Last night when I walked the driveway for last feeding, it was just as the moon was coming up, and I thought to myself “I’m never going to be able to ride Shelley in the morning; it’s just too icy.” The cold that came with the dark froze the mud and slush, and just walking was challenging. This morning was below freezing as usual, and the driveway was indeed icy, but I decided to see how far we could get on our regular morning ride before I would need to dismount.
To make a long story short, I never had to dismount. It was truly amazing. Shelley didn’t slip at all, despite slush frozen solid and mud hardened and glazed with ice. It was by far the most treacherous footing we’ve encountered together. Shelley shortened her stride when she was concerned about the footing and then lengthened it when the footing got better. I watched her choose the best path from several poor options. And I kept telling Shelley how amazing she was. I would never have guessed when we set out that I would remain mounted all the way down the drive.
In my last post on this topic, I mentioned that someone had contacted me about why they chose the Fell Pony that they did. Specifically, they had chosen their Fell Pony expressly because it had been fell bred and would therefore have the footing sense natural to the breed. After this morning, I had a new appreciation for why someone would make this choice. It was so freeing to know that I didn’t have to micromanage Shelley on treacherous ground. Even more, it was freeing to know that she would make wise choices that would keep us safe, wiser choices than I could ever make. Now that I’ve experienced footing sense, I can understand why you’d want to be sure to get a pony that had footing sense if the sort of riding you do requires it like mine does.
In my first post on this topic, I mentioned that I’d interviewed a long-time Fell Pony breeder about the importance of returning to fell-bred herds for breeding stock. This morning I interviewed another breeder, and in the course of our conversation I gained a new perspective on the traits that are innate to fell-bred ponies and are often lost in ponies bred away from the fells. Specifically regarding footing sense, if you don’t experience it, then you won’t recognize it, then you won’t know how to select for it when breeding, and then if you don’t select for it, you might inadvertently select away from it and lose this desirable trait.
Since returning to fell bred herds for breeding stock is challenging for many Fell Pony breeders, this morning’s conversation with another long-time Cumbrian breeder of these ponies was heartening because some viable strategies emerged for retaining important breed characteristics. I’ll explore footing sense and other traits innate to fell-bred ponies and how to retain them in the next issue of Fell Pony News from Willowtrail Farm. Click here to subscribe if you aren’t on the mailing list already!
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2013