Since the beginning of this year, five different Fell Pony owners have asked me to take their mares into my herd, either on a temporary or permanent basis. I have appreciated the endorsement of my stewardship of the breed that these requests have represented. However, I have had to say no in every case. The reason is a dynamic tension that is a constant in my care of my pony herd.
One source of the tension comes from my activities as a Fell Pony breeder. I strive to produce better ponies each year through careful choice of breeding stock and thoughtful matching of stallions to mares. I currently have two stallions and four mare lines. While this means there are plenty of ponies to care for already, I am always curious about bringing in different bloodlines.
The other source of the tension comes from my interest in working ponies. I am keen to have productive relationships with each of my ponies. I have done enough work with them to know how much they enjoy work, and they seem to want more work than I am typically able to give them. While I don’t worry too much about my broodmares because they have an important job to do, I am acutely aware of signs of boredom in the rest of my herd. Even broodmares, though, often enjoy a job except in the few weeks either side of foaling. In the draft horse world it is not uncommon to see mares working in harness with foals tied at their side.
The dynamic tension that I feel is between the need to increase my herd size to reach my breeding goals and to decrease my herd size to achieve my working goals. And the sources of the tension don’t come just from within me. I have friends who are working equine enthusiasts who advocate fewer is better. And then there are the five people who’ve asked me to take their mares, wanting me to grow my herd.
My friend Doc Hammill helps hundreds of people a year work their horses. He says the best relationships he sees between horse and human are usually one on one. I know that for me personally the quality of the relationships I have with the two ponies that have had the most one-on-one with me far surpasses the quality of relationships I have with the rest of the ponies in my herd. On the other hand, one Fell Pony breeding herd that I have studied changes its population by as much as fifty percent every few years, reflecting the need to experiment with different blood lines and different combinations of mares and stallions in pursuit of the breeder’s goals.
Last night I read an essay contrasting grandeur and grandiosity. It advocated grandeur as worthy of focus and avoiding grandiosity as less fulfilling. I think of grandeur as about quality and grandiosity about quantity. The essay also articulated that there is a dynamic tension between the two that is part of the human experience. The discussion obviously resonated with me as I ponder the dynamic tension I feel around my pony herd, between quality of relationship and quantity of ponies. There is definitely a grandeur associated with a close and productive working relationship with a pony. And there is an unhealthy attraction to having more and more ponies with whom I might one day have that sort of rewarding relationship.
I suspect that the five people who asked me to take their mares also feel this dynamic tension in some way or they wouldn’t have sought me out. They know, whether consciously or unconsciously, that their mares need a job and that they aren’t able to provide that job for them. I appreciate their concern for their mares. On the other hand, their request for assistance in stewardship aggravated my own struggles with this dynamic tension. I take some solace from knowing that this dynamic tension is part of life as a human being. Staying focused on quality and grandeur is the obvious answer. Practically that means pondering each opportunity and each decision from this perspective, just as I pondered carefully each of the five requests. I wish it were easier than that!
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2012