Awhile back, a Fell Pony breeder made what I considered an astute observation about the breed. These ponies, they said, are mellow but unconfident. Of course that is a broad generalization, for there are indeed supremely confident and mellow Fell Ponies as well as Fell Ponies that aren’t so mellow. But I found the observation to be quite helpful because it characterized my experience with the breed so far.
I started my career with ponies intending to work them, and my first two working ponies were non-Fells. For better or worse, they set my expectations about the appropriate temperament for a working pony. They were both mellow and confident, and because they set the standard for me, I assumed mellow and confident always went together. Fells have helped me see the world more accurately.
What confidence gives a working pony, in my opinion, is the ability to pause when they encounter something new and startling instead of having the new thing trigger their flight instinct immediately. In my opinion, this is extremely important in a working pony. I never know, for instance, when we might encounter a moose, when my dog might chase a squirrel under their nose, or what sort of noise a tree might make when it is cut down in the woods prior to us skidding it. I need my pony to pause just long enough when they’re startled to let me tell them all is well.
Confidence can be selected for in breeding, which I have personally experienced. Fortunately, it can also be developed through training. While time and repetition are key ingredients, so is, I have found, an ability on the part of the human partner to read the subtlest signs of when we’ve asked our pony to cross the threshold from confidence to unconfidence. I touched on this topic briefly in the last issue of The Partnered Pony™ Inquirer, and I will be expanding on it in the next issue. If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll join me.
Being able to read that subtle sign of crossing the confidence threshold is important for a couple of reasons. First, at that moment, we need to do whatever it takes to bring our pony back to a confident place as quickly and calmly as possible. And second, we need to assess what we did so that we can push our pony over that threshold again only when we’re prepared to help them develop more confidence about it. Developing these abilities in ourselves will help us be the best working partner we can be for our pony and in turn help them be the best working partner for us that they can be.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2013