I recently asked a long time Fell Pony breeder why it’s important for breeders to return to fell-bred herds for breeding stock. One of the answers surprised me because I’d never heard it before. For lack of a better term, I’ve called it ‘footing sense.’ This breeder had observed that ponies removed from life on the fell by several generations made poorer choices about where they placed their feet in uncertain terrain (on trail rides) than ponies who were born on the fell or only a generation or two removed.
Early spring has arrived here at Willowtrail Farm. Early spring means warmer temperatures, wetter snow, and mud beginning to appear where the ground is exposed, usually by snowplowing and then eventually by snow melting. Early spring is also when the footing around here is the most treacherous because melting snow turns to ice overnight. Riding my ponies during early spring means I’m always aware of the footing.
I have done a lot of riding this time of year on Mya the Wonder Pony, a Shetland/Welsh cross. In my opinion, she is notorious for making poor decisions about what line to take across a patch of snow and ice. Therefore, when I ride her, I am the one making decisions about the line we take to minimize chances that she’ll slip. As a result, I’ve realized I don’t trust any of my ponies to have good footing sense and make good decisions accordingly.
The last week has given me reason to change my attitude. I’ve been riding Restar Mountain Shelley III, my nine year old Fell Pony mare, at least once a day down the driveway. I started realizing that unlike Mya, Shelley was making very good decisions about what line to take across snow and ice, going where I would have suggested she go. We have rarely slipped. She will sometimes lower her head to make a closer inspection of the footing, something the long-time breeder said ponies with footing sense do.
In addition, when I suggest an alternate route than what Shelley has chosen, we tend to slip more than if I let Shelley choose the path. The comments of the long time breeder have been very much on my mind, and I’ve developed a new appreciation for Fell Ponies as a result. While Shelley was lowland bred and born, both her parents were fell born, and she has apparently retained the footing sense from her ancestors. I’ve been enjoying riding Shelley, and this discovery about her footing sense now makes me look forward to our rides even more to see what decisions she makes. We likely have four more weeks of treacherous footing to navigate together.
I’ll be writing more about the importance of returning to fell-bred herds in the next issue of Fell Pony News from Willowtrail Farm. If you aren’t already a subscriber, I hope you’ll join me by clicking here.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2013