The Economic Value of Semi-Feral Fell Ponies

Earlier this year, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy published an article entitled, “How Much is a Banker Horse Worth?”(1)   Banker Horses are a feral breed living on islands off the North Carolina coast.  The article described an analysis that determined the economic value of a Banker Horse.  The article started me wondering if a similar analysis could be done for semi-feral Fell Ponies in Cumbria.

The study of economic value came about because a local prosecutor was preparing a case against someone who had shot a wild horse, and the prosecutor wanted to know what the horse was worth.  Carolyn Mason of the Society for the Shackleford Horse contacted the Carteret County Tourism Authority and obtained tourism data.  It turns out that these horses are one of the top three reasons people come to the county to visit.  From the Tourism Authority’s data, Mason knew how much visitors spend each year and divided it by the number of wild horses.  This calculation produced a value per horse per year.  She then extrapolated that number over the average life expectancy of a Banker horse, giving the total value of each horse.  Mason’s computations resulted in a value of $868,055 per horse per year or as much as $17,351,100 over a lifetime.

When I was in graduate school, I studied these sorts of analyses often.  I was particularly interested in how one might assign monetary value to something that isn’t traded in a market place.  One of the economic values that I studied was called ‘existence value.’  For instance, what value does something have to society at large just by the fact that it exists?  These sorts of analyses are important for things like semi-feral Fell Ponies that are rare, have a connection to a particular place, and have an important historic role.

To begin to recreate Mason’s analysis for Fell Ponies, I asked both the Fell Pony Society and Cumbria Tourism if they had any data on how many people visit Cumbria each year to see Fell Ponies.  Neither organization had any, but Cumbria Tourism does know that in 2011, Cumbria had a total of 40.1 million visitors who spent an estimated £2.2 billion. (2)

I began pondering how I could get around the lack of data regarding Fell Ponies and tourism.  It seems to me that Fells on the fells have some similarities to wildlife in that they are native to place.  In addition, Fells on the fells are associated with the Lake District and rural northern England.  Poking around on the internet, I learned that 56% of UK-based visitors to Scotland cite wildlife-viewing as a goal of their trip. (3)  I also learned that 11% of UK visitors to Queensland in Australia organized their visit around bird or animal watching.  (4)  Finally, I learned that roughly .3% of Cumbria’s tourists visited Beatrix Potter-related sites in the Lake District. (5)

In the Spring 2012 edition of The Fell Pony Society Magazine, an article stated that there were 128 foals born in semi-feral herds in 2011, with 136 in 2010 and 146 in both 2009 and 2008. (6)  Averaging these counts gives 139 foals per year.  A rough estimate of the breeding population can be assumed by doubling this number (accounting for sire and dam), giving 278 adult ponies in semi-feral herds.  If we also assume that all yearlings and two-year-olds stay in the herd, then the semi-feral herd size could be estimated at 278+139+139+139 = 695 ponies.

Let’s assume that Fell Ponies attract as many visitors as Beatrix Potter-related sites, the most conservative of the numbers I found.  Extrapolating, then, .3% of visitors would spend .3% of 2011 tourist spending which equates to £6.9 million.  Dividing that over the estimated semi-feral pony population of 695 results in £9,900 per pony.  If we assume an average lifespan of 18 years for a semi-feral Fell Pony, the lifetime value would be £178,000.  Using an exchange rate of $1.56/£1, the values in dollars would be $15,444 and $277,992, significantly lower than the value calculated for Banker Horses.

Anyone involved with Fell Ponies will laugh at these estimates of economic value.  As breeders we are all facing a market that rarely reimburses the investment we make in the ponies we produce.  On the other hand, these analyses regarding Banker Horses and Fell Ponies have value in the discussion that is generated and the questions that are asked.  Is there a better way to estimate visitors to Cumbria interested in Fell Ponies?  Is there an accurate measure of the lifespan of a semi-feral pony?  Is there a more precise estimate of the size of the semi-feral herds?  Is there a better way to estimate the value of a semi-feral Fell Pony to society at large?  If semi-feral herds are important to lowland breeders for maintaining breed characteristics, how might we assign value to them beyond the ponies we actually buy?

Over time I’m sure the answers to these questions will come my way, as well as answers to questions I haven’t even thought to ask.  I look forward to learning how to better characterize the value of a semi-feral Fell Pony.

1)      Beranger, Jeannette.  “How Much is a Banker Horse Worth?”, The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy News, Volume 29, Issue 2, March-April, 2012, p. 11.
)      Calculated from data on this page:
)      Gould-Earley, Mary Jean.  “Semi-Feral Herds,” The Fell Pony Society Magazine, Spring 2012, Volume 25, p. 60.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2012

Book Fell Pony ObservationsThis essay is one of several chapters in the book Fell Ponies:  Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally 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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