When I go to pasture to give the ponies their vitamin buckets, they are rarely at the gate that is most convenient for me. If they are in view and see me arrive, then they come to greet me. If they aren’t in view, then they normally come when I call. (1)
This morning I had to go to the hay meadow across the highway from the pony pasture. My objective was to buy hay. When I had transacted my business, I looked across the highway, and the ponies had all gathered at the gate awaiting my appearance. They had apparently heard my truck arrive and knew its sound as distinct from the hundreds of other vehicles that pass by them each day. Though I knew I’d have to come back later in the day with their vitamin buckets, I couldn’t help stopping and saying hello to each of them and thanking them for coming to greet me.
While I was awaiting the hay vendor, I read “Real Farmers and the World Wide Web” in the most recent issue of the newsletter of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. The article did a great job of articulating the differing ways people communicate, including the new ones made possible by the internet. The author pointed out something that I have found during my stewardship of Fell Ponies. “Half of breeders remember when there was no internet. (Or for that matter, no answering machines.) The other half have spent their adult lives with computers. This means that half our community can relate to ‘the whole internet thing,’ and half cannot.” (2)
Like most rare breeds of livestock, the Fell Pony community has a mix of internet-using and non-internet-using breeders. When I first got involved with the breed, the primary means of communication available to enthusiasts in North America was the internet because we are all so spread out. It is easy to forget about those involved with Fell Ponies that aren’t visible on the internet, whether via websites about their ponies or chats on discussion groups or email addresses on member lists. Sometimes people aren’t on the internet because they are just too busy farming to sit in front of a screen. Other times people are intimidated by the technology and don’t want to learn to use it. In contrast, as the article points out, “There are indeed buyers out there that have started their breed searches, purchased animals, and sealed the deal without ever picking up the phone.”
Over the years I have had the good fortune to speak with equal numbers on both sides of the internet divide. While email is easy for me, I have also learned to pick up the phone, and the time change to England has become second nature for me. And I have found the same thing that the article notes, “[Many] of the longtime breeders… may have some of the most tested, tried and true representatives of a breed in need of conservation but may not have access to the internet.” Some of the most helpful conversations I’ve had have been with people who not only do not use the internet but don’t even have answering machines.
The ALBC article articulated a threat to rare breeds that I hadn’t considered before, and that is the ‘selection pressure’ of human communication. What if the best stock isn’t visible on the internet at the same time that a new breed steward chooses their breeding stock via the internet only? “Keep in mind that ‘diversity’ is not limited to livestock. To ensure the survival of heritage breeds, we must keep in mind that breeders’ communication styles and vehicles are just as diverse as their livestock.”
As I was sitting in the hay meadow this morning pondering ALBC’s article, the following paragraph rang even more true, “When we hear our animals in the field, we recognize the tones in their voices. We recognize the sounds of predator alert, seeking the herd, labor, flirting, and estrus, but it takes a little time to learn the sound of each animal. Sometimes it takes a little bantering on the phone to learn the tones of a new contact, and after that both sides can relax into conversation. Email makes this a little more difficult… With no vocal-tonal sounds to accompany the email message, it might not go smoothly at all…. How quickly we forget how some people at school could write well, but some of the most well-spoken had no writing skills whatsoever…. When communicating with breeders, it is important to remember that email, although convenient, is not the ONLY form of communication. Email can be an effective communication tool, but all breeders are not online, and many breeders that are online express themselves differently.”
My ponies have shown that they are open to ‘communication media’ that vary, noting my arrival regardless of whether they see me, hear my voice or the sound of my truck. I hope for the benefit of the Fell Pony breed that current and potential breed stewards recognize that many breeders who contribute good stock to this breed may not share the most current communication medium. It is up to all of us to make sure that all breeders feel included in our worldwide Fell Pony community, no matter which side of the internet divide they stand on.
1) You might be interested in my article “Gathering,” about bringing ponies in. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
2) Edmundson, Leslie. “Real Farms and the World Wide Web,” ALBC News, Volume 28, Issue 5, September-October 2011, p. 11-13
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2011