My favorite part of Equus magazine is the front section where recent research is
reported and practical advice is shared. Invariably I find something of interest there, and the June issue was especially full. There were three articles pertinent to stewarding Fell Ponies: “Ready for lean times,” “Another reason to feed lots of hay,” and “Natural Defenses Against Flies.”
“Ready for lean times” is about a German study on easy keepers. (1) It is the first study to document hypometabolism in domesticated horses; the study was actually done on Shetland ponies. Hypometabolism is “the ability of an animal to reduce energy expenditures under harsh conditions to preserve body condition.” The study concluded that “the domesticated horse has inherited from his wild ancestors the capacity to slow his metabolic rate to maintain his weight when food is scarce.” I first learned of this capacity from Barbara Müller of the Narnia Fell Pony Stud in Germany many years ago when I was new to Fell Ponies. She mentioned it in the context of feeding regimens for our ponies, suggesting that interval feeding might not have the desired effect of helping overweight ponies lose weight or to keep ponies from gaining weight because of their ability to modify their metabolism when feed is less available.
“Another reason to feed lots of hay” is about a study done in Europe on the jaw muscles of horses eating different diets.(2) Not surprisingly, it found that the jaws worked harder when chewing hay or haylage rather than grain. “The researchers note that chewing activates the salivary glands and that saliva is known to perform important functions in the digestive system, including protecting the stomach from ulceration.” Feeding hay or haylage rather than grain therefore, with its higher saliva production, may have greater protective benefits to the digestive tract. Since hay is usually the diet recommended for ponies (versus grain or hard feed), it is nice to know that there are good reasons beyond the usual ones of weight control and avoiding laminitis to provide a hay-centered diet.
Over lunch recently I read an article about how a horseowner clipped and trimmed her equine friend to create nice edges on ears, chin, fetlocks, and other places and how she clipped the mane “not too short but not too long.” It was a revelation to me how particular one could be about the hair of a horse. The article “Natural defenses against flies” had a different take on hair care. Its focus was ‘maximizing your horse’s built-in protections.’ (3) Long forelocks, manes and unbraided tails were all noted as natural defense mechanisms for a horse and even a horse’s neighbors when they’re allowed to buddy up and swish flies away from each other standing head to tail. Avoiding trimming around fetlocks, muzzles, eyes, and ears – all places of emphasis in my lunchtime article – was also advocated for maximizing natural defenses from summertime insects. Fell Pony owners are quite familiar with an abundance of hair in all these locations. I feel sorry for my Norwegian Fjord Horse in the summer with his stand-up mane because of the lack of protection he has compared to the Fells. Fells are especially well-equipped for dealing with flies in the summer.
It isn’t often that I run across three articles in close proximity that are so directly pertinent to stewarding Fell Ponies. Yet they are also relevant, too, to horseowners generally. Fells just make us think about these things more directly!
1) Barakat, Christine and Mick McCluskey. “Ready for lean times,” Equus, volume 417, June 2012, p. 17.
2) Barakat, Christine and Mick McCluskey, “Another reason to feed lots of hay,” Equus, volume 417, June 2012, p. 17
3) Frank, Katie with Melinda Freckleton, DVM. “Natural Defenses against Flies,” Equus, volume 417, June 2012, p. 21.
(c) Jenifer Morrissey, 2012
This article is now a chapter in the book Fell Ponies: Observations on the Breed, the Breed Standard, and Breeding, available internationally by clicking here.