lot right now. Lunesdale Silver Belle also came through winter very well. Being the top of the herd, Ellie commandeers food from the rest of the ponies, so I’ve kept her on dry lot most of the summer so that her weight doesn’t get out of control. Two veterinarians have told me this year that it is natural for equines to gain weight in the summer and then lose it in the winter. I agree with them, and the key part of the equation is ‘lose it in the winter.’ Since neither Rose nor Ellie lost weight last winter, I feel I have to manage their weight more aggressively as we go into fall.
While we may be going into fall, the pasture still has the richness of summer. I’ll be monitoring all the ponies as I move them to the last ungrazed parcel this weekend. Fortunately none of them seem to mind when I prod their sides looking for their ribs!
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2011